Whatever size company you run, your brand is an essential component of your success. If your reputation is the sum of the impressions people have had of your firm historically, your brand describes what your customers and clients can expect in the future. If you want to be distinct, if you don’t want to fade, you will need a brand.
In fact, you will get a brand whether you want one or not. Impressions of a company are not necessarily based on fact. Often they are based on hearsay or supposition, so it is important to manage them in such a way that suits your purpose. And if you are a smaller company, since you will have fewer potential customers, every single impression will be even more important. The impact of a mismanaged brand can be so much more dramatic.
What does this mean in practice? There are several essential elements. First, your brand is an outcome of the DNA of your organisation and, therefore, brand building starts with recruitment. Your people are the single biggest driver of your brand. Even if you have a multi-million pound advertising budget, every single thing your staff touch affects impressions of your company in a fundamental way. As such, it is critical that the people you employ believe in your organisation, values, and ethos. For smaller companies, that DNA often flows from the founder or the management. But as the business grows, belief in the purpose of your organisation needs to be sustained independent of the founder’s lifespan.
Second, in a crowded marketplace, where people are bombarded with millions of messages vying for their attention and when it is easy for consumers to be cynical, it is vital to remain clear-sighted about what ultimately drives customer decisions. In my view, a brand should attempt to communicate three things: trust, expertise and liking. Of these three, trust is the most important. This requires a reputation for honest dealing, so will inevitably be affected by how your company treats people. Expertise is linked to the quality of your products or services. Liking is the differentiator: if several companies provide similar products or services to you, and they have a decent reputation, what will make me choose your product over theirs? Working out how you will address each of these points is central to brand-building.
Once you’ve decided what your brand should seek to achieve, how do you communicate it? There are obviously countless routes to the consumer, but most important is to understand that a single message will be seen by many different groups, and some of those groups will see that message differently. It is not possible to please all of the people all of the time, but it is possible to manage this problem. Essentially, it requires that all your communications be fundamentally truth-based. Make sure your advert or messaging is an accurate reflection of what you have to offer. If you promise five star service, you better deliver five stars. As long as you do this, even if the wrong audience sees your message, there’s not too much risk because it’s based on a truth that actually exists.
Finally, when you’ve got your brand out there, you need to constantly monitor it and take corrective action if people do not react in the way you expected. Social media, in particular, can be a useful feedback tool, as it allows you to see the opinions of your customers and potential customers in real time. This is where your brand and reaction to it can itself have a fundamental impact on your company. If your target audience doesn’t like what you’re doing, you have the ability to change – and fast.
This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as advice of any nature. The views and opinions expressed are subject to change without notice.
Raymond van Niekerk
City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.