Telling the truth about SME life today

How to build a brand

1. Sort out your own true brand purpose

Before you spend any money, spend enough time really examining your motivations and ambitions. Why exactly do you want or need to create, develop or re-invent your brand There’s no single right answer to this question: but there are plenty of wrong ones (like trying to reactively keep up with the competition, or extending your brand because you are personally bored with it).

2. Understand what “brand” really means

Brand isn’t about logos, or advertising, and it isn’t a subset of marketing. Brand is about the creation of meaning. Brand is short-hand for a coherent set of meanings shared by an audience. The size of the audience required depends on the size and scope of your brand. The important thing is to create some shared and consistent (and engaging and positive) meanings in the minds of your audience.

3. Establish your authentic promise

You can’t be a great brand without being an authentic brand: in other words you have to authentically provide a product, service or other offering which is demonstrably is genuine and trustworthy. Don’t promise what you can’t fulfil and don’t pretend to be what you’re not. Much better to look inside yourself and your business and brand to find the answer to the question: “What are we authentically about, and what can we genuinely claim for ourselves?”.

4. Decide to be really different

No great brand was ever built by imitating others. At all costs avoid the temptation to make “your version” of somebody else’s brand. You might win some sales for a period that way, but you will never build a brand. That’s not to say that every single thing you do has to be unique: but you have to create a brand which is clearly its own animal, with its own characteristics, personality and promise.

5. Be clear about who you don’t want to sell to

It can be quite difficult and exhausting to try to work out who all your potential customers are. One way to begin the process is to think about who you don’t want to sell to – your “brand enemies”, if you like. My retail business Left Hand Bear sells acoustic musical instruments to the much-ignored community of left-handed musicians. So my brand enemies are right-handed players (sorry if you’re a righty).

6. Understand your brand positioning

The thing to remember about brand positioning is that it’s a “relative” concept not an absolute one: which is why it’s never enough to claim to be “simply the best”. Look at your competitors (and never fall into the trap of thinking you don’t have any): and examine them in sufficient detail to work out in what ways you can occupy a “different position” in potential customers’ hearts and minds.

7. Remember that people buy with their hearts more than their heads

Most purchasing decisions are emotional not rational. We buy with our senses and our hearts: and the bigger and more important the purchase the more emotion is involved. Why” Because the big complex decisions are just too big and complex (with too many variables) to make truly rational decisions. Of course we pretend that we’ve looked at all the facts, but it’s our hearts that choose our houses, our cars, our holidays and so on. And that phenomenon is where the power of brand really lies: because a great brand which has truly engaged with someone means that rivals barely get a look in on the purchasing decision

8. Inspire your people

Remember the tough truth that no-one who works with you or for you will ever really love your brand as much as you do: but remember too that you can take them a long way down the road to that “love”. It’s vital to do that because unless you’re a one-person business your staff hold the future of your brand in their hands through the decisions they make and the behaviours they exhibit. So before you try to get the rest of the world to fall in love with your brand, get your people to understand it and to care about it. And remember you can’t do that by “telling” them to “live the brand”. You have to really engage your people as much as your customers.

9. Tell truly compelling stories

People love stories and narrative, and jokes, and adventure and mystery. It’s in our nature. We love tales around the campfire (what are Twitter and Facebook but 21st-century tales around the campfire ). Brands that tell stories which engage and thrill are winners. Tell stories about your product provenance, or aesthetic, or about how other customers’ lives have been changed by your product. Facts are dull. Stories are always so much more powerful.

10. Utilise the power of symbolic action

There is a saying, that the tiger doesn’t proclaim its tigerishness, instead the tiger pounces. In other words actions speak louder than words. If you can “do” something which brings to life the meaning of your brand then you will find that ‘doing’ more powerful in attracting interest (including media coverage) than any amount of “saying” stuff.


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