What is a brand and what is branding

My favourite definition of branding talks about ”the set of associations that a person makes with a product, a service or a company or organisation”. Branding is therefore about creating and sustaining good associations and dispelling the bad associations.  There’s a lot of fuss about branding in the corporate world, but typically SMEs have not taken branding as seriously.  Perhaps it’s worth thinking about branding your business. If the big companies are all doing it, surely it has benefits ?  And is it really so expensive ?

How branding helps

  • Distinctiveness – if customers perceive your product as distinct from the others, then some will probably be prepared to pay more
  • Added Value – if customers associate added value with your brand, then you will sell more to them at higher prices
  • Connect with people – if people feel connected with your brand, they are more likely to buy at higher prices.
  • Search engine rankings - If you can establish your brand online, search engines will reward you with lots of visitors.  It’s a virtuous circle or a vicious cycle (depending on the direction)

Key ingredients

Many people find the ideas of brands and branding a bit intangible – what are the elements of a brand and how do you influence them?   The major elements are
  • The “big idea” – What lies at the heart of the company ?
    •  Microsoft believed in “A computer on every desktop and in every home (using Microsoft software)”
    • Body Shop talked about corporate responsibility and public good
  • Values – What do you believe in ?
    • Body Shop – greenness, fair trade, self-esteem, human rights and no animal testing.
    • VW cars scream affordability, reliability and high quality (German) engineering.
  • Vision – Where are you going ?
    • Tesla Motors –‘move from a mine and burn carbon economy  towards a sustainable solar electric economy’  (I hope he meant to include something about cars which a fun to drive)
    • Nike - “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.” (“If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
  • Personality – How do you want to come across ?
    • Harley Davidson are thought of rebellious, as is Virgin
    • Mini is young energetic, fun, individual and inexpensive (well not that last one anymore)
    • Volvo is safe, reliable, long lasting and comfortable

How famous brands apply the brand

IKEA – Ikea’s big idea is that “good design is for everyone, not just for design snobs”.  Their advertisements feature ordinary people Pret a Manger’s big idea is about valuing fresh food and minimising waste – so food is made on the premises (in a kitchen).  Pret gives anything unsold at the end of the day to charities John Smith – John Smith is brewed in Yorkshire and the brand’s personality is the bluff straight talking, ‘no-nonsense’ Yorkshireman.  Choosing comedian Peter Kay to represent the Brand Personality was rather obvious


As social media has grown, consumer power has grown exponentially with it – louder and more public.  Those brands, which are succeeding, are customer focused and responsive (eg Google and Apple)

How branding applies to SMEs in the online world

Although we don’t build our website for the search engines, we need to make sure that they are sending the right people to us.  Search engines look for sites which are clearly focused on a particular subject and they use incoming links to determine this.  We can use business listings to show the website’s subject. So in short
  • Know your clients and their expectations
  • Plan your brand strategy and execute the plan
  • Decide on your brand messages and brand personality and stick to them
  • Rinse and repeat.
A well branded website with consistent activity can rank on the search engines quite quickly.  Once a few visitors come, if your content is engaging and attractive, then the search engines will do the rest.  The longer that you sustain the branding and the regular posting, the more keywords you will rank for and the more visitors you will get.  And then the job of turning them into leads begins.

How SMEs can apply branding techniques online

Focus – having a clearly recognisable and understandable focus will help your brand.  Page titles, incoming links are some of the clues used by search engines.  People look at the pictures and then the words Storytelling – my local butcher sells organic meat at astronomical prices, but each joint comes with the life story of the wretched beast that the meat came from, including photographs. Customers seem ready to pay (a lot) extra for this album! Taking this to the extreme, my local butcher might set up a Twitter account or Facebook page for his cows!  Tell your business‘s story on social media Differentiation – tool manufacturer Hilti used black and white photos with colour tools instead of competitors’ technical images of buildings and projects. Their advertisments are instantly recognisable. Engaging with customers – Unilever now promote Dove through social media and use the feedback they get to help drive the brand positioning.  The product doesn’t change, but the packet and the advertising does.  Ask your customers for their views on your business perhaps by email / survey Focusing your product portfolio – As part of brand portfolio rationalisation, after 50 years of success, Dove’s brand had to change.  Once “not a soap, but a beauty bar that does not dry your skin” it had to become something that “makes you feel beautiful” to its customers.  Beauty industry advertising had been making women feel ugly and so promotion had to change too.  The Dove brand is now associated with several products, “real women”(not models) and is promoted by social media in a two-way conversation.  Here is the full story. Naming – brand names help to set you personality and tone.  Having avoided the trademarked ones, you still have some scope for differentiating your brand personality.  Brand names fall into several types
  • Descriptive – EasyJet – flying is easy, right ?  Toys ‘R’ Us – what do they sell?
  • Evocative – Innocent – pure and natural fruit juice?  First Direct – the first telephone bank.
  • Abstract – eg Aviva – an invented word with a lively feel!
Choosing brand names isn’t easy and is probably best done by gathering lots of people’s opinions on various suggestions – polls are very popular content Credibility – credibility flows from expertise, trust and consistency.  Everywhere people look they need to see your company behaving in the same way.  You can boost credibility by engaging with people on social media and guest posting on relevant blogs.


  • Branding can have great benefits even to small businesses -  “is probably worth it”
  • Once the hard thinking has been done, then online branding is probably easier than offline
  • Online branding doesn’t have to cost a lot of money
  • Correctly used, online tools give you powerful ways of reaching and engaging your customers