Is it possible for a small business to have a brand? Personally I have my doubts. And I am convinced that for a service industry that works business to business it’s not only impossible – but dangerous – to think in this way.

Let me explain in simple terms.

People buy people. Yes it’s a cliché, but like every cliché it’s based in truth. When you are considering a financial advisor – what’s more important, their logo design or their expertise and personality? Would you work with someone who you didn’t get on with too well if their website looked gorgeous and had consistent design elements? Of course you wouldn’t.

When most people are looking for a personal and professional service like an IFA, solicitor, accountant, architect etc. they turn to their network first and ask ‘Who do you know who…?’ Their network is far more trusted for insight than Google. We trust our connections and network far more than what we see and read on websites and in brochures.

Google is either a last resort, an impulse purchase or for delving deeper into those recommendations. I don’t think it’s the place where decisions are made. It’s where confirmation is sought.

For small businesses if you swap the word ‘Brand’ for ‘Reputation’ it all makes far more sense to me. An individual (or a small group of them) need to develop their credibility, expertise and advocates. This will go much further in developing their reputation – and over time their business – than having a pretty logo.

So all you small businesses out there: forget ‘brand’ and think ‘reputation’ in order to grow.

8 Responses to “Forget about your brand, Mr SME business”

  • Great advice Trevor (I say this as someone who helps businesses build their brand). So many people talk such a lot of bollocks around branding. Branding is reputation, not the pretty design elements – logo, colours, strapline, tone of voice etc etc are mere decoration, and customers want substance (someone who knows what they are doing and sorts out your problem). The pretty stuff doesn’t mean anything in itself – your reputation is what gives it meaning. Be good, instead of trying to merely look good – you’ll get found out soon enough!

  • Trevor Lever:

    Thanks Jim, appreciate the feedback and support.

  • Brilliant post Trevor, very thought provoking. You’ve almost made ‘brand’ a dirty word but whether we like it or not every business has a brand. The critical thing for brand success is to understand that one’s brand is one’s reputation. And you’re right, one’s reputation is much more than a logo – which is just as well. So many genuinely great businesses camouflage their value with misleading logos, confusing leaflets and websites filled with jargon.

    WIth a little help businesses can make their value clear; they can illustrate how they improve life for their customers. Once they see there’s a difference between that and just describing what they do then they’re on the way to understanding why people value their service and making it easier for people spread the word.

    Only when a business understands why it’s valued by its customers should it start to wonder whether it’s logo is up to scratch. In fact if a business knows why it’s valued then it can really take control of how it helps people spread the word. After all wouldn’t it be nice if great businesses all looked and sounded the part, it would be so much easier to find them and do business.

  • Trevor Lever:

    Thanks Marc, I thought this might stir the marketing community a bit :) I agree that the branding needs to be consistent with the value (and reputation) of that company. The problem for many SME’s, and certainly for most start-ups, is not understanding their value from the customer’s perspective. Which makes it difficult for folks like you to create an appropriate look & feel for the organisation. So these people promote a vision of what they think they should be – rather than the reality of what they are… perhaps we can carry on this one over a beer sometime?

  • Ryan James:

    This is a BRILLIANT post Mr Lever… and something I’ve been actively advocating for years!

    I will always tell a new venture to go and sell themselves for a year (minimum) before they start considering how to build and communicate their brand – as no amount of strategising will tell you what works better than the experience of selling it and gauging direct customer interest, uptake and your referrability.

    In my experience your customers own your reputation (and your brand) not you.
    All we own is the opportunity to determine how we are percieved.

    Where ‘branding’ can really help is far more to do with resolving; what you are selling, why you are selling it, who you want to sell it to and understanding where the value lies.
    The design part is the afterthought not the essence. Which I believe is the essence of what you’re saying.

  • Trevor Lever:

    Thanks Ryan – your idea of ‘field testing’ what you are selling is right on the money. It’s one thing to think about what your business will be and offer – but until you get ‘out there’ you can’t really know what the customer wants, or is prepared to part money for.

    When I set up TLC (10 years ago) all I has was a business card. It was ~18months before I was happy enough to commit to a web site and strap-line that defined what I was offering – in a way that explained my value – to the customer.

  • […] colleague of mine, Trevor Lever, made an interesting point in a recent post that got me thinking (Trevor talks a lot of sense, and always comes at things from a refreshingly […]

  • Trevor Lever:

    Folks – for those who want to follow the conversation, Jim’s blog has this follow-up posting:

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