Opinion

Is the UK’s business backbone really maximising brand?

6 min read

07 January 2015

Giles Redmayne, business director at Purpose, explains the value of branding and argues that mid-sized firms must place it at the core of the business.

If you were asked to think of a good example of a brand, what would spring to mind? Apple, Virgin, Nike, Coca-Cola? Yes, all outstanding in their own way. They are after all amongst the best known brands in the world and they get ‘brand’ like few others.  

Yet, as someone operating within the UK business sector – be it small or medium, would it not be far more beneficial if you could benchmark your own brand with one more closely relevant to your own? Better yet, wouldn’t it be great if examples of smaller UK businesses were being cited as shining examples of brand brilliance.

So why, if there are four million small/medium sized businesses in the UK, employing over 14m people, turning over a combined total £1.6bn every year, do we not have more examples of great brand stories in this sector? Outstanding brands driving the lifeblood of the UK economy?

With a few more years in brand and in business than I care to divulge, together with a live research project where I am talking to CEOs of businesses across Britain about their approach to brand, I feel that both the brand industry and many UK business have some major opportunities passing them by.  

It will come as no huge surprise to learn that brand doesn’t seem to be institutionalised into the boardroom mind set. Brand and mid-sized business are dating but there are certainly few signs of many serious engagements or truly successful marriages.  

Setting aside global super brands or much of the FTSE 250, ­brand is at best often hugely misunderstood and at worst seen as largely expensive and insignificant visual wrapping paper. Even more alarming, but sadly unsurprising, is that brand is seen as the preserve of marketing departments and has very limited or sporadic engagement at board level. Whilst “brand communications” sits quite rightly within the marketing department, “brand strategy” should not.  

Before considering the major impact this “disconnection” is having on the UK business sector, we should perhaps look a bit closer to home to see why this disparaging and misguided opinion of brand has come about. Horribly over used and misused by the media and the public, no distinction between “brand” and “branding” and a largely universal lack of clarity about it’s true meaning are to name but a few of the reasons. 

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The damning truth of this also lies at the doors of the brand industry. Step back and look at the sheer number of books and articles written on “brand” and then look again at the mind numbing inconsistency of description, methodology, process and language. Then consider how many of these, and thousands of associated presentations, lazily peddle the same old examples of brand – again and again. 

I should add that I have not been totally guilt free in this respect. To the vast majority of British business, these overused brand examples are widely recognised and revered but they are equally utterly intangible, bearing little, if any, useful alignment with their own businesses. However, there are hidden gems out there – we need to hear more about them and to see more examples of them.

Of course it goes without saying that each medium-sized business is different and faces its own unique challenges, yet the power of a strong brand is the common denominator that every business needs to fully understand and apply. Brand, invested in and harnessed properly, is the single most powerful strategic tool a business can build and will be the underlying factor driving a huge number successful and sustainable businesses. A business that places brand at its core and drives it from the boardroom will undoubtedly be far better placed to: engage internally and externally, increase revenue and ultimately profitability. 

It is vital that the simple “truths” of brand are better explained and the misconceptions are ironed out. There is much that the brand industry needs to review and adapt in trying to achieve this – and a need for business to look again at what brand can do to both protect and grow their organisations and the wider UK economy. Our challenge must be fully engage brand in boardrooms of the UK’s small/medium-sized business. To achieve this we must demonstrate that brand truly means business.