Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) form a major part of India’s industry as well as employ the largest number of the country’s workforce. Yet the contribution of SMBs to overall GDP remains small largely because SMBs have so far focused on serving local markets without aiming to expand markets and grow. With liberalisation of the Indian economy many multinational companies as well as imports from China and South East Asia have entered domestic markets. How does this bode for SMBs in general? Why do they need to focus on building their brands now more than ever? And what can they do?
Leveraging their strengths
Branding is a long-term and ongoing process. Ideally, the process of creating and building a brand should begin at the stage when the business is conceptualized. However, it is never too late for existing businesses. SMBs benefit from simpler decision making processes compared to larger corporations making the process of brand development much faster.
Operating in local markets, SMBs have a unique insight to their market and customer. Larger corporations have a much more diverse clientele and, therefore, a more complicated learning process. This is a particularly valuable asset for an SMB that has a business catering to cultural and social uniqueness of the local population. For example, an SMB marketing packaged dosa batter in South India or an SMB marketing zari bordered mundus for men of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
SMBs have a much smaller workforce. Branding begins with the employees of the firm and it is much easier for SMBs to get employee buy-in on the planned brand than it is for a larger corporation.
Establishing core value
Developing a brand begins with determining the core values that differentiate your business from that of the competitor. This forms the basis of the Corporate Brand. It is important that every member of the organization understands these core values and why it is important from a customer’s viewpoint. What is it that differentiates your company from the competition? Is it innovation in product design and function? Is it in enhanced service delivery? Is it the personalized customer care? This core value needs to be defined and highlighted when developing the corporate brand. Price in itself cannot be a core value. While affordability is an important customer benefit, price cannot be a unique differentiator as a competitor could easily match or better your price.
The same process needs to be employed when finalizing the product brand. Who is the target audience for the product? What benefit do they seek from using the product? What is the main benefit that your brand delivers the consumer that the competition cannot?
Developing the brand name and logo
Once the core values of the corporate and the product brand have been established it is the stage for choosing a brand name. While the corporate brand name should reflect the company’s vision and/or philosophy, the product brand name should be relevant but easy to recall. In this context, it is important to remember that SMBs, more often than not, operate in localized markets and, therefore, the product brand name should be relevant to the local language or culture.
When it comes to the logo, care should be taken to develop a logo that is memorable and easy to identify. It should relate to and convey the brand name clearly. Moreover, care should be taken to develop a logo that is clearly identifiable in whatever different sizes and media it may be reproduced during the manufacturing, packaging or distribution process.
It needs to be added at this stage that SMBs should also pay attention to the registering their trademark and brand name.
Brand building relies greatly on communicating the unique identity of your brand, its strengths and the benefits it offers to consumers. However, since they have limited budgets this were most SMB businesses falter. That may be true if you are looking at communication that consists solely of advertisements in the newspaper or on TV. There are many different ways of communicating with your customers and not all them are expensive. If yours is a B2B business, traditional communication channels are fairly direct and relatively inexpensive thereby keeping costs under control. But if yours is a B2C business, you may be competing against far larger firms that have the financial resources to undertake mass media communication. How then do you communicate with your customers and build your brand?
1. Web and Social Media:
The advent of the internet and social media has opened a whole new set of communication channels. While it is important for every company to have its own website, too many companies, and to a great deal most SMBs, believe that a presence on the web with a website is enough. That is definitely not enough. In order to build your brand you need to be noticed and recommended on the Internet. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is practically a necessity for any company that has a website. Without it the website remains just a presence on the web that few visit.
While on the website, too many SMBs take a cavalier approach to its development. Websites are the face of your brand and what many customers would refer to in order to get an idea of your Company. Invest a little and get a professional to build your website. Ensure that it works well both on computers as well as mobile devices.
Social media is a very cost-efficient method of communication. Today, with the proliferation of smartphones, almost everybody, irrespective of age is connected to with friends and family over social media. A presence on social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Twitter and Pinterest is free and, managed effectively, can work as a cheap and effective communication medium for brand building and advertising. However, the key is effective management. With right resources, SMBs can handle this internally or may choose to employ an external service provider. Remember marketers are not in full control of the flow of messages on social media. Therefore, it is very important for marketers to monitor and manage social media on a continuous basis and respond to comments and criticisms effectively.
2. Exhibitions and Trade Shows:
Exhibitions and Trade Shows are a perfect medium of communication for B2B businesses. Effectively, you are in a venue where prospective customers are in the mind frame to seek and procure products and services such as those that you have to offer. Through an effective use of stall design, collateral and personnel manning the stand you would be able to convey the correct brand image and attract the right visitors to your stand. The benefit of amortizing the cost of participation over the opportunity to meet and interact with so many interested customers, make trade shows a very effective brand building and communication tool. While opportunities to participate may not be as frequent for SMBs involved in B2C business, there may be consumer exhibitions and product specific exhibitions that a company could participate in.
Whatever the business type of the SMB – B2B or B2C – it is important to closely consider the history of the event, the reputation of its organizers, the venue and the type of visitors expected before deciding on participation since associating with an event has an impact on the brand.
Press releases are a frequently, often too frequently, used tool for branding and marketing. Considering that press releases published in the media are a free source of publicity many companies issue frequent press releases, many of which never get published.
Not only is it important to get coverage in the media, it is important to convince readers that you are experts in the business. Frequent and frivolous press releases can, therefore be detrimental. With press releases, one size does not fit all. Ideally press releases should be written keeping the medium and its readership/viewership in mind. Build the release around a topic that is of interest to the readership and weave in your company and its business into the body. Not only does this make for an article that has a better chance of being read (as against an article that is clearly patting one’s own back) but it also positions you and your company as experts in the field. It is important here to stress the need for a public figure for the company, someone who represents the company in public media. This, in most cases, would be its Managing Director or Proprietor.
The analogy extends to blogs either in the company’s own website or on relevant product sites. The key here is to present the company and its spokesperson as an expert in the chosen field.
4. Brand Associations:
Another cost-effective way to create awareness and build the brand is through associating the brand with brands that are well established and are well-known. The association could be in one of many different forms – for eg. joint-promotion with the other brand, freebies offered to customers of the bigger brand. While the costs are limited and can easily be controlled, the benefits for the SMB brand arise from the fact that some of the bigger brand’s image rubs-off on the SMB brand. The flipside to that, of course, lies in the image of the SMB brand should the bigger brand ever run into controversies. Here it is important to stress the need to determine which brand to tie-up with based on the reputation of the company and the synergies that exist between both brands in terms of image, usage and customer profile.
While every small and medium business needs to build its brand in the face of increased competition, not many SMB owners are clear on how to go about doing that in the limited budget that they have. Smart usage of budgets and a mix of non-conventional media, events and promotions can help SMBs build their brands. This applies to SMBs catering to either the B2C or B2B segments. It all depends on how much importance SMB owners and directors lay on branding and marketing. It is hoped that the key decision makers in the businesses that contribute in such a big way to our country’s economy will understand the importance of branding and marketing and act accordingly. Otherwise they risk being run down by larger corporations and cheaper imports. In the long run that would not bode well for a large section of the country’s workforce.