13 Nov 2023

Branding for SMEs – taking it back to basics


We’ve read some interesting research about branding this week that has really got us thinking about the subject (even more than we do already!), and what some of this stuff means for the smaller businesses out there.

The danger with all these different reports, surveys and statistics is that it can leave you even more overwhelmed and confused about the whole idea of branding, so we think it’s time to take it back to basics.

And that means working out what we can realistically and affordably achieve from our branding that will deliver us the outcomes we want.

One of the reports we read was by Ipsos – the multinational marketing and research firm – and Jones Knowles Ritchie – a global branding business.

They interviewed 26,000+ people to test their perceptions of more than 500 brands, looking at logos, slogans, mascots, colours and products, with a view to assessing how distinctive they are.

With an eye-watering $4.7trn (£3.6trn) to be invested in marketing each year by 2025, according to Forrester, the research sought to understand to what extent this investment is actually helping to build brands that stand out, and to what extent the money is, dare we say it, being wasted?

In this case, distinctiveness was defined as a quality or characteristic that sets a brand apart from others of its kind, but that has strategic substance with a signature style.


Creating a ‘distinctive’ brand

From the results, brands were categorised into three levels of distinctiveness – bronze, silver and gold. Bronze businesses had assets with ‘weak associations that would be unlikely to signify the brand’, whereas a gold company had assets that immediately and uniquely brought the brand to mind’.

In this scenario, you could pick any one of the brand assets and use them in isolation and the business would still be identifiable – think Google colour palette for example. And obviously silver was somewhere in the middle.

The key finding was that only 15 per cent of brands achieved the gold standard for overall distinctiveness, with 20 per cent hitting silver and the remaining 65 per cent bronze.

The report then goes on to look at the individual assets – logos, slogans, mascots, colours and products – and explore the opportunities for elevating a brand’s distinctiveness from bronze to gold; the potential is obviously there.

As is always the case with this type of study, it’s the big-name case studies that are referenced; Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Coca Cola, Nike, McDonald’s, KFC, M&Ms, Burger King, Snickers, Heinz Beans, Tiffany & Co, Guinness, Cadbury’s – it goes on. A long list of major corporations which have been around for ages and whose iconic logos or slogans etc you can no doubt call to mind upon reading their names.

There’s the chance this could run the risk of small business owners just switching off to it because it can seem so unrelatable in comparison to big businesses who have had years to develop an iconic brand and stacks of cash to throw at it.


All good branding comes down to this…

But that’s forgetting that most of these businesses had to start exactly where every other venture starts – at the beginning, with no money and no-one knowing who they are.

Granted, there might have been less competition for some when they started out, but equally their world was a lot smaller when it came to reaching their audiences.

But what good branding really comes down to is this.

Fundamentally, those big success stories have all managed to capture a feeling, a value, a story, a shared experience.

Even when it’s a beautifully eye-catching collection of colours, a clever slogan or a cheeky character that is the instantly distinctive element, those well-established brands often evoke a feeling in us beyond a candy-covered chocolate with a face drawn on it

We come to know what they stand for and they give us something to aspire to. Heineken, for example, has even added its ability to deliver ‘good times’ to people as a new performance metric for its branding. And they know how to tastefully evolve the brand when the time is right.


All that ever matters is the customer

Another survey reported how our collective consumer loyalty to brands is dropping down the list of priorities as the cost-of-living continues to bite.

According to IPA TouchPoints, more than 60 per cent of customers are now actively looking for products with the lowest price and switching brands if they need to.

While potentially worrying for those big boys, the opportunities here could be for the brands which show they relate to their customers and appreciate the impact that rising costs are having on them and adjust their strategies accordingly.

It’s easily forgotten that all that ever matters in running a business, whether that’s setting your prices or coming up with your brand design, is your customer – what they want, what they need, how they feel.

So how can a small business with rising costs and low budgets compete? What should they be prioritising when it comes to branding?


A decent brand story is at the heart of any marketing activity

If you’re looking to generate leads and you have competition, then branding is at the heart of all your marketing and promotional activity.

It’s what anchors everything. Identifying who you are as a business, what your values are and most importantly, what value you add for a customer, is a vital exercise for every business to go through.

If you can get this right, and design the logo, slogan, colour palettes etc to go with it, everything else will be able to fall into place around it. You’d be surprised how many small businesses don’t do this, and therefore how easy it is to stand out from the crowd, just by having a memorable identity that people can start to relate to over time.

Then all you need to do is be consistent with it. According to 2021 YouGov data, studies showed that presenting brands consistently across all platforms can increase revenues by up to 23%.

For stand-out branding that really tells the story of your business – get in touch with us today.

You can also read more about how our branding process works here.