The experience forms the brand

Why brand strategy and branding critically matters for SMEs!

A logo alone is not a brand!

Top of mind awareness

Have you ever wondered why some brand names are synonymous with their product or service category? Have you also wondered as to why some brand names come first in your mind when you are thinking or considering a certain product or service category? Go ahead: pick a category ranging in products, say, from copiers to phones. Which brand names come first in your mind? Why did that particular brand come to your mind?

It is because the companies who own their brand names have a purposeful branding strategy and have committed significant resources to ensure that their branding achieves top of mind awareness from their existing and potential customers. I will discuss later, in detail, as to why this is critical.

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A logo or a company name is not branding!

Most SME owners or small business managers think of branding as fluffy, useless stuff and a sheer waste of time and money. This is a fallacy that they must correct immediately. If the strategic intent of a business is to grow and sustain, that business will have to think of branding more seriously than how most are approaching it today. This chapter is not a discussion as to the advertising or communications tactics and media used to communicate. There are enough books and blogs written on this.

The choice of media and the amount you spend depends on your company’s financial resources. Branding is a lot more than just about communications through different media.

So, what is a brand?

Whether you know it or not, almost every product, service, business, public personality, and company has been branded.

Many small businesses (and large company executives too) use the terms visual identity, corporate identity, brand identity and branding interchangeably. Branding is a broader marketing effort than visual identity since it often involves naming, communications and advertising, as well as promotion.

Many think of a brand as a logo, proprietary name for a product, service, or group; however, in reality, a brand is the sum total of all characteristics and assets of a brand name product, service, or group that differentiates it from the competition, as well as the perception of the brand by the public.

In other words, there are several key components of an overarching branding effort or program, beginning with a logo and visual identity through interactive experiences, package design, corporate communications, promotional design and advertising.

A brand is the essence of your small business. It encapsulates your core products and services, your reputation and the total experience promise you make to your customers. The brand personifies the perceived value of your propositions versus your competitors. It is the image that you portray to the outside world – not just your customers but all your stakeholders, including your employees, suppliers, partners and funders.

A brand is also the mind share that you occupy in your customers’ minds based on the totality of the experience that they have experienced with your company, across all or any touchpoints. These touchpoints are not just the obvious marketing collateral, business cards and press releases. It could range from how they get to know about your business and propositions, to whom, how and where they interacted with to buy the products or service to use the product or service and so forth.

In essence, the brand is also the personality and soul of your company by which your employees are hired to how your customers perceive you. It is NOT only the soul and personality either but also your company’s philosophy by which you think, define, prospect, interact and serve your customers.

The purpose of branding

Before I start on the purpose of branding, there are a few definitions that you must be aware of:

A brand is a unique or proprietary name for a business, product, or service. It is the totality of all characteristics and assets of a brand name product, service, or group that helps customers differentiate your small business from your competitors, as well as your customers and the general public’s perception of your brand.

Branding is not a brand strategy but is the development and the execution process of creating a brand, brand name, and visual identity for all your internal and external communications and touchpoints.

A brand strategy is the concept, framework and plan providing guidelines for all your internal and external brand executions across all touchpoints.

A brand experience is the experience of ALL your stakeholders and not just your customers at every touchpoint through which a stakeholder (customers, employees, suppliers, lenders, partners and shareholders) comes into contact with your brand or company.

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What is brand strategy?

brand strategy defines the brand’s personality and promise. The brand enables and differentiates your company through your brand positioning. Your small business brand strategy is the core strategic underpinning of branding, uniting all planning for every visual and verbal application.

The brand strategy defines the brand’s personality and promise. The brand strategy also codifies the brand essence of your small business and tactical execution and implementation within your company.

The brand design makes the strategy real and alive and gives brands their distinctive look and feel. The brand strategy will help your small business brand to identify and communicate a core value, quality or differentiator that can become the construct or position, for SME brands to own against its competitors.

In other words, the small business brand strategy is how you are formulating, defining, conceiving, creating, and positioning your brand in the marketplace to achieve differentiation, relevance, engagement and resonance with your current and potential customers and all your stakeholders.

Success means never letting the competition define you. Instead, you have to define yourself based on a point of view you care deeply about.”

Tom Chappell, businessman extraordinaire

Why is a brand strategy important for your small business?

Nothing can better help your business to grow and flourish than a successful brand strategy. Here’s why you MUST have a well-defined plan:

Branding helps your customers to spontaneously recall your company or helps your customers to recognize that you exist.

A consistent brand strategy will help your SME to create a brand in the minds of your customers through your customers’ experiences across all your touchpoints. The intentional customer experience has to be defined and be consistent for your customers to create your brand in their minds.

A brand strategy helps your SME business to express its promise in the simplest, most single-minded terms. For example, Ritz Carlton = Excellence in service; Mercedes Benz = German engineering quality. However, it is not something that is whimsical as it has to be rooted in a core customer need.

Your brand strategy will help your small business customers to attribute or give your brand human personality traits such as fun, warmth, innovative, cool, etc. This perceived personality of your brand by your customers is how you differentiate yourself in the minds of your customers. Brand personality does not happen overnight. You as a small business owner should have a long term view as to how you want your brand to be perceived by your customers. These personality traits will inform the brand behavior through all your external and internal communications, packaging etc., and through the people who represent your small business brand – you and your employees.

A purposeful brand strategy will ensure that all your products and services, especially if you have a broad range of services or products, will have a consistent name, visual identity and, ideally, positioning across all the markets that you operate in.

A purposeful brand strategy will define the outward expression of your small business brand, including your small business name and visual appearance. This is important as the brand’s identity is its fundamental means for your customers to recognize your brand. A consistent visual identity will help your small business brand to differentiate from your competitors.

A consistent branding derived from a deliberate brand strategy will create a consistent net “out-take” of your brand for your customers. This image is derived based on the experiences of your products or services and are informed impressions as to how well your small business meets your customers’ expectations. For potential customers your small business brand’s image in their minds will be based upon uninformed
impressions, attitudes and beliefs.

A purposeful brand strategy helps you to have a distinctive position in your marketplace to enable your customers in your target market to identify and differentiate your small business brand. Positioning doesn’t just involve the logos or other visual identities alone but involves leveraging and the careful manipulation of every element of the marketing mix, to deliver a superior and differentiated proposition to your customers.

A purposeful brand strategy will help you define and design the code by which your small business brand lives. The brand values act as a benchmark to hire as well as to measure behaviors and overall performance.

A brand strategy helps your small business to define its brand architecture. In other words, it helps your business to determine how it structures and names the brands within its portfolio. This is important for a small business owner or investor having a diverse portfolio of goods, services or businesses. There are three main types of brand architecture systems:

Monolithic – where the group name is used on all products and services offered by your holding company.
Endorsed – where all sub-brands are linked to your group brand by means of either a verbal or visual endorsement.
Freestanding – where the group brand operates merely as a holding company, and each product or service is individually branded for its target market.

A brand strategy encompasses your customers’ feelings, beliefs and knowledge that existing and potential customers have about your SME brand. These positive (or negative) associations are derived as the sum total of all their experiences across all touchpoints. These experiences must be consistent with the brand positioning and the basis of differentiation.

A structured, well defined and purposeful brand strategy will increase the commitment of your customers to your propositions in the market. If your customers’ commitment to your brand is high, the propensity for repurchase and/or reuse is very high. The level of commitment indicates the vulnerability of your SME brand and is a good indicator of the probability of competitors poaching your customers.

Value or equity
Having a purposeful brand strategy will increase the long term value of your small business through the increased brand equity derived from the sum of all distinguishing qualities of a brand, drawn from all relevant stakeholders. This will facilitate personal commitment from you and demand of you for the brand; these differentiating thoughts and feelings make the brand valued and valuable and, therefore, your small business more valuable.

A consistent, structured and purposeful brand strategy will help your small business to leverage the equity and values of the brand to take the brand into new business opportunities, partnerships and newer markets/sectors.

A brand for the company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”

Jeff Bezos, founder,


How to correctly name a brand

A brand name is the verbal identity of your small business – a proprietary name – and coupled with a tagline or descriptor, it becomes the verbal signature. Without question, the brand name is the main point of reference to your business and is the main verbal marketing tool.

Naming your small business brand involves many important considerations.
• What does the name mean to your employees and customers?
• What type of spirit or personality should it convey to all your stakeholders?
• How will people react to it?
• What does the name mean in a specific language across cultures?

There are several categories of name types that are more or less appropriate for any small business brand.
Founder’s name: named after the company’s founder(s)
Explanatory: named to best explain or describe the product or service
Expressive or invented: names that are constructed to have a certain panache or sound
Allegorical or symbolic: names that express their nature through an allusion to an allegory or a symbol
Acronym: a brand name formed from the initials or other parts of several names or words

There are many ways to make your small business brand name effective. They can be:
Legally owned

Pay attention to the vital design development stage

Based on the strategy, name and construct for your small business brand, the visualization and composition begin during design development. You, as the small business owner, will need to consider brand differentiation, brand promise, and branding applications and media.

Differentiation through look and feel

As part of the design solution, your small business brand’s unique personality is established and communicated through its “look and feel” and expressed through the particulars of the visualization and composition, including
• color palette
• characteristics and qualities of lines, shapes, and textures
• typeface
• and any other visual elements

The brand look and feel is a visual “attitude” that differentiates your small business brand from the competition, making it unique, distinctive, memorable, and relevant to its audience.

Your small business brand’s look and feel should define its individual character and be synonymous with your brand. It should not, in any way, be generic, and should definitely not be similar to your competitors’ look and feel.


Your small business can build a strong brand if you can build loyalty among your customers. To build loyalty, your customers have to be aware of your brand. To claim the top of mind awareness, you must differentiate your brand with a distinct visual and verbal identity. Your communications across all touchpoints have to be relevant to the target market. Your small business will have to define the intentional customer experience across all touchpoints with a clear understanding of how your customers’ relationship with your brand can develop, from basic awareness to intense loyalty. Identifying where your customers are on this “journey to loyalty” is a crucial first step towards developing an effective marketing strategy for your small business.

Reiteration of branding and differentiation

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How brand strategy and branding helps your SME to differentiate in the marketplace.

If you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything. You just have to be noticed, but the art is in getting noticed naturally, without screaming or without tricks.”

Leo Burnett, advertising pioneer

How brand strategy and branding helps your SME to differentiate in the marketplace.

To build a stronger brand, you need to know much more than the size and shape of your market and customer base. You need to understand how well your brand is performing in terms of winning loyalty.
You need to identify and track the competitive strengths and weaknesses that may be helping or hindering your brand in the battle for increased loyalty. In other words, the experience of your customers and all your stakeholders across all touchpoints is the brand. It certainly is NOT just about your logos and collaterals.

I want to leave you with 3 memorable quotes that succinctly put brand strategy and branding in perspective. At least it did for me.

Indeed the experience is the brand and the brand is the experience!


JohnLincoln.oneThe business growth hacker



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