I'm a small business - why do I need a brand?

If you are a small firm or a sole trader, you could be forgiven for thinking that branding is not for you. "Big names spend money on branding, small companies just get on with the job" is a typical response when small businesses are asked about their brand activities. But this perception is wrong, as Rachel Miller writes

Even if you do "believe in branding", it may come low on your to-do list after vital day-to-day tasks that keep your customers happy and keep revenue coming in. That's understandable.

Why do small firms need a brand?

So how can I convince you that branding matters - whether you are a window cleaner, a solicitor or run a restaurant?

Perhaps the first thing to do is to tackle the wording. If you were to replace the word "branding" with "reputation" I might get your attention. You care about your reputation, right?

Well branding is all about the impression you make. If you want to succeed, that impression should do two jobs - it should convey what is special about your business and it should show you in a positive light.

Of course, many small businesses make a good impression most of the time without ever giving a thought to their brand. But think how much more successful you would be if you gave a good impression all of the time.

What I am advocating is that you think about the impression you want to make - your brand - and actively take steps to manage it.

There are two parts to this process. Firstly, you have to decide what you stand for - what your USPs are, who you are aiming at and how you want to position yourself. Then you need to make sure that all aspects of your business are in line with this.

It's about applying your values to everything you do, clearly and consistently.

There are many small firms that have seen real financial benefits as a result of improving their brand. Fiona Humberstone, managing director of Flourish Studios, has worked with many one-man-bands and small businesses. "For instance, we worked with a plumber on his logo," reveals Fiona. "He used it on some new business cards which he distributed in his area and immediately got three new jobs. We've also helped a management consultant with her branding. We redesigned her proposal document as well as providing a new logo and website. As a result, every proposal that she has made that year was accepted - a 100% success rate."

Mark McCulloch, founder of Spectacular Marketing says, "You have a brand whether you like it or not. It's best to embrace that and find the best way to connect your brand with your target audience."

Mark worked with a company called Exhilaration some years ago that sold experience days out and was run by a husband and wife team that loved sky-diving. The business came to a crossroads when it had to develop its online presence.

"It was a tiny company with a tiny marketing spend," says Mark. "The name was good - Exhilaration summed up what they did - but their communications were very dry and didn't convey the excitement of what they were selling at all."

Mark transformed the company's literature and their website and injected the excitement that was missing. "Personality was everything, so we gave all the communications a new tone of voice," he says. Not only did customers respond but suppliers and investors also sat up and took notice. The result? "Their turnover rose from £1 million to £3.5 million and they became second in the market," Mark reveals. Exhilaration went on to be bought by Lastminute.com.

Creating the right impression

But if you don't think branding is for you, you are not alone.

"Many small business owners I meet think that brands are something that only large companies need or can afford," says Bryony Thomas of Watertight Marketing. "But your company name, the way you answer the phone, what your customers say when they're asked about you - these things all build to create an impression of your company and what it's like to do business with you - and that is your brand. So, you can either just let whatever impression you give happen haphazardly, or you can take control and manage it to your advantage."

One small firm that has benefited by developing its brand is Gradwell, the Bath-based small business ISP. "I tended to pick marketing up on the rainy days, and then drop it again. I'd never really given it much focus," reveals managing director, Peter Gradwell. "We had grown organically among tech enthusiasts, but knew that for major growth we'd need to appeal much more widely."

Bryony undertook market research and discovered that Gradwell's existing image was off-putting to less tech-savvy small business owners. A new brand identity addressed this.

"It was a really tough decision to spend money on something that wouldn't directly generate leads.  It was about building the foundations," says Peter. "But, I'm absolutely sure that it was the right thing to do. It has had huge benefits across everything we do. To give a tangible example, we were approached by Hewlett-Packard to appear as a pretty high profile case study, and I'm sure they wouldn't have shared a stage with us if we hadn't looked as polished as we now do."

It goes to show that your brand may be just as important to your relationships with partners and suppliers as it is to your customers. Take Best Years, a supplier of knitted toys to independent and high street retailers. " Brand is extremely important to us," says commercial director, Gaynor Humphrey. "We have worked hard to put a distance between ourselves and our price-driven competitors. A strong brand boosts traffic to our website. And if our brand values chime with the values of retailers they are more inclined to buy from us. Our foot is halfway through the door before they have even met us!"

Dee Blick, author of Powerful Marketing on a Shoestring Budget for Small Businesses, has worked with many small businesses on their branding. "Branding doesn't take shed-loads of money. It takes passion and time and thought," she says. But you neglect your brand at your peril, she warns. "Businesses don't own their own brand, they are custodians of it. Perceptions can alter quickly. Brands are constantly evolving and they need a lot of tending."

The message is clear. If you've got a business, then you've got a brand. What you do with it is up to you.


CREATING ILLUSTRIOUS BRANDS: STORYTELLING THROUGH DESIGN

A graduate of London’s Royal College of Art, Paul Wearing is a commercial artist who has applied his distinct illustrative touch to many projects, from large-scale architectural installations to campaigns for brands including Herman Miller, Elsevier, IBM, Bang & Olufsen, Neiman Marcus, Cedars Sinai Medical Center and The Royal Bank of Scotland. Often reflecting a passion for food, fashion, interior design and travel, his illustration agency’s work regularly appears in design annuals, art magazines and mass-circulation publications including The Wall Street Journal, M Magazine, Le Monde and bon appétit. He spoke with BrandingBusiness Chief Creative Officer Michael Dula, about his creative process, the power of colour and the role of creativity in branding.

Dula: As an illustrator, an artist, an image-maker, can you describe the look of your style for our listeners?

Wearing: I guess the essence of it is, it has a contemporary look. A lot of the influences that arise in my work come from mid-century type of styling — my interest in things like Charles and Reims furniture. Some of the artists who were working in that period come through my work in one way or another. What I guess it has is familiarity, in one respect, and, hopefully, freshness in another.

Dula: Tell us a little bit about your creative process. Do you create for yourself or do you create for your client's audience?

Wearing: I produce work for myself, whether or not it has an application anywhere or not. What is great is when you work with a client who has a view and wants to harness your work and take it further forward. That way, there's an interaction between the two. They'll bring something towards what you do and you'll add something to what they want to achieve.

Dula: How does your mind think when it comes to reaching your client's audience and drawing them in?

Wearing: I’m looking a lot to what the client talks about at the initial briefing on where their position is and where they're leaning, in terms their product or brand, and look at what's going on in the existing market with their competitors — trying to do something which doesn't repeat things other people do, so they have their own distinct, individual characteristic and they tell the story that is relevant to their company — their history or their characteristic¬ — and try and get across some of the essence of what the company or the product is about.

Dula: Do you spend a lot of time researching your clients, researching the background?

Wearing: As much as possible. I also try and keep abreast of current affairs and things that are happening in retail or fashion or anything like that.

In a previous life, alongside illustration, I used to work as a design consultant — advising retailers on trends, colors, products they should be developing. That involved going around the world, basically looking at what everybody was doing, going to various trade shows to see the newest colors that were coming in, and reading a lot.

That kind of background feeds into what I do now. As well as the artistic and creative side, which may be more powerful to me, there's also an awareness of the commercial aspects and socials trends manifesting themselves across a broader spectrum of areas.

Dula: How does color play out in your work?

Wearing: For me, color is absolutely key. Taking back to one of my first art history teachers, a fantastic, charismatic man who liked to tell you, “Color is the first thing anybody sees.” Essentially, I think he's right. After that, you see form and then line.

One of my earlier trainings was as a print textile designer, and color is so key in that area.

One of the most wonderful things… you can almost tell a story with color. If the colors aren't right in something, it never quite works for some reason. If they're right, things fly. And you'll see how much care people put into that when they apply it to areas of business like branding — the enormous amount of energy and focus on detail in trying to get people to have their individual look and individual color and individual stamp.

Dula: When I look at your illustrations, there is color harmony and balance and color complexity. It does seem fundamental when I look at a Paul Wearing illustration, whether you're using three colors or 100 colors. There's a certain harmony. Does color come naturally? Do you go through a lot of experimentation?

Wearing: I work almost exclusively on the computer now. When I begin a job, into the file that I'm working in, I'll bring in several pieces of work… images and colors that I think are pertinent to that particular job. Then I'll just begin playing. The beauty of working in digital media nowadays is the ability to recolor things. It's just fantastic.

Dula: It's amazing to me the vastness of your work, in terms of the application — whether it's on the side of a building, in an ad, on a website. Is there a difference between working with consumer brands and corporate brands?

Wearing: Sometimes just because of the pace of things with retail brands, things move faster. They're slightly more predetermined.

Sometimes with corporate brands, there's a more organic growth or a development period, probably because a lot of parties need to be involved in the decision-making. Also, there aren’t the pertinent deadlines you might get if you’re launching a product.

Dula: So many stories and ideas pour out of your imagery. Whether they'd be minimalistic, whether they'd be more complex, each one seems to hold a story. When you think about storytelling, how big of factor does it play?

Wearing: I think it's quite a big factor — not necessarily in a straightforward type of narrative like a storybook. A lot of my work will involve layering of imagery, subtle patterns and sometimes patterns which tell a story. They may not be immediately obvious.

For example, I had a great commission for Cedars Sinai Medical Center to develop a book promoting their child acute-sickness ward. In that, we had a child being picked up. And within the child, there was a repeat pattern. You got the sense that it was caring not just for one child but numerous children.

Dula: I've gotten to know you and your work through our client Elsevier [a leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services]. Can you talk about your recent work for them?

Wearing: What a fantastic job, to begin with. It's not that often that a client will come to you and want to base their whole look and brand around a lot of the graphic handwriting that you produce.

One of the things about the job… they liked what your colleague Drew [Letendre] termed “visual wit”… the idea of a tree within a head that signified knowledge. But because it had to do with digital downloads, the tree's roots were then made out of circuit board.

It sounds slightly trite when you say it, but when you illustrate it in the right way, it can be beautiful and it can work so nicely and tell a story in a very succinct way.

Dula: In your experience, what role does creativity play in the world of B2B branding?

Wearing: I think creativity everywhere is important, but especially in branding. To differentiate your company, get your company to tell its unique story. To have somebody come in with a creative spark and add a creative idea of how you can do that, I think, is so important.


Quiqup Branding Re-imagined for the Future

Contributed by Rosie Andrews of London-based MultiAdaptor.Quiqup

With well over 100,000 orders fulfilled, and millions of pounds of investment raised just one year into trading, Quiqup is a major force in the rapidly growing on-demand delivery market.

Whether it’s delivering dishes from your favourite restaurant (that doesn’t do takeaway); picking-up and dropping-off a last-minute gift for a special occasion; or running an essential errand you don’t have time to do yourself — Quiqup delivers.

 

Colour and imagery — bringing the freshness

In a market flooded with red brands, we clearly differentiated Quiqup with a super fresh bright green — setting an energetic tone that reflects the fresh-from-the-kitchen and fresh-out-the-box promise of the on-demand delivery experience.

 

The big idea — Forever flexible

A truly flexible brand was required to reflect a truly flexible service. Unlocking and liberating the ‘loop’ in the Quiqup Q, we developed a framework to consistently communicate this quality, that is infinitely adaptable but instantly identifiable.

Ambition — Reshaping the way the world sees delivery

Quiqup are at the forefront of an exciting new market that transforms the established business models of delivery, courier, and even concierge services through technology.

Like the Uber of on-demand delivery, Quiqup brings benefits to their network of drivers and riders that deliver to customers; and to the bricks and mortar retailers — from the big to boutique and everything in-between — who are competing with the e-commerce giants that dominate consumer buying habits.

View more identity work on the MultiAdaptor website. Follow MultiAdaptor on Twitter