Brand marketing – how to build a strong brand

Brand marketing guidance tends to take its cues from the monster brands you recognise, explaining what you can learn from Apple and Uber. And it focuses on the B2C brands (business-to-consumer) that you see in the high street and on TV.

That ignores most of the economy which sits with SMEs, companies with fewer than 500 staff. And most of the economy is B2B (business-to-business).

This guide illustrates how Forbes Baxter Associates can help B2B SMEs develop their brands.

The strategies employed by monster B2C brands can’t help SMEs. Your audiences, resources and priorities are different. If SMEs could learn from Apple, it would be from the Apple of 1979, not 2019.

Step One in any SME’s brand journey is hard: an acknowledgement that you have weak brand value.

Once that unpleasant truth has been acknowledged, you can start the six steps to improve your brand:

  1. Products/Services.
  2. Customer Care.
  3. Processes.
  4. Visual consistency.
  5. Brand research.
  6. Brand promotion.

Contents

    1. What is brand?
    2. What is brand democracy?
    3. What is brand value?
    4. What is brand awareness?
    5. What are brand attributes?
    6. What is brand purpose?
    7. How do you create a strong brand?
    8. The importance of brand authenticity.
    9. The limitations of brand power.
    10. What brand marketing should you do?
      1. Product branding & quality.
      2. Automated & efficient processes.
      3. Visual branding.
      4. Brand attributes survey.
      5. Brand awareness survey.
      6. Brand promotion campaign.

 

What is brand marketing?

“Brand” is an abused term. We now use it instead of “company” as if the two are the same. When most Board members talk about “building the brand” they’re usually talking about building the company.

There are four important concepts in brand marketing. We’ll discuss each of them in this guide.

  • Brand Value or Equity.
  • Brand Awareness.
  • Brand Attributes.
  • Brand Purpose.

But first you need to understand brand democracy because it affects all four.

Brand marketing isn't as vapid as TV makes out

Who could watch Siobhan Sharpe on W1A without despairing of ‘brand’?

 

What is brand democracy?

Brand democracy is a term that means your brand is what the world says it is. It’s not what you say it is.
That’s an important concept. It has four implications:

  1. The best you can hope to do is to influence your brand; brand democracy means you don’t control it.
  2. Before you promote your brand, you need a survey to define it. It doesn’t have to be huge, slow and expensive, but it will tell you what your brand stands for. Brace yourself – the results could be unexpected.
  3. Any brand attribute you promote should be based on reality. SMEs don’t have the budget to promote a brand attribute that’s at odds with market opinion. If customers think you’re slow but cheap, you can’t promote yourself as fast and premium.
  4. If you’re not comfortable with the brand attributes the survey reveals, you need to fix your products/services and customer care. Brand marketing can’t fix or hide a genuine deficiency.

Brand democracy can be brutal in the age of social media. Just ask Comcast, an early casualty back in 2007. When its engineer was filmed asleep on a customer’s couch, the video went viral.
Brand democracy spoke out loud and clear and it didn’t say anything positive about Comcast.

 

What is brand value?

Brand value (or equity) indicates how powerfully your brand or reputation influences buying decisions. Your brand value can be expressed as three Xs:

  • eXperience – how customers rate their dealings with your businesses. This could be gathered through metrics like NPS (Net Promoter Score).
  • eXpectation – how customers or prospects anticipate future dealings with your business will be.
  • eXpression – how customers publicise their opinion of your businesses.

The three Xs reveal that good products/services at good prices with good customer care generates a strong brand. Brand marketing doesn’t have to be complex.

 

What is brand awareness?

Brand awareness is a measure of how many potential customers know about your presence in your market.

Brand awareness is not the same as brand value. Just ask Gerald Ratner.

Ratner built a massively successful jewellery business until he trashed it all in 1991 by describing some of its products as “total crap”. Ratners’ brand awareness soared as rapidly as its brand value crashed.

Brand awareness should be measured in your target markets, not the population as a whole. We worked for an engineering firm with siloed customers who only knew about the division they bought from. They had strong but narrow awareness in different markets.

His experiences make Gerald Ratner something of a brand marketing expert.

His experiences make Gerald Ratner something of a brand marketing expert.

What are brand attributes?

Brand attributes are the characteristics for which our companies or brands are known. Attributes can be positive or negative, for example:

  • Cheap.
  • Fast.
  • Expert.
  • Elitist.
  • Prestige.
  • Inefficient.
  • Industry Leader.
  • Understands my business.

It’s easy to identify brand attributes we want to apply to our businesses. Only a Brand Attributes survey will reveal whether they actually do.

We cover brand surveys and research in more detail later.

 

What is brand purpose?

A brand purpose can be described as an organisation’s contribution to its customers and the society beyond them.

They easily descend into statements promoting equality for all, global well-being and a sustainable future for the planet – goals that are far beyond the influence of the business that espouses them.

Brand purposes have become fashionable in some marketing departments and agencies, presumably because these people have run out of better things to do.

We won’t go into any detail about brand purposes. We don’t believe in them. Serve your customers well and make money. That’s enough.

 

How do you create a strong brand?

Whatever the size of our businesses, we all want a strong, positive brand. We want people to see our company name and react positively to it. We want them to recommend us to other people. We may even dream of our brands having the same power as Coke, Apple and Google.

How did these giant brands get so powerful? Here’s a clue. Take a look at this list of Interbrand’s top 30 global brands.

1 Apple 2 Google 3 Amazon
4 Microsoft 5 Coca-Cola 6 Samsung
7 Toyota 8 Mercedes 9 Facebook
10 McDonalds 11 Intel 12 IBM
13 BMW 14 Disney 15 Cisco
16 GE 17 Nike 18 Louis Vuitton
19 Oracle 20 Honda 21 SAP
22 Pepsi 23 Chanel 24 Amex
25 Zara 26 J P Morgan 27 Ikea
28 Gillette 29 UPS 30 H&M

What do all these brands (companies) have in common? It’s not their industry, their age or their nature (B2B or B2C). It’s something far more fundamental.

All these brands are built on providing goods or services people want. They satisfy their customers. When they stop satisfying their customers, their brand suffers.

Why is Apple such a valuable brand?

Apple is Interbrand’s top global brand. Did it become #1 through intense brand marketing or clever advertising? It does both, but neither would have done any good if its products had been poor.

Those of us with long memories will remember Apple in the 1980s and 1990s. Its Mac computers conclusively lost the PC war against IBM-compatibles. Apple was a commercial basket case. Some say it was within 90 days of bankruptcy when Steve Jobs was brought back into the fold.

It didn’t have a powerful brand then.

The Mac had devoted fans but it still lost the PC war to IBM.

The Mac had devoted fans but it still lost the PC war to IBM.

But then came the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, a string of great products that people still love to this day. Every business can emulate that process. It starts with good products/services and customer care.

Apple’s marketing has always been innovative and memorable but it didn’t help the company or the brand when its products were over-priced and under-powered.

Once Apple fixed its products, its brand could recover.

The lesson we can learn from Apple

Brand value, awareness and attributes arise naturally. They’re inevitable consequences of your products/services and customer care.

  • If you produce what your market wants, your brand will grow. You don’t need to specify what the brand means. A lion doesn’t have to tell you it’s a lion.
  • If your products/services don’t match what the market wants, your brand will go unnoticed.

Think of brand like copyright. As soon as you write something, the copyright is yours. It’s automatic. Similarly, as soon as you trade, your brand develops.

It’s not our recommendation that you should never try to promote your brand. Our recommendation is to assign brand marketing appropriate priority.

If brand is like copyright, brand marketing is like trademarking. It’s a separate process that says “this is us” or “this is ours”. Whereas we might use a trademark to protect our product names, we might use brand marketing to promote our brand attributes.

Tesco’s “100 Years Of Great Value” is a perfect example of brand marketing. It doesn’t promote any single product. Indeed, it specifically mentions a brand attribute: value.

It’s clear that Tesco understand their brand intimately.

  • They don’t promote quality, an attribute that might sit better with Waitrose.
  • They don’t promote low prices because that fits Asda, Lidl and Aldi.

Instead, they promote a certain level of quality at a certain price i.e. value.

 

The importance of brand authenticity

Our brand attributes have to be unassailable if we want them to be accepted. We can’t promote an attribute and behave contrary to it. All our promotional work, and the budget that supports it, will be wasted.

Cadbury gets it wrong

In March 2020 Mark Ritson cited an ethical hole in Cadbury’s Easter promotion. They said “We see Easter as a holiday to reawaken the generous spirit in people; a Cadbury Easter egg is all it takes to connect with your loved ones and show you care.”

Ritson contrasted this with the ‘generous spirit’ Cadbury’s adopts towards UK taxation. The company arranges its tax affairs so they paid 0.7% tax on their profits. This, he stresses, is not illegal but it compares poorly to the promotion and the philanthropic principles of the original Quaker company.

State Street gets it wrong

In 2017, State Street, a US financial services, ran the “Fearless Girl” campaign to promote gender equality. The campaign saw a small statue of a girl placed in front of the charging bull statue that sits near Wall Street.

The statue commemorated International Women’s Day to promote “the power of women in leadership, and the potential of the next generation of women leaders.”

Later that same year, State Street had to pay $5,000,000 to settle claims that it paid female and non-white staff less than equivalent male, white staff. The distance between fame and infamy is short indeed.

State Street’s ‘fearless girl’ became more infamous than famous.

State Street’s ‘fearless girl’ became more infamous than famous.

 

Big brands can get away with it

Big brands can (sometimes) get away with being utterly inauthentic. Consider this.

Getting away with it: Cadbury

Do you think that Cadbury’s Easter egg sales in 2020 were damaged by Mark Ritson’s criticism of their tax strategy?

We love reading what Ritson writes, but we don’t think even he imagines so.

Furthermore, COVID would hit 2020 sales more than any tax scandal. This, remember, was the time when supermarket shelves were crammed with Easter eggs nobody wanted but devoid of the toilet paper they needed. Very strange.

Getting away with it: VW

Mark Ritson himself cites a beautiful example of brand invincibility: Volkswagen.

We all remember the diesel emissions scandal that VW walked into in 2015. They were caught deliberately cheating emissions tests, their CEO was prosecuted and millions of cars had to be assessed and/or recalled.

That’s the kind of sequence that would be considered poison to a brand. Conventional wisdom says it takes years to build a brand but seconds to destroy it.

So, after such a rough 2015, what happened to VW in 2016? Sales reached an all-time high in the UK. Across Europe, sales began to grow again by April 2016.

So much for activities that damage a brand.

It’s true that VW had to plough a lot of money into sales promotions, special pricing and PR but if brand lore ran true, this should have been a disaster that lasted years.

Getting away with it: HP

We can take another example of inauthentic brands from the office equipment market.

When working in the marketing department at Kyocera, we were incredibly frustrated that HP was seen as a ‘green’ manufacturer. Their design philosophy was the opposite. They built their laser printers so you threw away a substantial part of the printer every time the toner ran out.

At Kyocera, on the other hand, you only threw away a simple plastic toner container (and even that could be recycled).

But we couldn’t combat the huge marketing wallet HP had at their disposal. Customers considered HP a ‘green’ company.

Attacking themselves: Carlsberg

Carlsberg’s 2019 promotion, “Probably Not” won Marketing Week’s poll for the best campaign of the year.

It deliberately denigrated its own beer, republishing vicious tweets from drinkers. Sian described it as tasting “like the rancid piss of Satan.” Roy said “it’s like drinking the bath water that your nan died in.”

The campaign was actually a precursor to the release of a new version of the company’s beer. It was part of the brewer’s attempt to reposition itself as a premium brand instead of a cheap beer.

But this kind of campaign only has a chance of working after years of advertising that had embedded the “probably the best beer in the world” message into our consciousnesses.

It’s a risky strategy for a major corporation like Carlsberg. It would be suicidal for an SME. If you want a message to attract attention, make it a positive message.

Self-deprecation is a risky strategy for anyone, especially an SME.

Self-deprecation is a risky strategy for anyone, especially an SME.

What does this tell SMEs about their brands?

We always come back to the fundamental message of this guide: make your products/services and customer care your first priority. Only start promoting your brand when they’re right.

As SMEs, we have to be authentic. We don’t have the budget or the resources to smother stories that run contrary to our chosen message. We all operate on a smaller scale than VW, State Street and Cadbury.

The limited audience that could hear our positive brand message is the same audience that will hear any negative stories that emerge.

 

The limitations of brand marketing

The marketing industry is hell-bent on convincing the business world that a powerful brand can overcome all ills. Unfortunately, it’s not true. We marketers are the tour guides selling tickets to El Dorado. It took one of the biggest brands in the world, Coke, to prove the limitations of brand power.

What Coca-Cola taught us

There’s an old saying in branding circles that if Coca-Cola went bust tomorrow, the company could be rebuilt as long as it retained the Coke brand.

When you see that Interbrand value the brand alone at $66bn, you can almost agree.

But we know that this is not true. Even the Coke brand is not powerful enough to force people to like a particular drink. Coke tried it back in the 1980s, when the brand was even more powerful than it is now.

The story of New Coke is a sad but sobering tale.

Company research suggested customer tastes were changing in the US towards a sweeter flavour.

In a bold move, Coca-Cola decided to change the formulation of its drink.

In an even bolder move, it replaced the ‘old’ drink with the new one rather than offer customers the choice of either.

Customers responded badly. Despite the strength of the brand and the best endeavours of the company, people didn’t like the taste of New Coke. Sales plummeted so fast it had to re-release ‘Coca-Cola Classic’ within months.

Even the most powerful brands can’t overcome a product people don’t want.

New Coke is an important lesson for corporate behemoths like Coca-Cola but an even more vital one for SMEs.

We don’t have the resources to even start to combat negative reactions. We have to make sure our products/services and customer care actually satisfy our customers.

New Coke. So good they... brought back old Coke.

New Coke. So good they… brought back old Coke.

 

What brand marketing should you do?

Ironically, SMEs can take some branding lessons from masters of the craft like Apple.

Product branding and product quality

As soon as you open an Apple phone, the smooth way the box opens and the innovative way the accessories and documentation are packed signal that you’re opening a high-quality product. Everything is branded tastefully. Document styles and typefaces are consistent. You see clear ‘Getting Started’ guidance. It’s easy to become a happy Apple customer.

Consider how your products/services compare to this standard.

  • If you sell a physical product, are you proud of the manufacturing quality and labelling?
  • Does your physical and online documentation make it clear how your customers should use the product?
  • If there are dangerous or fragile parts, will your customers know what they shouldn’t do?

These are some of the foundations on which your brand is built. This is part of the eXperience element of the three Xs.

Automated, efficient processes

Continuing the eXperience theme, your customers’ opinion of your business is as affected by customer care as it is by the product/service you sell.

It’s easy to argue that customer care and business processes aren’t ‘marketing’ but, in many organisations, they’re nobody’s specific responsibility. Let marketing automation systems make your processes more reliable, efficient and automatic.

  1. Workflows to check on product delivery and initial satisfaction.
  2. Workflows to monitor and route customer service enquiries.
  3. Workflows to provide chatbot support services through the website.
  4. Workflows to automate renewals, support contracts and any recurring agreement.
  5. Workflows to gather satisfaction metrics and help generate a positive Net Promoter Score (NPS).
  6. Some agencies like Forbes Baxter Associates can also automate Word and Excel to streamline the production of quotations and proposals.

When these processes work well, customers want to do more business with you. They recommend you. They promote you in a way it could almost be called, well, brand marketing.

Visual branding

Since Byron Sharp published “How Brands Grow” there’s been a debate raging about whether distinctiveness is more important than differentiation.

Visual branding sits at the heart of distinctiveness. It provides the cues that trigger a buyer’s memory of your brand. We can’t under-estimate its importance.

Even though brand marketing is about far more than how you, your products and your company look, far more than whether people see your logo in the right colours, proportions and position, these visual cues are the tip of the iceberg that everybody sees. They’re vital.

Getting your visual branding right doesn’t mean you need to do a rebrand. It doesn’t mean you need a new logo, a new typeface or a new colour palette.

For SMEs, it means you have to reinforce the consistency of your visual branding. It’s the kind of job that’s been on most organisations’ to-do list for years. It’s the kind of job that will never get done unless you call in outside help.

It’s also the kind of job that damages your brand if you neglect it. Without consistent visual branding, you won’t be able to develop a trace of distinctiveness.

Visual Branding: Documentation & Manuals

Most businesses have gone through a rebrand exercise at some point in their past. Despite the best intentions, instances of the old branding keep cropping up years after they should have disappeared. This inconsistency screams “sloppy” to your customers even if the information you provide is totally accurate.

You can still face problems without a rebrand. Manuals and guides are rarely produced by an organisation’s marketing department. They may be devoid of any branding or sign of ownership. Your customers will doubt your professionalism.

Make sure the following documents look both consistent and authoritative:

  • Product manuals and Getting Started guides.
  • Invoices, credit notes, statements and any other documentation produced by your accounts system.
  • Legal documents including distribution contracts, Service Level Agreements (SLAs), Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), etc.
  • Quotations, proposals and tenders.
  • Standard documents and emails from Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook.
  • Presentations from Microsoft PowerPoint.

WARNING: that one short section describes a massive task.

Visual Branding: Personal & Personnel Branding

You carry your organisation’s branding with you every time you meet a business associate. You can use this to reinforce your brand attributes:

  • Business cards are still with us despite the convenience of electronically passing contact details. Make sure your business cards carry the correct visual branding but, more importantly, use them to say why a potential customer should do business with you and your company.
  • Branded clothing is an effective way to demonstrate a powerful and professional corporate image especially at exhibitions or events where a group of staff will be visible. Branding can be as modest as ties that co-ordinate with your brand colours or as extensive as personalised shirts with the wearer’s name and role alongside the company’s branding.
  • Accessories can be a subtle way to promote your brand identity. Lapel pins, for example, can declare your association with your company. Depending on your taste and the event, they can vary from a small company symbol to the full company name and a brand attribute.

Visual Branding: Events & Exhibitions

Exhibitions and events are showcases. They’re occasions when you want to promote your most professional image. Let your branding speak for you.

  • Branded goods still work. They require budget but the competitiveness of the market means prices are lower than ever. USB drives, power banks, pens, umbrellas, pads, calendars and a million other items are available but choose an option that’s appropriate to the event and the audience.
  • Presentations and videos can make or break an event. Avoid leaving them to the last minute when branding issues and presentation quality are sacrificed in the interests of getting the right words written and approved. The more complete and robust your PowerPoint template, the faster it is to produce a new presentation.
  • Pull-up banners are now exceptional value. A banner wall now costs what we used to pay for a single narrow banner. There is no excuse for going to an event with out-of-date branding or poorly targeted messaging.
  • Do brochures and datasheets need to be mentioned? They’re such obvious items that an alert seems unnecessary. If you put nothing else on a stand, make sure your collateral displays your latest branding consistently.

You can combine branded goods with a message in some circumstances. When working for Kyocera, head office decided our new brand message would be “Count On Us”. We had calculators branded with that strapline. We thought this was wonderfully clever and appropriate. It went straight over peoples’ heads. ‘Clever’ rarely works.

Practical, on the other hand, works really well. When working for a commercial mower distributor, we branded some tough work gloves, the kind our customers wore every day. People were asking for them for years after we’d run out.

Visual Branding: The Workplace

Your workplace is your most expensive billboard. Make sure it projects the message you want when customers see it. Static signage is relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of the building. Use it.

It’s a matter of personal preference how heavily you brand the more mobile components of the office.

  • Do staff wear branded workwear or their own clothes?
  • Does a mug that says “Work Sucks” display personality, individuality and humour or is it just going to scare the bejesus out of any customer who sees it?
  • Do you want everybody to use branded paper and pens?
  • Do you give everybody their own branded water bottle?

Co-ordinated, branded mugs, blotters, pads and mouse mats may smack of Big Brother, but they do suggest you’re a professional and organised company.

Visual Branding: Your Digital Presence

Your online identity is both the easiest and cheapest to update. All you need is time. It also has the greatest reach. Make it your top priority.

  1. Getting the branding right on your website should be simple because it should be governed by templates. Update one template and hundreds of pages could adopt the new logo, colours or style. If you have to do it on a page-by-page basis, you need a new website.
  2. Email signatures should be used to reinforce your visual brand. They can be rolled out by the IT department so folks don’t have to do anything themselves. The best footers also include a tasteful amount of supplementary information.
  3. Social media is more challenging. It’s vital that you employ the correct logos and branding on your company pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. The problem is staff accounts. You can ask staff to use the right branding. You can and should provide guidance to make it easy for them to display the latest logos. But their social media accounts are their personal property. You can’t force them to do it.

Making Visual Consistency Easy For Your Staff

Marketing and design agencies are terrible at helping organisations implement the designs and tools they develop. They take one of two routes:

  • They expect to produce every document that goes out in your name. This quickly gets too expensive.
  • They leave you to work out for yourselves how to use the design templates they’ve created. This is rather like being given an iPhone in component form.

Unless you have adequate IT skills in-house, you need an agency (like Forbes Baxter Associates) that will:

  1. Create templates for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, InDesign, etc. that your staff can use. The templates must, for example, include standard text styles, page layouts and graphic elements.
  2. Help you deploy those templates across the organisation so that everybody who needs to use them can. Where do you store document templates on your network or SharePoint? How do apps access them? How do you publish email templates through Exchange? A good agency will help.
  3. Provide the necessary training and/or documentation on how templates should be used. This is vital with templates for applications like PowerPoint and InDesign but even Word can be made easier to use with shortcut keys and automations.

Brand attributes survey

Once you are confident in your products, processes and visual identity, it’s time to do a Brand Attributes survey.

Qualitative research

  1. Choose a small number of existing customers who have done business with you recently – they must have experience of your latest products, processes and visual branding.
  2. Record a face-to-face or video interview with them. Ask a series of questions to ascertain how they describe your performance in areas that are critical to you: price, quality, service, responsiveness, efficiency, authority, etc.
  3. Collate the answers into attributes that your customers use to describe your business.

Quantitative research

  1. Choose a larger number of past, present and potential customers – they must know who you are even if they don’t do business with you anymore (and maybe never have).
  2. Use a questionnaire to ask how strongly they agree or disagree that the attributes from your qualitative research apply to you and one key competitor.

This process is covered in more detail in our Little Black Book on Market Research.

Brand awareness survey

Brand Awareness surveys face a major challenge: data. You need to be able to contact people who are not your customers or prospects. You either need a GDPR-compliant database or a research agency with a suitable panel.

  1. Segment the database into different target markets if you need to understand your performance in each.
  2. Devise questions that establish three levels of engagement: awareness, consideration and preference.
  3. Use similar questions for different divisions if your company sells different product/service types.
  4. Include your own business and one key competitor for comparative purposes.

You’ll then know where you are known, where you are invisible and, if you’ve done a brand attributes survey, what you’re known for.

Incorporating Brand Into Product Marketing

Once you understand what your brand attributes really are, you can build them into your lead-generation. In “The Long And The Short Of It”, Binet & Field call this combining long-term brand-building with short-term sales activation.

This guide’s processes ensure that you promote brand attributes that work.

 

Brand Promotion Campaign

The goal of brand promotion is not to persuade people to buy your product/service. Brand promotion is not targeted at people who are in the market for your product/service today.

Brand promotion is targeted at people who might be in the market for your product/service at some point in the future. Your goal is to increase awareness (aka salience, aka mental availability). This long-term goal influences the nature of brand promotion:

  • You portray an emotional message that allows potential purchasers to imagine a productive working relationship with you. You promote empathy and common ground.
  • You don’t portray commercial or specific messages that suggest how a customer’s business will be improved by Feature X or Service Y. They’re not in the market yet. There’s no point in being so specific.
  • You don’t target specific companies or specific roles in those companies. Your goal is to increase awareness in the target market as a whole. The managers who will greenlight your deal in three years’ time may only be assistants today. According to LinkedIn (and who has better data on career movements?), 40% of people change roles, company or industry every four years. If you want to influence someone who’s going to be a decision-maker in three years, there’s no point being too precise about your targeting today.

What should a brand campaign look like?
Once you understand why you’re trying to build a strong brand and what your goals are you come to the most difficult part of all: creating your brand communications.

Getting this right is rather like riding a Bactrian camel by sitting on both humps at once. You’ve got to promote yourself as being relevant to your target market at the same time as being true to your actual brand attributes.

There are five golden rules to follow:

  • Demonstrate empathy. You’ve got to show that you both understand your target market and share the values of the companies within it. This doesn’t mean you have to be the same as those companies.
    • Hiscox Insurance’s wonderful “the small and the brave” campaign successfully positioned it as an insurance company that understood the needs of micro-businesses despite the fact that it was a multibillion pound corporation.
Hiscox's brand marketing successfully positioned a massive enterprise as an SME’s friend.

Hiscox’s brand marketing successfully positioned a massive enterprise as an SME’s friend.

  • Stick with one concept. We’re so bombarded with advertising in every aspect of our lives that you will never achieve brand awareness if you try to promote several concepts. The sky is the limit, though, when it comes to deciding what that concept will be.
    • Interbrand, for example, is famous (in some industries) for its annual brand valuation report. Edelman is similarly famous for its Trust Barometer.
    • If you can’t do a report, then maybe a tool would be within your reach. Ookla’s brand is inexorably tied to its broadband speed test despite the fact it does other things as well.
    • Or you might find that your concept is – just a concept. Like Hiscox and the way it promoted its affinity with SMEs.
  • Think of years, not months. Brand campaigns only build awareness when they’ve been running for years. Make sure you set a budget that you can sustain over this time period.
  • Be “surprisingly familiar”, a phrase that may have been created by LinkedIn’s B2B Institute. It proposes that awareness is built by campaigns that attract the eye because they are familiar and then grab the attention because they add a surprising twist.
    • In our own “not our customer” campaign, we mention big brands that everybody will be familiar with and then add the surprising twist that, unlike most corporate promotions, these are not our customers because they’re not SMEs like you and us.
    • Businesses that are relatively new and/or cash-challenged have to wait for familiarity with their own brand to grow but they can inject the surprising twist from day one.
  • Be distinctive. The marketing industry’s favourite obsession is that distinctiveness is more important than differentiation. This is based on Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s research that was published in “How Brands Grow”.
    • Whether we value his findings or not, common sense tells us that if we want people to be aware of our brand we need them to be able to see something that immediately makes people think of it.
    • This distinctive asset will usually be a visual element – probably a logo but maybe just a typeface, colour or icon.
    • Make your distinctive asset clear and visible on all brand communications. Coca-Cola’s rule of thumb was that advertising should only contain one picture, one logo and six words to maintain the prominence of the brand.
Consistency breeds awareness, maybe even distinctiveness (eventually).

Consistency breeds awareness, maybe even distinctiveness (eventually).

Where Do You Promote Your Brand?

Once you understand the concept of your brand advertising and the visual asset you want to promote, your final question is: where do you promote it?

There’s no denying that SMEs are at a massive disadvantage compared to bigger competitors. Brand awareness and distinctiveness both favour the big boys. SMEs just have to be smarter and exploit their advantages.

One advantage is that we are smaller and more controllable. We may have smaller budgets but we have fewer locations, fewer people, better internal communications and simpler management. We can make sure that we are 100% consistent in the way we display our visual brand across our locations, in our collateral, on our business correspondence, et cetera, et cetera.

Our biggest challenge is paid advertising. We can’t match the budgets of bigger competitors so we have to be clever about where we spend the money we have:

  1. LinkedIn is one possibility as long as you impose necessary budget restraints. LinkedIn advertising does tend to be expensive but an acceptable balance can be struck between overall spend and targeting. Interestingly, the less precise you are about targeting, the lower the cost per thousand (CPM) becomes. This sits well with the principle that brand advertising should not be too targeted.
  2. Google Display Ads are another possibility. Google Search Adds would be no use at all because they’re dominated by text search and your brand campaign needs to promote your visual assets. Display Ads, on the other hand, are both graphical and targeted to a degree.
  3. Trade and business associations and the trade press could be extremely useful. The mainstream media depends on advertising and charges accordingly. Trade associations and their associated publications and websites serve their industry. They offer great value because they’re not as greedy for advertising revenue.
  4. Finally, consider the higher quality end of the local magazines that fall through your letterbox. They’re compact so your advert won’t get lost the way adverts in newspapers do. Each issue has a long shelf life. They’re ideal if you’re trying to generate local awareness. And because they are local, you can target the ‘right kind’ of person.