Is Branding really relevant to small Irish businesses?



First off, recession aside, it’s not all about big budgets. Just because you run a small business doesn’t mean you can’t build a brand. SMEs can sometimes overlook the importance of brand building or feel that brands are for big businesses with college know-how. This is a mistake. Your SME business could also be a brand whether you know it or not. And if planned correctly it can help you grow your business sustainably.

There are a lot of myths and misunderstanding around branding. First of all … what is it all about? Is it a logo? A tagline? The look or typography on your marketing literature? The advertising you do? The events? Does it include the look of the website?

What is branding anyway?

Here’s Seth Godin’s definition. “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.

So a brand is the ‘extra’ people are willing to pay verses alternatives. Why might they be willing to pay this premium? It’s about building an emotional relationship between offering and audience, the X Factor. From the way your phone is answered, how goods are delivered, how you speak to and treat the customer, how complaints are handled … even how invoices are paid. From the events you do (or don’t do!), to the advertising you print, to the look of your place of business, to the tone of all your customer communications. Branding is the sum of all the contacts with your business. You could say every contact your business has externally is an attempt at creating your brand; the good, the bad and the ugly!

How insanely curious are you about finding the exact range your customers want? The small things they value, the interactions they appreciate, the tips they love and the price they are willing to pay?

On a recent trip into town I was heartened by the customer driven initiatives I met in cafes, hairdressers, craft stalls and small retail stores. It struck me that some small businesses really go that extra mile to show their customers that they want them to keep coming back. Whilst others simply do not. They rely on low price, promotions, busy streets and cheap products to draw the crowds. I know from running my own business that (unless you are located on the main thoroughfare for what you sell) it’s a lot more efficient to get repeat business than constantly trying to convert new clients.

To understand what your customers value, the little touches, the things that might cost a little but mean a lot … are the first steps you make in building your brand and crucially takes conversation away from price. So that you don’t need to be the cheapest provider, with the promotions. So you can seek out the customers your business deserves. Who are willing to pay the price premium you want to command. 

So, when I seek a new hair salon, as I have done recently, and I could go to any of the 100+ salons in Dublin, how do I choose a new one? Price? Expertise? Location? Convenience? Recommendations? A mix?  Maybe. But what makes me come back? Indepth stylist consultation and great service delivery, complimentary latte on arrival, surprise toast if it’s a morning booking, expert products cross-sold, loyalty points system that discounts future visits? You can be damn sure I appreciated these customer focused initiatives and will give them my custom from here.

Is Branding worth the effort?

In short yes. The benefits are long term and sustainable. When you craft what your brand is all about;

  • In these price-obsessed times we live in, you get to take the conversation you are trying to have with your target market away from price and the dreaded race to the bottom.
  • People ‘get’ more quickly what your business does and what you are all about.
  • The market stops weighing you up against your competition every single time they think about the category you sell in. They become more loyal to you because you make them feel special, their life easier, better.
  • As a business owner your overwhelming choices in terms of marketing opportunities are narrowed and your communications become easier to plan.
  • Your customers start doing your marketing for you (via old fashioned things like repeat business and word of mouth recommendations as well as social media sharing, online recommendations, endorsements etc).

In my next blog (click here) I lay out 10 simple tips to creating a brand for your business that can be applied to SMEs and larger businesses crafting a new brand or rebrand.