Are you making the mistake of overlooking branding strategy for your small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) because you view yourself as a business and not a brand? Branding is not just for multinationals and it involves more than just a nice logo and business cards. We speak to a Singaporean entrepreneur who shares some tips based on her company’s branding journey.
Realise that branding is crucial
One of the ways for an SME to take its business up a notch is with branding. Josiah Montessori’s founders Ms Wendy Tan and Ms Lena Ng started their business in 1997 but only began their branding exercise in 2011 — after attending some workshops on the importance of branding. “It took us a while but after the workshops, we realised that in order to grow our business, for example, through franchising, branding was necessary and needed to be consistent,” shares Ms Tan.
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Since they started focusing on branding, they have opened more outlets, helping them create a stronger presence. “Our customers know how we stand out in the childcare space — mainly through our strong Montessori practices and values — and this has helped us grow,” she notes. “By updating our brand, we have managed to stay relevant, especially to a younger crowd of parents. Branding has also helped both attract new staff and retain employees by giving us a face and voice, which is reassuring to staff.
Tips on branding for owners:
- Remember for SMEs in particular, the onus of branding lies squarely on the company leaders’ shoulders.
- Be as unique as you can, but keep your promises.
Reputation is key
Building trust in your company does not happen instantly — it’s actually a continuous effort. Presenting your company and its products and services in a professional way helps cement your reputation in the minds of your customers (including potential ones), partners (in Josiah Montessori’s case, bankers for example) and staff. “Branding helped us realise exactly what made us stand out to our customers — the Montessori style as well as our care and concern for the centre’s children, parents and staff. It gave us the edge by conveying these important values that we put effort in delivering to our customers,” says Ms Tan.
From her experience, she advises companies to create an identity that resonates with clients and use this to reinforce the emotional relationship that should be at the heart of the success of the brand.
“Creating a reputation and identity has definitely helped attract and retain staff,” notes Ms Tan. Josiah currently has about 100 staff, many of them long-term employees who have served five to 15 years in the company. Ms Tan feels this has helped them connect with the Josiah brand more closely. She adds, “Each of our staff is an extension of our brand, which is important as many of them are client-facing. In fact, many of our employees have given us key feedback and input which has helped define the Josiah brand for example, what events they feel will benefit the children and their parents.”
Tips when building your brand identity:
- Build your brand voice in all your communications and make it sound warm and approachable.
- Stick to the same tone and style for all communications to keep it consistent.
Put some thought into your company logo
A company logo may not be the be-all and end-all of any business’s branding, yet time and effort should be put into it. Your logo is an important part of your company’s brand and can have a significant impact on your customers and the public perception of your business. Not only is it a point of recognition for your clients, but a well-designed logo is also an easy way to convey a good first impression. Ms Tan’s advice to SME owners is to be involved in the logo creation at all stages, as you know better than anyone else what it should convey.
In Josiah’s case, the company asked the children and their parents for their opinion on the logo design they had in mind, helping shape it into what it is today.
Tips when creating your company logo:
- It should be effective in any size, be it on stationery or on a billboard.
- It should make an impact both in colour and in black and white.
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Branding should go hand-in-hand with your marketing efforts
According to branding pioneer Walter Landau, “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind”. Your consumers’ perceptions are what really determine the value of your brand and your products and services in the marketplace. Your ability to build value for your brand and then communicate this value to your customers through your marketing efforts is crucial to the long-term success of your company.
Research has shown that 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally which means a buyer can be influenced by peer recommendations, online reviews and social media profiles and posts. When Josiah first embarked on its branding exercise in 2011, social media was not as prolific as today. “It’s a different story now; not branding yourself digitally on your website and social media will mean your company lags behind its competitors. It’s crucial even as an SME that we keep up with evolving market demands,” says Ms Tan. Josiah has started a website blog and is active on social media to stay more closely engaged with their customers.
Tips when branding:
- Support your sales teams with marketing activities in the form of content such as blogs and events that are promoted on your website and through social media channels.
- Think carefully about the images that go with your content
Lessons learnt: An SME’s tips on branding
- Never stop learning — take it one step at a time
- It’s in your hands — understand the brand quotation, read a lot about branding and ask other SME owners about their experience
- Do your own benchmarking —understand your brand, the market and your customers
- Commit the time and be frugal — branding takes time and patience. It can also be costly, so do look into what works and what won’t for your company
- Speak up — if you don’t agree or like some of the consultant’s ideas, tell them cordially and work to find a solution
- Be committed and active — no one knows a company’s brand better than its owner, not even a brand consultant
- Do your research – tap on available government resources and programmes