In 1876, the red triangle of Bass Ale became the UK’s first official trademark and the concept of branding was born. Branding as a way of promoting products has been used by marketing professionals ever since.
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as “a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” The purpose of branding is to attract and retain customers, and it incorporates so much more than simply a logo or nice font. Think of the tone of voice of Innocent smoothies’ social media accounts, the design of Apple products or the whole experience at Disneyland – all great examples of branding that go way beyond the logo.
In large businesses, at the heart of a brand lie the brand values. These are the guiding principles that should shape every aspect of the product or services, from how it looks, to how it is priced, the way it is available to customers and how it is described in marketing materials. This article 5 Companies with Core Values that Stand Above the Rest, Element Three rather neatly sums up some of the brand values of 5 internationally famous brands, from the predictable: “We are consumer-focused” (Adidas) to the more unexpected: “You can be serious without a suit.” (Google) The brand values should shape every aspect of the business.
Branding and Authenticity in Small Business
I am a firm believer that good marketing should be available to small businesses as much as multinational corporations. Alongside social media, content marketing and social selling, branding is a marketing strategy that small businesses can definitely adapt for their own use. Small businesses can use branding to attract and retain loyal customers in much the same way. But brand values are inevitably more personal when a business is run by the person who founded it. When you are the brand, your values are the heart of the business.
In a national or international market, small businesses in all sectors may struggle to compete on price. But as consumers are increasingly drawn to authentic and values-driven businesses, so if small business owners articulate their brand values and communicate them successfully, they have a clear point of difference between themselves and their competitors.
To communicate the message effectively, all aspects of the business needs to be conducted in a way that is consistent with those values. An organisation that states it “puts customers at the heart of everything we do” but treats its staff poorly or doesn’t pay suppliers on time is going to struggle to convince anyone that it is authentic.
How to Get to the Heart of Your Values
As a small business owner or a solopreneur, how do you really get to the heart of what and who you are in your business in order to use it effectively as part of your brand? I found several steps helpful in this process:
“Quiet” by Susan Cain, of course, but “WE A Manifesto” by Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel and “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington have also been helpful for me
I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts this year, and those that focus on authentic business win out over those that encourage hustle every time. Conversations of Inspiration, Courage and Spice, Hashtag Authentic are just a few of my regulars. But taking soundings from clients, trusted associates and business friends have been just as helpful.
So many, they would need their own blog post! But sometimes it is helpful to do the wrong thing to help remind you what is the right thing for you.
Living and Working Your Business Values
This is a process which takes time and will need returning to on occasion. If you work with a team, your process should involve everyone, and ideally needs to incorporate the values and the drivers of individuals in the team, rather than imposing those of the founder.
I once worked with a small business that had their business values printed out on the wall in the kitchen. They didn’t look at the printout, but they didn’t really need to. Giving customers their absolute best was just the way they did things. They had helpful hacks to make them shine (making notes of how their customers took their coffee or names of grandchildren) but the commitment was at the heart of everything they did, every process and every business decision. Their customers could have gone to cheaper national brands for the service but chose to be loyal to a business where they felt looked after and valued.
I have written about the brand values of Bondfield Marketing before. The values had been in place for some time, but the blog was in response to a particular challenge. Interestingly it had the most interest of anything I’ve written on the blog.
But it was time for a refresh, of the values, the visuals and the approach. I’ve moved on in 2 years, although the underlying drivers behind the business remain the same. My focus is still on delivering for my clients, doing the best work I can and being a present parent. And my values today? I am a consultant who:
- Cares about and understands the clients’ whole business (not just the marketing bits)
- Respects clients’ timescales, boundaries and responsibilities and expects the same
- Is always learning and is a companion on a client’s business journey, rather than their guru
- Shows up authentically as a professional, introvert and parent
- Finds easy ways to do hard work
I believe every successful business starts by articulating the values of that business. Communicating them consistently to clients and potential clients through marketing activity and day to day operations is powerful and compelling.
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5 Steps to Successful Personal Branding
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