When you listen to the popular media and the topic of branding comes up, they are more times than not discussing consumer brands. Even if they do mention a business brand they often compare it to a consumer brand. Over all I believe that the general public and a large percentage of businesses think a brand to be solely the logo and marketing materials. Even when discussed properly (in my opinion) I rarely ever see an effort to build a solution based on differentiation. Not only that, but very rarely do I see a move to a positioning strategy. Something that absolutely resonates with its audience that makes the business the first choice – a leader. Not just a clever catch-all slogan.
I work predominantly with small to medium size enterprises. These are typically companies that make up the greater economy in the world. They are not generally known by the public. You’ll never see them in the news. They are not among the Fortune 500. The media don’t find them sexy enough to feature them in their news stories. Most are not public but are privately owned businesses. Collectively the employ the most throughout the world. If you look around your community most of your friends and family draw a pay check from anonymous small business. Because of their small size, SME’s (small to medium size enterprises) have little regard for professional marketing. They draw their inspiration from the leaders in their categories. They typically don’t have a promotional budget. They have what they believe they must have, because someone in their sphere told them so. Everyone has a website now, but if you look at them, they are simply a digital version of the standard brochure. There is no strategy in place for the web. When I facilitate my branding process with this group, I do validating research. The last question is: For business what do you use? Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter. Most say none and if there is one it’s Linkedin, but the vast majority admit that they don’t know why they’re on Linkedin but are there because ‘everyone’ says they have to be.
Notice a pattern?
As part of my branding process, I also do a competitive analysis. The one I’m currently working on is not unlike others I’ve done in regard to branding. None of the competitors are taking a bold position, most have a slogan and the others nothing. All, including my customer are singing the same song. Same conversation, same image, same tone and personality. Because SME’s have little respect for promotion, they find it very difficult to address anything that makes them stand out. If you were to ask them what makes them different almost all would say it’s either their people or their service that makes them different. It rolls off their tongue. It’s also non-commital. It’s safe. It’s what they big guys are doing and they certainly can’t be wrong (can they?). What I love of course is the SME that’s willing to step out of the industry norm. To take a position and make a promise to their category customers to deliver something that excites them and makes the SME the first choice. An advantage the SME’s have over large Fortune 500′s, is the fact that they’re flat and can change on a dime. It’s very hard for the big players to change ‘immediately’. I can take then 6 months and longer to react to an effective position taken against them. Most SME’s don’t recognize and engage this advantage. But it’s huge.
Corporate branding, when done properly is cost effective and has as its goal the ability to make the recipient more money. In the journey it also inspires and reinvigorates SME’s. SME’s would benefit if they took their promotional efforts seriously and be pro-active rather than reactionary. They would also benefit if they endorsed the strategy of brand positioning. Brand positioning takes effort. Once defined, the SME must become the brand the positioning dictates. If there’s one thing that can harm a brand is inauthenticity. That is, to say one thing and do another. You see examples of this every day in business. They espouse service yet fail to deliver.They claim to be a leader but fail to act like one. Perception is reality in branding and off-brand activity is the leading cause of brand failure.
When done right, corporate branding is a catalyst for change for any SME. Branding is a constant, on-going effort across all channels and platforms affecting all stakeholders of the brand. It is because of this reach, that benefits are obvious when a powerful positioning is adopted. SME’s have the opportunity to play in the big kids’s sandbox once they decide to step inside.