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Marketing and branding | Jul 10

Of course I know what brand is, everyone does

Marketing and branding | Jul 10

Dr Robert Thomas breaks down how brand can give SMEs a meaningful place in the market.

Dr Robert Thomas

Dr Robert Thomas Lecturer in Marketing and Strategy, Cardiff University

Reading Time 3 minutes

As I write this, you’ll be surprised or even shocked to know that there are 5.5 million companies registered in the UK alone (Clark, 2022); 98% of that number are SMEs that provide services to and employ nearly 17 million people throughout the UK. More than 2 million of these companies are active, trading and looking to develop. All are looking for new strategies to compete, survive and thrive against the backdrop of contraction as well as develop that all important recognisable and market position amongst significant competition. Often the vital part of this is the development of a recognisable and customer conscious brand.    

What do you think a brand is? 

When I meet SME owners, managers, and employees from across the UK, many, if not all, are able to articulate to me what they think a brand is. I thoroughly enjoy those conversations particularly when we explore their perceptions. There are often looks of disbelief when we establish that a brand isn’t a business; it isn’t a logo; it isn’t a website; it isn’t a product; and it isn’t driven by sales and isn’t driven by customer and client acquisition.  

So, what is a brand? 

A brand is central in differentiating you from your direct competition. It is critical in developing meaningful marketing communications. It supplies value for your customer and client base and is essential in developing your business identity regardless of size. A brand is an assembly of the tangible and intangible that reflects you, your company, your values, your culture, your reputation, your personality, your identity, your story, your essence and what you represent in an often-overcrowded marketplace. Moreover, it represents your customers, clients, and partners in the same way. 

Why are brands so important? 

Twenty percent of small businesses fail within their first year with many more at risk. There are myriad complex reasons for this. In recent years, those reasons might include Brexit, Covid-19, economic uncertainty, political instability, and access to finance. Often, it’s because businesses don’t have a meaningful place within a given market, don’t market what they represent, compete on price and don’t work on developing a connection with customers and clients. Brands are relational partners. We have relationships with brands. Why? Because brands reflect who we are and provide both parties with an identity. 

Building your identity 

If you want to be competitive and sustainable as a business you need a strong, recognisable, and relatable brand identity. Think of it as creating a human being that wants to attract people and develop long term relationships. The creation of a unique identity or personality will increase your customers’ preference for your brand and develop all important loyalty to you. 

How do you want to be seen? 

Consumers derive their understanding of your brand from what you represent, what they experience and how you meet their expectations, but it starts with making that all important connection. So, ask yourself ‘How do my customers see my brand?’. What are their perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and associations of your current offering? What are they telling others? To set up, develop and grow your brand you need to understand these dynamics. But bear this in mind: two thirds of UK brands don’t use data to understand perceptions of their brand and its effectiveness in attracting and retaining customers. 

From transactions to relationships to growth 

The fundamental takeaway for SMEs is that by understanding what a brand is, how it should be managed and what it can achieve, will allow the leaders of the small organisation to revitalise their brand and approach to business, and refocus on the future. By focusing on developing a strong, well-positioned, meaningful, and well-marketed brand, you can start to develop a stronger relationship with current and prospective clients. You can get them to think and feel (emotions are so important in branding) far more positively about your business as you develop that all important identity together. If you can fulfil your promises to them, you will go a long way to being sustainable and a long way to developing that all important growth. 

Dr Robert Thomas

Dr Robert Thomas Lecturer in Marketing and Strategy, Cardiff University

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