Richard Branson may not be everyone’s cup of tea – but you can’t deny that he’s been successful. Employing 60,000 people doesn’t happen by accident.
Neither does building one of the most recognisable brands on the planet. From a record business started in the crypt of a church Virgin now ranks right up there with Coca Cola, Red Bull and McDonald’s
Whatever the size of your business – one man band or multi-national – we’ve all got a brand. And it very quickly will become one of your most important business assets. (If you’d like a short, almost ‘Dummies,’ guide to branding this article is useful.)
So what is your brand? Based on all the companies I’ve worked with and for I’d define it this way:
Your brand is a consistent set of values, standards, qualities and experiences that you deliver every time you’re in contact with a client or customer.
The key word I’d pick out is ‘consistent.’ A brand isn’t something you turn on and off: the customer needs to know what to expect and have it consistently delivered every time they interact with your business. You may not like McDonald’s – but you have to agree they deliver a consistent product and experience.
Back to Sir Richard, and I was reading an article in the Guardian that inspired this post. ‘Never do anything that discredits your brand’ was the headline.
I couldn’t agree more. Your brand is exactly like trust: it takes a lifetime to build and you can destroy it – or do it serious damage – in a few seconds. Want evidence? The absolute avalanche of negative publicity DHL have managed to accrue with their ridiculous ‘like our Facebook page so you can send a get well message to Jules Bianchi.’
One of my favourite quotes about branding is from Jeff Bezos of Amazon: Your brand is formed primarily, not by what your company says about itself, but by what your company does. Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.
DHL made a serious, tasteless mistake. A quick visit to Twitter will be telling their senior executives exactly what people are saying about them when they’re not in the room. FedEx must be rubbing their hands together. But as Richard Branson points out in the article, having a brand doesn’t mean you can’t take risks and make mistakes.
People in the UK love a trier – we’ve a long tradition of supporting the underdog and so much of the Virgin story is based around that: the small company trying to give the better service the big boys are denying you.
So yes, you can take a risk with your brand. But it’s like life: it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. If you do make a mistake – if you’re trying to cross the Atlantic and you sink 100 miles offshore – be open about it. Pick yourself up and go again. As Branson says, “If we’d succeeded the first time, people might have said ‘so what?’”
In many ways a bigger challenge for the owner of an SME is getting your team to buy into your brand. How do you get them – as we said at Guinness – to ‘bleed black?’ You won’t be surprised to hear that communication is the key, and I’ll look at that in a future post. Just as everyone is part of the marketing department, so everyone is part of the brand.
I’ll finish with the one more key message on branding: as Jeff Bezos put it, on your brand being what your company does.
Amazon has had its fair share of negative publicity lately, but I continue to buy books and a lot of other things from them. Why? Because they always deliver. It’s why my wife buys clothes from Next. Because if you order on Tuesday, they’re there on Wednesday. Consistently and remorselessly – and when a company delivers like that, it’s almost impossible to go somewhere else.