A few decades ago, brand didn’t have a seat at the boardroom table. Now it’s a key strategic aim for most high-growth SMEs. Your biggest competitors and companies just like yours are taking branding seriously and it’s time for you to do the same. It boils down to this: if your brand isn’t helping you grow, it’s hindering you.
The world is getting more complex. With more information at our fingertips, more choice, more fragmented purchase journeys and more challengers nipping at your heels, growing your business sustainably and protecting it from the competition is more difficult than ever.
Brand can be a critical driver for growth, if done correctly. However, if you think that brand is just your logo, your colour palette, your tagline, your website, or the icon slapped on your livery and your packaging, then everything you know about brand is dead wrong. Brand is at the heart of everything you do and can be your single best competitive advantage. Getting it right will shape your sales and acquisition strategies, help you respond better to your markets, fire up and engage your teams, build a strong culture, and position you in the right way for growth.
But it often is just seen as ‘marketing fluff’. That’s why ORB’s approach is to be all the more disciplined and focused on the commercial impact of our brand work. We know that businesses have misconceptions about branding when the reality is brand can impact the things you really care about, the things that determine success or failure: driving growth, maximising sales and engaging teams. Here are some key recommendations and actions to take now.
Does this sound familiar?
“We’re working on our business strategy first, then we’ll look at brand.”
Is your brand driving business growth or simply getting in the way? An unfocused brand is the first sign that your business strategy is out of step with your brand. Perhaps the business has changed so quickly the brand is now stuck in the past, perhaps you’ve been so busy fighting fires that your brand has been left on the back burner. (As an SME ourselves, we’ve been there.) The signs of a weak brand are generating the wrong leads, ineffective marketing and a website that isn't driving conversion or sales.
Going after the wrong audience in the wrong way could cause grief, not growth. Unless you get the foundations right, you may as well be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
4 out of 10 companies believe their brand isn’t aligned with their overall strategic direction. With 5.4 million SMEs in the UK, that means over 2 million SMEs have a brand that’s on a completely different path. Unless your brand marries with and supports your business strategy, it is irrelevant. And if your brand is irrelevant, it’s getting in the way of growth, simple as that.
The benefits of getting this right
The most successful companies understand that brand and business planning go hand in hand. Nailing your brand strategy will give you clarity over your wider business aims, and vice versa. A strong brand strategy looks at your customers’ needs, your competitors and wider market forces in order to position you in the right way for growth.
Take these actions now
Here’s a simple diagnostic: ask yourself these three critical questions and if your answers are 'no' or you aren’t sure, that’s a key indicator that your brand is confused.
- Is our brand a strategic priority? Are we treating it just as seriously as our digital initiatives / internal efficiency drives / internal organisational work?
- What is our brand promise to our customers and the market? Is it any different to what our closest competitors are saying?
- What does our brand mean for our business strategy in future? Does our brand story give us guidance on future acquisitions, innovation or new product development?
Does this sound familiar?
"Brand has no impact on how we sell – that’s down to our sales teams.”
The problem with not seeing the link between brand and sales
So you’ve invested in your sales resource. You’ve hired an enthusiastic team ready to knock on doors and bang the phone. Maybe you’re working on your CRM system to better target the right kind of customers, maybe you’re exploring cross-sell strategies. But unless you also invest in your brand, your sales teams are selling with one hand tied behind their back.
“Brand is almost as important as sales team’s efforts in a purchase decision.” (Source: McKinsey).
The average B2B buyer gets 57% of the way through their purchase journey before engaging with a sales rep. That means half of their buying decision is based off your brand: how they perceive you, how you stack up against competition in their mind, how memorable you are, and how well they feel you answer their needs. Before a customer even picks up the phone to you or they’ve formed an impression of your brand. Make sure it’s the right one.
What getting this right will do for you
Strong branding gives your sales teams the best chance of success.
For many SMEs that sell similar (or the exact same) products or services as a competitor, brand can be the deciding factor. Especially for B2B business that find it hard to differentiate, the difference that makes the difference comes down to brand.
Why is this important? Externally, branding gives you focus: knowing the right customers, the right channels and the right way to communicate with them. Think of it as dressing a shop window: you need to know who you’re trying to attract, what they’re looking for and how your look and feel matches up to that, so you can build the right display that will entice them to come in. There’s no point selling something that a customer will never be interested in, no matter how good/innovative/value for money/premium it is. Without a strong, focused brand, your current sales tools – from your website to your brochures – could be ineffective at best, and a waste of time and money at worst.
Internally, a strong brand ensures consistency. When you nail your band experience, your marketing, sales and customer experience teams will all be singing off the same hymn sheet. We touch on branding’s impact on teams in more depth on the next page.
Actions to take now
Here’s a quickfire diagnostic to get to the heart of brand’s impact on your current sales approach. Ask yourself:
- How memorable is our brand? Does our product stand out on the shelf? Do we look the part? How difficult or easy is our brand name to say, spell, pronounce?
- If we sell similar (or the exact same) products as our competitors, do customers perceive a difference? What proof do we have?
- Do our sales teams have the right tools (elevator pitch, consistent sales literature, website messaging) to tell a compelling brand story that will engage customers?
- How silo’ed are our sales, marketing and customer service teams?
- If we asked every member of our sales team what our brand story is, how many different answers would we get?
Does this sound familiar?
“Brand is just our external image: the logo on our packaging, livery, website and brochures.”
The problem with not realising your brand is more than a logo is that branding’s biggest impact starts inside your walls. That’s because brand isn’t just what your customers and the outside world sees – it has to work just as well internally as it does externally.
Do you have teams at cross-purposes? Maybe you have employees that are doing their job half-heartedly, negatively impacting customer service and your culture? Perhaps you have field engineers or sub-contractors that work away from the office who don’t feel part of the team?
What is a disengaged team costing you?
Our approach to branding starts and ends with the people that should live and breathe it: your staff. We call it ‘inside out branding’. Delivering a great brand experience isn’t the responsibility of just your top management team; the success of any brand is buy-in across your company, from senior directors to front-line staff to the receptionist at the front desk. This is your brand culture. Culture isn’t just a buzzword for Silicon Valley startups with trendy open-plan offices and colourful bean bags. In fact, in our experience of working with high-growth SMEs across sectors, culture is even more important for industries and B2B businesses that typically haven’t seen it as a priority, such as manufacturers, utilities companies, financial services providers and more.
What getting culture right will do for you
Firing up your teams isn’t just about morale. Engaged teams have a commercial benefit:
Engaged companies also have 28% reduction in staff turnover, 50% reduction in cost per hire, 50% more qualified applicants. Engaged employees are 21% more profitable and 22% more productive. (Source: Gallup)
Actions to take now
Ask yourself this: if we could harness the creativity, expertise, experience and passion of everyone in our company to grow the business, what difference would that make? What difference would it make to our processes? Efficiencies? Our customer service? New business? Your staff can be your biggest brand ambassadors.
Then ask yourself: What steps do we need to take to ensure everyone gets behind our mission and proposition? How do we show the link between people’s day to day with our bigger purpose?
Any brand agency that hands over logo files and disappears soon after is doing you a disservice. That’s because creating the brand is just the first step. A brand has to be a shared set of values and beliefs that are deeply embedded in your team like a stick of rock.
Brand isn’t just your logo, tagline, colours, font or website. It’s your business’ best chance of success. Without a strong brand, you’re getting in the way of growth.
If you want to drive conversions, leave competitors in the dust, get buy-in from your staff, and shake up your market, get in touch. Our team of strategists, creatives and brand consultants will ensure your brand is the best investment you make this year.
Cynthia Miller is Lead Strategist at ORB, a branding agency that combines the creativity of an agency with the commercial impact of a consultant. She facilitates strategic workshops and helps B2B clients grow in remarkable ways. Say hello on Twitter at @cynthiawmiller.