Branding is not just about big business. Regardless of whether you have a specific brand strategy in place or not, if you are operating in business then you have a brand – good or bad, weak or strong.
In small and medium businesses the single greatest influence on the business brand is the company leader. Think about it. Even if the company has marketing personnel, the final decisions and creative control lie with the executive director. This is something many leaders of small and medium enterprises fail to recognize.
Remember, your business brand goes far beyond the just the name and logo. Your website design, your marketing message, your staff, your pricing policy, the look of your business interior, your brand collateral, your customer service together with the whole culture of your business all shape your customer’s perception of your business and your brand. And who has overall control of these elements? The leader. So whether intentional or not, for better or worse, as leader you are currently shaping the development of your business brand.
Building a strong brand starts from the inside. Whatever happens inside the business reflects what the customers perceive from the outside. I am sure we all know of a local business we love to visit because the staff are friendly and helpful. In more cases than not, this is because the owner is the friendliest and most helpful of them all. The owner is the influencer who affects everything around them within the business and beyond.
In fact, many of the world’s biggest brands are shaped by the vision of their leaders. Anyone who has read Steve Jobs biography knows that he was the visionary of the Apple brand. He influenced everything about the brand. Apple is design obsessed because Steve Jobs was design obsessed.
If we think about the brand personality of Ryanair, we think abrasive, sometimes downright rude, unfriendly, brash but invariably the best deal and on time. Now think about Michael O’Leary, Ryanairs CEO, any of those traits come to mind?! It’s no accident that these characteristics are cultivated as part of his public persona to congruently fit with the brand, like it or hate it!
You can make similar leadership and brand visionary comparisons with Richard Branson and the Virgin brand, amongst others, a very different brand and leadership style but he is undoubtably a very shrewd leader of the Virgin brand. And these are global companies. In small and medium companies where the business leader has total control on decisions, they intentionally or otherwise shape the brand more than anyone else.
We know that some business leaders are better than others in terms of skills and knowledge and this has an obvious effect on the financial success of one business over its competitors. But business acumen aside, when a business leader is closely associated with the embodiment of a brand their sheer existence in the company has an effect on people’s confidence in the company performance and ultimately the profitability of the business.
Steve Jobs is one of the greatest examples of how strong the influence of a leader is on a brand. When Steve Jobs resigned from Apple the company’s shares dropped as much as 7%. This company is a global titan, with some of the world’s greatest minds and strongest business strategists at its helm, and yet, without Jobs’ involvement customers were wary because Apple had become synonymous with Jobs and his utter embodiment of what made Apple ‘Apple’. Customers found it to difficult to separate the brand from the leader, ultimately affecting the company’s bottom line.
If your business is not performing or where you want it to be, you need to look at what you are doing to influence those in your company, your brand and how its perceived internally and externally and the service you provide.
If you don’t have a clear vision of what your business brand identity is, what your brand stands for and how it engages with your target audience in a way that matters to them, then how can your business have a clear strategy ?
The huge positive for leaders of small and medium businesses is that building a strong brand is not difficult, done correctly and with the right team expertise on board to support you, because it starts with you.
If you are serious about building a strong brand for your company and maximizing your profit potential then the first step is to undertake brand profiling for your business. Understanding your brand’s current position and identity in the market will help you on your way to understand the role you can play in shaping it to greater profitability for the future.
Your business’ brand strategy lies in your hands and with it the growing profitability and success of your business.
As the leader of your business do you know what aspects of your brand are working effectively, or falling short and in need attention or just tired, out of touch and in need of repositioning and revitalisation to increase your commercial returns ?