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.


DE-BRANDING AS RE-BRANDING AND INTERNAL EQUITY (OR BRAND MYOPIA)

Strange as it may sound, some of the most important work we do does not involve building or even refreshing brands, but simply finding brands to retire.  I hesitated to use the word “simply” because it’s rarely simple. What stands between brand retirement and simplicity is that old bogeyman, Internal Equity—that and the business cultures that create and sustain it.

Internal Equity is often just a euphemism for a non-rational attachment to brands on the part of their stewards. These are typically product developers, marketers, sales personnel and managers of the P&L centers who believe they are dependent on the existence of these brands to meet required business results. The delusion is that the level of awareness and perceived value ascribed to these brands by internal stakeholders is also shared by the market.

To be sure, this is not always a case of brand myopia. Sometimes internal stakeholders do have very clear, accurate and evidential knowledge of a brand’s true worth or market value: the internal and external attachments match. But more often than not, the phenomenon of Internal Equity is rooted in phantom logic.

Such delusions are easy to come by. Saturated day in and day out by the same brand messages, names, logos and even by regular contact with the product itself, brands take on a life of their own. From there, it is easy to project value unwittingly, outwardly. The world, however, may see things quite differently (or see them not at all).

The late Wally Olins, of Wolff Olins and Saffron, sums up the issue with characteristic concision in his posthumous book, Brand New:  “How do businesses assimilate the companies and brands they acquire so that they fit comfortably into the whole without losing the characteristics for which they were acquired in the first place?’’

We might go further and ask,  should they assimilate them at all, or is it better to allow them to persist on their own, tethered to the parent by a long, thin, invisible thread, if only for a time? And with that we are in the realm of brand architecture—how to manage and deploy one’s valued strategic assets to catalyze business performance and/or achieve certain strategic ends.

What we have found in our work with clients is that quite often the majority of acquired items in a portfolio are not (nor ever have been) brands in any robust sense. They are usually mere trade names (sometimes trademarked, sometimes not). They have no marketing budget, effort or apparatus to support, manage or grow them. While they may be bought and sold by customers, they have no inherent brand equity; they are not actively marketed, advertised or otherwise promoted. They are not brands. It’s at that point of discovery that we invoke and apply one of branding’s cardinal rules:

The Brand Parsimony Principle: create and manage the smallest number of competitive brands that you can actively and effectively manage, leverage and grow.

Which brings us to the nub of the matter: how one determines—effectively and economically—whether a beloved brand truly is a brand or is a counterfeit, a mere trade name, not so well-known beyond the halls of the business it originates in. The obvious but expensive answer is to conduct formal research into what customers and prospects know, don’t know or think they know. Budget constraints often rule out this option, especially if the need is to make determinations about a large number of brands.

So, while quantitative testing, with statistically significant sample sizes, is almost always preferable, it’s also expensive. So what’s the alternative (apart from blissful self-delusion)? BrandingBusiness has developed a brand research instrument to answer the Internal Equity question.

Based on logic and experience, we have identified a set of dimensions that help us assess brand status (awareness and equity) indirectly.  To get to such a point, we do not ask for judgments, estimates or best guesses about a givenbrand’s market value, level-of-awareness or equity. Rather, we ask questions which admit of quantitative answers, along dimensions that we think can tell us something significant about brand status, things like: product history (number of years in existence), clientele (number of active customers); competition (total number of competitive products in the market); promotional support (whether or not a brand has a dedicated marketing/advertising budget or not—and how much, etc.).

We used these dimensions with success for the Process Systems (PS) division of Saint-Gobain’s global Performance Plastics business. PS designs and manufactures fluid management technology—advanced tubing, pumps, valves, manifolds, gaskets and seals—for highly specialized, often demanding applications.

Using the BrandingBusiness equity protocol, we assessed their portfolio of over 50 SKU’s and identified just four genuine brands around which the total offer could be organized, simplified and more effectively marketed and sold. In the end (or in the new beginning), we re-purposed them as functionally defined lead (line) brands, refreshed their individual identities, and assembled them into a new, more equitable and navigable architecture.


Everything you need to know about the Adobe Max Conference 2015

Every year's Adobe MAX conference marks the an obvious time to expect updates throughout Adobe's product lineup. So what's different this time? Mobile. Adobe has the monopoly in the area of creative applications for media editing, but for the first time in a while, it feels like they're competing with some unknown entity. This year's updates bring so many new features across the widest range of Adobe products ever that there's no doubt they're serious about their making customers happy with a huge concentration on mobile.

Adobe's inclusion of some pro-level features in these applications is perhaps the most exciting, as it points to their lack of shyness when in comes to including as many great product features into as many applications as possible. The best way to tackle all of this information is a summary of the highlights, here, and to then read the press releases you're most interested in, so those are included at the end of this post.

Adobe Update Highlights

Perhaps the most useful overall update lies within the integration of Adobe's apps. As a quick overview, CreativeSync now syncs Libraries with saved font styles, graphics, images, and color palettes across more apps and devices than ever. A quick on-stage demo showed how a team could create a yoga flyer in minutes across a two-person team (one on desktop, and one on mobile) that brought in from-scratch graphics, an Adobe Stock image, a new pattern matched to a color palette, and fonts and styles all synced through Libraries. Some assets were even created and refined by popping them between various mobile apps that were individually geared to best tackle their own tasks. The presentation in the Adobe MAX 2015 keynote made quite a powerful impact.

In addition to these broader updates, Lightroom Mobile goes free even for non-subscribers of CC while it gains Dehaze and an in-app camera. Lightroom Mobile also offers Targeted Adjustments, now, alongside new Color/B&W-specific editing options. Photos are finally organized by date on mobile. And images can be brought into the Adobe Premiere Clip app to create slideshow movies with your photography from Lightroom Mobile. Meanwhile, Lightroom CC/Desktop gains localized Dehaze, a new Import dialog which really hasn't been changed since its inception, and a touch-optimized UI (along with numerous other applications that have been optimized for touch input: every Adobe desktop app is now optimized for touch on Windows, and yes, it really is extremely well implemented). A quick added note: Camera Raw 9.2 is also available now with localized Dehaze, amongst a few other features and camera compatibility updates.

Adobe's mobile apps, ColorBrushShape, and Hue, have all seen their final updates as they have been streamlined and combined into one extremely powerful design app: Adobe Capture. Capture includes a built-in camera tool and that really is any designer's dream come true, bringing a single platform to handle virtually any element of a project by supporting any media in one place. Photoshop Mix now includes support for more than two layers, layer masks, nine of the most popular blend modes from Photoshop, and twice as many image adjustments, thanks in part to taking advantage of Apple's Metal framework for iOS.

If you would like to read more about adobe's new apps and desktop items, Click Here to read the full story


Channel 4 rebrands, with help from Jonathan Glazer and Neville Brody

 

Channel 4 has launched a refresh of its branding, centred around a bold new take on its classic logo. Featuring idents from Jonathan Glazer and two new fonts from Neville Brody, the new look is dynamic, playful and at times a little bit bonkers…

The new identity comes ten years after Channel 4’s last brand refresh, but while ten years is a long time in media, the broadcaster’s previous look – which included abstract idents where the 4 logo appeared out of landscapes – hadn’t necessarily grown tired and was still much loved by viewers. With this in mind, Chris Bovill and John Allison, head of the channel’s in-house creative agency 4Creative (which is behind the concept for the new identity, alongside creative agency DBLG), describe the challenge of rebranding as “one of the biggest, scariest briefs we’ve ever had”.

Wisely then, when there is so much love for Channel 4’s iconic style, the team decided to keep the classic 4 logo originally designed by Lambie Nairn, though it will no longer appear in its full form on TV. Instead the 4 has been broken down into its constituent parts, which will be used across all of Channel 4’s branding, from on-screen graphics menus, to the new typeface, to the channel’s idents.

 

You can read the full piece by clicking here