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1 Branding Small to Medium-Sized Businesses For small businesses, the idea of branding can start with a desire to present a uniform image to the world. The challenge comes when the brand is created without a plan. Allowing your brand to develop organically can result in brand soup. It happens when a company s promotional materials don t look like families of items. And it is easy to see how this would happen to a small business. At start up, the owner hires a designer or a design firm to create the logo and business card. Then they need a brochure, and another designer comes along and creates their interpretation of your brand. Then a web designer adds their own suggestions of how to fit the brand to the website. Now it s hard to know what look communicates your brand. And without a solid brand, your employees don t have anything to reinforce with your customers. So your brand gets diluted and becomes brand soup. A large corporation may have a brand manager to keep everything aligned, as a small business owner you need to create the brand, align your processes and be the brand manager. What is a brand? Brand is the experience that your clients or customers have of your business. Brand identity is the visual, physical and tactile elements of the brand. The brand identity s job is to be recognizable, be memorable and create differentiation. A great example is the Olympic brand. It is known around the world, one of the most universal brands that there is. If you ask people anywhere in the world what feelings or experience they associate with the brand, most will say: sportsmanship, peace, friendship and joy. These words describe the brand experience. The Olympic logo, the merchandise, the venues graphics, the signage, are all part of the brand identity. There are five elements of brand: Position is the unique value of your business. Promise describes what you are committed to in delivering to your clients or customers ever time. Canadian Business Owner Strategy 1

2 Personality is what you are known for. Story is the compelling history of the issue you wanted to solve that led you to creating your business. Associations are name, logo, colours, tagline, fonts, and imagery that people see to recognize your business. Brand Touch Points A touch point is the moment of interaction between your company and a client or customer. A touch point can be created internally by your staff or externally by your brand identity. The number of touch points that your business has depends on the size of your business and number of activities you do. How touch points work Let s say that you are hiring. Your potential employee will find an ad posted in a local newspaper; the look of that ad is the first experience of your brand. The ad is beautifully designed and this leads the applicant to believe that your company would be a good place to work. Then when the applicant goes to your website they get a second experience of your brand. The website is consistent with the first experience so the applicant calls to make an appointment for an interview. The friendly voice at the other end of the phone becomes the third experience of your brand. On arrival at your office for the interview, your potential employee sees your logo on a big sign at the front of the building, or on the wall in the reception area; the walls are painted in your corporate colors; and everyone is as pleasant and professional as the person who made the appointment. This continues the brand experience that started with the ad in the paper. The more consistent and positive you can make the brand experience, the more magnetic it will be. You will create higher loyalty, a higher level of tolerance, and more referrals for your business. Canadian Business Owner Strategy 2

3 The Branding Process Branding The branding process is the process of defining your company s culture, your brand experience and the look of your brand identity. This process is not just for a new business. Every business has an opportunity to revitalize and re-align their brand. Here are the steps for the process. Research: Conduct interviews with your customers. Tagline: Clarify your message. Touch Points: Establish brand associations and internalize the brand. Brand Stories: Train your employees to be ambassadors and advocates. Brand Action Plan: Implement the steps that will create your brand. It is common for all businesses to say they are unique in their industry. Working with the brand process will solidify the real uniqueness of your company. Research will show you how you are unique. Often the real uniqueness of your company is different from what you think it is. Auditing your messages, promotional and marketing materials, will consolidate the message you are currently sending with your brand. Assessing your competitors brands will identify if your brand is unique. Your customers and employees will provide the next step which is the image you are really presenting to them. Taglines are short focused statements that explain your brand. Touch points are identified and the appropriate brand collateral is selected. The touch points may be graphics, or logos, dress codes, or employee behaviors. Brand stories are gathered and used for employee training and public relations. Brand action plans are the way to internalize the brand. Internalizing the brand is about learning how to deliver the behavior of the new brand experience. Applying the Branding Process In interviewing clients, stakeholders and employees your goal is to find out how your customer is experiencing your brand. By asking the questions provided, you will uncover response trends that will help you see how your customers see and experience your business. Canadian Business Owner Strategy 3

4 To begin this process, choose 5 to 10 clients to interview. Ensure that you begin by asking clients for their permission to participate in your branding process. Once you have their permission, set times for the interview. When you conduct the interviews, respect their time and stick to your schedule. The answers that you gather from the interviews will lead you to discover why people buy from you and not from someone else. These answers are commonly used as a guideline to create a tagline for a business. Brand associations refer to your brand name, logo, tagline, colour, fonts, and visual imagery. Whether these were created by a professional designer or you created them inhouse, your role as brand manager is to ensure that these pieces stay on-brand and help you deliver the magnetic experience that will take your business to the next level. Take the touch points deeper, write your brand experience at the top of a page and create two columns: Current Experience and Actions. Identify the experience that you currently create at each point under the current experience column and on the actions column, consider at least one improvement for each of your key touch points. Other Activities That Require Branding Branding needs to cover all activities, particularly if your marketing activities include public events. If for example, your marketing includes speaking engagements, you need to ensure your brand is front and center during the event. You ll have a banner at the entrance of the room near the sign-up table to create an expectation of your presentation. By creating a visual context for attendees, they will remember you by the brand rather than as the person at the front of the room. If you are providing products, integrate your brand into everything that you package on behalf of your company. You have your brand on a label with your logo on the box. You can include a packing card with a welcome message and the number to call if there are any questions. You can even add your logo to the packing tape. This brand process applies equally to a proposal, a report, or proofs for a project. A proposal that is well packaged will stand out even before it is opened. You will create an expectation that the contents of the proposal are just as amazing and professional as the packaging. To be able to design the best brand experience for an item that you are packaging, you want to think through the unwrapping process. What brand experience do you want to create when someone receives something from your company? Canadian Business Owner Strategy 4

5 Brand stories are stories of your company that need to be told in an engaging and compelling way so that it is memorable and inspiring. Most of us don t have a hero story of how we started our business, but we do have a lot of client stories that are perfect examples of why we love to do what we do and why we do it so well. Other than your company story, you want to collect stories of clients who received services that were over and above their expectations. These stories are a great way to introduce your company and create brand ambassadors or brand advocates. A great story will be re-told by your ambassadors and will be used by your advocates to refer potential customers. It is more likely that a referral will come through if clients or customers re-tell your best stories than if they just tell potential customers your mission and values. Perceived quality is the core of what clients are buying and it links the reasons customers buy at the price they are willing to pay. Whether the brand is a price brand or a prestige brand, perceived quality is often one of the key differentiators. Brand loyalty is the commitment that your clients have to your brand. It is much less expensive to retain customers than to attract new ones, so it is important to direct your branding efforts to build awareness and loyalty in parallel. Brand loyalty will be built through actions like sending thank you cards, which is how you tell your clients that you appreciate their business. If you add your logo to the card, it will create loyalty and brand awareness at the same time. Brand awareness measures client perception and attitude towards a brand. The more familiar your company is to customers, the more likely they are to buy. Brand awareness will be built through actions like ing customers and potential customers with a tip the month or newsletter. This could be health related, fun, practical, anything that is suitable to your audience for as long as it provides value. Brand Architecture If you are planning or already have a variety of service offerings, you may want to consider working on your brand architecture. Brand architecture is a way to structure a grouping of services to give your clients a clear message of the different services and reduce brand confusion. As an example, imagine you own a business called We Care that provides services to teenagers, elderly people, and you raise funds for educating community leaders on the Canadian Business Owner Strategy 5

6 impact of poverty on children. Your company created all of these lines of business as the need arose. The brand problem is that the three different products are confusing your potential clients. You hear that people think of you only in one way. Either they see you as a fundraising company, or an elder care facility, or a teen support group. To resolve this, you create clear naming structure. Your teenager services are now branded as We Care: Teens. Your elder services are We Care: The Golden Years. The community leader education work is branded under We Care About Better Communities. Making these changes allows your prospective clients to clearly understand that your company provides more than one aspect of caring services. Brand Book and Adaptability A brand book is a guide, created to help everyone in your organization use your brand consistently. It typically contains a description of your brand experience, your message, your logo, and acceptable variations of your logo, corporate colors, and fonts. It also contains samples of the most used layouts, like ads, newsletters, brochures and websites. Variations will also show the adaptability of the brand. For example, you ll want to include solutions for times when you are dealing with a narrow space and you ll make adjustments to your logo to adapt to some unique applications. The key is to not lose the integrity of your brand with these modifications and to set a limit as to how far you can go with variations. Review your brand elements and decide if you can use them to represent your brand without using your logo. Maybe you have complementary graphics that you can put on the wall to extend your brand beyond printed materials and into your workspace. The more flexible your brand is the more alive it will become. In the small business environment, you may not need to have car graphics or uniforms or outdoor signs on your building. And for some even the creation of a brand book is overkill. So, the least you need to do is audit your current materials and gather them into a binder. Make notes on how you would like to proceed with your brand for the next item you create and provide this direction to your designer and your team. Canadian Business Owner Strategy 6

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