Branding advice for busy start-ups

Start-ups, small businesses, SMEs, solopreneurs. 

Call them (or yourselves) what you like, evidence shows these companies are ideally placed to build the best possible brands. 

Often these organisations are founder-led, or family-owned, which makes the company a very personal thing. These closely-held values tend to be woven into the business. And, unlike the global superbrands, small businesses can adapt and tweak quickly.

“The brand is the business, the business is the brand.”
— Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent


So why doesn’t every small business have a brilliant brand? Here are five things small companies often get wrong – and how to put them right.

1. Brand? What brand?

Problem: Many companies simply do not think about their brand at all. They (understandably) focus on the day-to-day, internal aspects of their business: their service, their product, their tech – not on the thoughts and feelings of people out in the wider world. Their potential clients. 

Solution: Every 3 months, set aside one week from your day-to-day runnings to contact your clients. Bring some in for a drink, listen to them and find out what they value most about you. It just may shape your direction for the following 3 months. 


2. Hey, big spender…

Others think they can build their brand just by throwing money at it. This could be improving the website, promotional tweets and running adverts. They risk not appealing to the ideas and feelings in people’s minds that are influenced much more by reality than by communication.

Solution: Give things away. Appeal to the nature of a consumer looking for something useful, not empty sales talk. This could be engaging content that educates, informs and entertains. Above all, create a brilliant experience for your customers, from first-time contact to faithful follower. 

3. Poor communication

Many small companies fail to spread their brand thinking widely enough. While the soul of the company is crystal clear to the founder, the employees...well, not so much. The founder gets frustrated because the team are doing it wrong, and the people get frustrated because they don’t know what the right way is.

Solution: write down your brand values in an easily circulated brand book/guide.

4. Failing to innovate

What keeps a small company small? Staying with a successful formula, even when it’s no longer successful. They don’t innovate, and they gradually become outdated.

Solution: every six months, try something new. Get a new service or product out into the world. Think of it as a prototype, and learn from it.

5. Being too secretive

Many small companies are surprisingly insular. They like to do things themselves, in their own way. They keep their methods secret. But consumer culture today is much more open. People want to see behind the scenes, they want to share the secrets, they want to make things as well as consuming them. 

Solution: whatever it is your company does, share it with your customers to help them feel like insiders and spread the brand. Think of creating a promotional video to show the world the positive difference you bring to people's lives.

Posted by Richard Etienne.