How to build your small business into a big brand

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When it comes to marketing a small business, the fundamentals remain the same as they are with big businesses, yet many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) fail to action even the simplest marketing initiatives effectively, often to the detriment of the business’ success.

That is the view of David Morobe, regional general manager at South African risk finance firm Business Partners, who says many SMEs don’t pay marketing functions as much attention as they should as they have the perception that their business is too small and lacks the necessary budget.

The 2016 National Small Business Survey released recently by South Africa’s National Small Business Chamber (NSBC) found many small businesses listed not marketing themselves effectively as their biggest mistake to date, with 43 per cent saying sales and marketing was the area where most assistance is required.

Morobe says not allocating resources – regardless of the amount – to marketing a business’ brand can have a negative impact, regardless of how much work is going into other areas of the business.

“Having a poor or unknown brand identity in the modern day market will not only potentially lead to losses amongst current customers, but also deter potential customers from approaching the business,” he says.

The Global New Product Innovation Survey by Nielsen’s shows that 59 per cent of respondents prefer to buy new products from brands they are familiar with, demonstrating the importance of effective marketing strategies.

“Customers want to connect to a brand and for them to do so, they need to understand what the business stands for, its core principles and what value the business offers,” Morobe says.

“There is a strong link between a successful business and an established brand identity. A recognisable brand is a business’ most valuable asset, as it communicates what the business does, how it does it, and at the same time establishes trust and credibility.”

He says establishing a strong brand doesn’t necessarily require a large marketing budget, but rather a clear plan, with clear brand-building objectives.

“A brand is a way of defining your business identity to yourself, your team and external audiences. It is essentially the sum total of the experiences that your customers and potential customers have with your business – which range from how the business answers the phone, to managing customer queries, and the language used,” he says.

“Small businesses are in a unique position to create valuable customer experiences because they are often more agile and unconstrained by corporate rules and processes. You are most unlikely to be addressed by an automated call centre answering machine at a small business.”

Morobe urges business owners to review how they are currently engaging with their stakeholders and set clear guidelines for their business going forward. He has three simple tips for helping small business owners to build their brand.

  1. Identify what the business stands for: “The best way to do this is to think of the business as a person or character and how this identity will promote the business and engage with customers, while also differentiating the business in the marketplace. Business owners should establish what is unique and sets them apart, as well as what their brand promise to customers is.”
  2. Be consistent: “Reinforce the brand messages and promises into every aspect of the business: A business needs to be consistent in all communication to internal (staff) and external (customer) audiences, such as its signage and packaging, advertising collateral, and customer and sales communication. Similarly, businesses must also ensure that customers receive a constant and reliable customer services experience. This means that regardless of who they engage with within the organisation, the level and delivery of customer service will remain aligned to the brand identity.”
  3. Regular staff engagement: “As staff play a very important role in how the brand identity is delivered, business owners should be encouraged to have regular workshops with their staff to ensure the business’ brand messaging remains consistent.”

“While building a business’ brand won’t happen overnight, establishing an action plan and committing to it will assist in establishing long-term relationships with customers, and in turn, businesses can expect an increase in sales as customers advocate for products and services with word-of-mouth referrals – the most powerful form of marketing for any business, especially an SME,” Morobe says.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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