Stand out from your Competitors: A Quick Guide on Branding for SME

Stand out from your Competitors: A Quick Guide on Branding for SME

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By Marilyn Wo

It’s natural for small business owners to dream of growing from just being no one into a big boss with an unchallenged market share. However, I noticed how many entrepreneurs get confused about one of the pillars of corporate success - branding.

I kid you not - a lot of clients have requested me to “make their brand.” Running a graphic design business since 2015, I have years of experience helping them craft logos, websites, and other marketing visuals.

But trust me, even the most creative person on earth cannot just single-handedly make your business stand out.

Sure, McDonald’s, Apple, Nike, and other premium companies may have stunning logos and solid digital presence. But nope. It took more than just design to hook us all into patronising their brand over and over again.

In this guide, let’s break this myth further and walk you through all the must-knows about branding for small businesses.

What is branding?

It should be clear by now that a brand is not just about your company logo. It may help people remember you, but it’s not enough to make them love you.

Let’s just say that design is just the face of your brand. Distinguishing yourself from your rivals shouldn’t be the sole job of your layout artists. Everyone in your organization has to pitch in!

In exploring the fundamentals and importance of branding, let’s ask a little help from our expert pals.

“A brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” — American Marketing Association

In simple terms, your brand is EVERYTHING! It covers all the factors that define you and your company inside-out. You can’t just point at one thing and say, “this is my brand.” At times, something so intangible that you aren’t even aware of can make or break your identity. Branding includes all that comprises your business’ history and future, along with its impact on where you are now.

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. “— Seth Godin

Your brand can set the direction for your relationships with people. Usually, customers and employees alike gravitate towards businesses that they share similar beliefs and values with. This is why you have to invest in human resources and social advocacy as much as you do towards your products or services.

“Brand is just a perception, and perception will match reality over time. Sometimes it will be ahead, other times it will be behind. But brand is simply a collective impression some have about a product.” — Elon Musk

I can’t emphasise this enough - you can’t build an ideal brand overnight. In fact, I consider this process as a complex blend of art and science. Only time will tell how effective your branding initiatives were. You have to commit to a life-long journey of discovering who your business is and who you want it to become.

How can you build your brand voice?

We’ve all heard about the cliché advices like “just be yourself and find your style” or “listen within and nurture a consistent voice.” But what do they even mean? How exactly do you search for that “voice”?

I am no stranger to these confusions. Here’s a confession: I established my business too late because my dumb self thought that I have to have everything figured out at the start.

Don’t commit the same mistake as I did! Regardless of what stage your business is in, what’s important is to keep yourself moving.

Here are some steps that can guide your search and define your brand voice:

Step 1: Turn your brand into a person

When you studied your target audience, you probably created a “buyer persona.” Try to do the same for your own business! Imagine a real person that could represent your brand. How does he talk? Is he outgoing and humorous, or does he give off a really serious vibe? 

Step 2: Identify what you believe in

Within 10 minutes, make a brain dump of all of the principles that your organization values. I know that there could be a ton, so narrow it down by combining similar items and strike off those that feel irrelevant or least important. Try to pick three key beliefs that you want to be remembered for.

Step 3: Copy someone you want to become (for a while)

Yup, I did not stutter. It doesn’t hurt to have a branding idol that you could learn from. Study that company’s best practices and tweak them according to your own context. It’s also smart to know where they failed and prepare back up plans in case you come across the same pitfalls.

Step 4: Try copying styles you might not like

Stick your head out of your comfort zone and try to adopt other perspectives. This way, you’d get to explore varied branding styles and test which works best for your company. 

Step 5: Stand out by differentiating yourself

This will be the end of your initial search, and it’s time to pull away from the models you used for the two succeeding steps. Evaluate which among those attributes and techniques resonate the most with how you want to be perceived. It’s important to be consistent to leave a lasting impression, but don’t worry! You don’t have to commit to a single branding persona for the rest of your life.

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula on branding. Your small business will surely evolve over time, and so would your brand voice. 

In managing my own startup, I’ve noticed that my identity is often defined by the team that surrounds me and the clients I’m working with. The key is to adapt to people in order to spark a connection.

While some believe that the “fake it ‘til you make it” mantra works, I believe that there’s no need to even fake anything at all!