Designing a clever logo, with the help of a competent graphic designer, is a good start for a growing small business. Yet there’s more to branding than a catchy sign, symbol or emblem.

A strong brand delivers a robust message about your business that can give you an edge over your competitors. A recent Entrepreneur article sums up branding perfectly.

“Your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’. Your company’s brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, and in my view, a brand is linked to a business’s reputation with its clients and the wider community. In marketing-speak, this is the value of your brand. It tells your clients what you do, what your business stands for and how it’s perceived in the marketplace.

Your reputation will precede you

If a customer comes to you by way of a referral or the internet, there’s a good chance they’ll have an opinion about your brand. In the financial planning world, clients might associate your brand with strong market knowledge or expert estate planning advice. Identifying your areas of expertise and ensuring they form a significant part of your marketing and sales messaging is crucial to building a successful brand.

A great place to work

Your firm’s brand and its culture are tied together. This means that your brand is just as important to your employees as it is to your clients. It’s very helpful if your employees believe in your brand and embrace its values.

A story in Harvard Business Review a few years back about US financial juggernaut USAA demonstrates the connection between brand and staff engagement. If you haven’t heard of them, USAA delivers insurance and financial services to America’s armed forces, both serving and retired. The strength of the USAA brand is tied heavily to the relationship it has developed between its frontline staff and the military clients they serve. The empathy and support USAA provide is the biggest brand promise they deliver and it sets them apart from the competition.

Incredibly, USAA recruits eat army rations during their training, to get a taste for a soldier’s life, and walk around with heavy packs on their backs. USAA calls it “surround sound” where they immerse their employees in aspects of military life, and this strategy seems to be helping the brand engage with its customers.

How do I develop my brand?

I’m not suggesting you need to wear backpacks and eat bully beef to connect with your customers, however, as part of your brand development process, you could start by answering these three questions:

  1. Why are we doing this? What is our core reason for being in business? What do we want to achieve?
  2. How do we deliver value to our customers? Think about what you deliver for your client: what is the outcome for clients of engaging with your brand?
  3. What qualities do you want your clients to associate with your brand? What do we want to be known for and how are we going to demonstrate these messages to our clients? As part of these deliberations, think about the messages you would want your clients to associate with your business.

Developing your brand can have a positive impact on your sales and marketing approach. It also sets the standards that you want your business to live by, and it can lay the groundwork for a stronger, more engaging and profitable relationship with your clients.

Anthony O'Brien is a principal of corporate marketing and communications firm Corpwrite. He is a business and personal finance writer with experience extending over 20 years in the communication industry.
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