Branding and the Role it Plays in the Evolution of a business: A Case Study of SMEs in Post Covid-19 – Ikechukwu Kalu
Branding has become a cliché in recent years, virtually on the lips of every entrepreneur and businessperson, yet with not much of the proper appreciation or application of the concept of what a “brand” is. To many, it is an attractive logo, placed on promotional items on behalf of an enterprise or business entity for giveaways’. Branding is much more than a logo, or a logo on items.
“Brand” comes from the ancient practice of branding properties, cattle, horses, and even slaves, with symbols that distinctly identify ownership. A picture is immediately painted in the mind of anyone coming across such seals or stamps of – who owns such, and what they stand for – reputation.
Over time, the concept of brand and branding has evolved with the development of the art and science of marketing communications. Brand building is increasingly being associated with value, perception, and emotional connection with people – especially the target market.
What makes a brand?
Businesses and enterprises can be built into a formidable brand. It is a deliberate process of creatively and strategically crafting and depositing brand equity that nurtures the entity through the three stages of brand development.
The first phase deals with establishing the credentials of the business – the product, services and solutions on offer are clearly defined, developed and presented to the market for awareness. The pass mark of this phase is good presence and acceptance in the market space. The journey to be a brand starts or stops here.
At the second stage, the focus will be to project what differentiates your products and services from competition. In addition to and beyond appropriate pricing (you can even be premium in pricing), what values and positive experience do your consumers stand to benefit to ensure repeat patronage, and for the target market to be converted; will determine success and announce the birth of a brand.
The final rung is to emerge as an authentic leader in the market. The brand is credibly established, distinguished from competition and has become a benchmark and pacesetter, not just in your sector but also in the larger economy.
Business questions before you build the brand
Prior to the building your brand project, it is given that you should have resolved these five questions:
- What exactly am I selling – product, service or solution?
- Who is willing and able to buy – Market segmentation/strategy?
- How will it be most attractive – packaging and access?
- Who do I need to work with – full value chain team – collaborators?
- What will it cost – Detailed business plan?
Building the brand
Marketing starts with identifying and anticipating the needs of your target audience, via insights and introducing your product, service or solution to them in an emotionally connecting way. Every entrepreneur and promoters of business must understand marketing as a promise and an invitation to a potential customer through a strategically designed process of activities based on Consumer Insight.
Branding is matching the marketing promise with satisfactory experience of product and service at every point of interface between the business and customers
Building a profitable and effective brand will encompass amongst others, the following:
- Very unique and distinctive visuals
- Projecting a charismatic brand personality that is magnetic and engaging
- Your goals must translate to customer benefit
- Deliberate excellent service delivery to ensure customer satisfaction
Your branding (I prefer brand building) efforts should derive from your brand strategy. Here’s where the gap is. A brand cannot evolve without an insight led brand strategy / plan. This provides the guide and consistency that is required to build a brand. Brand building will involve professionally developed visual designs, marketing communication and messaging which will aggregate the experience your target audience will have with your business, i.e. your brand = what you do + customer perception/experience of value (consistency, security, comfort, competence etc.). These must draw from your brand strategy.
SMEs, Branding and Post Covid-19
The damage of the infamous and disruptive coronavirus pandemic that broke out at the end of 2019 is still being evaluated by economic and policy experts. One sector very badly hit has been SMEs. The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, affirms that “Nigeria has over 37.07 million micro, small and medium-scale enterprises, MSMEs, and they account for more than 84% of total jobs in the country, about 48.5% of the gross domestic product, GDP, as well as about 7.27% of goods and services exported out of the country”.
It is therefore a no brainer to consider covid-19 as constituting an existential threat to the economy, going by the SMEs sector critical contribution, as veritable instruments of poverty reduction and wealth creation; incubator for developing skilled and semi-skilled manpower, entrepreneurial and managerial capacity; as well as being low capital job creation factory.
SMEs need to re-strategize using the instrumentality of branding as one of the tools to navigate the extant conundrum. There is the need for some sort of “rebranding” or effective branding for those who had not been on a strong branding trajectory before now. The soul of business is its patronage – consumers, and the heart of branding is being able to attract, connect and retain patronage.
There is the reality of a new normal – social distancing and the changing dynamics of transactions especially for businesses that rely on physical contact and in-store customers, for instance retail and hospitality. While specific solutions may vary from business to business, there are some general approaches that can be deployed and adapted as necessary.
A new message
Professional and effective branding is about how your message is able to connect with your target audience, engage their emotions and shape their perceptions. In this ‘hour of despair’, your customers need to know you care and empathize despite your own pains. Communication and messaging must evoke a sense of ‘we are in this together, and we’ll get through it together’. Everyone can do with some comfort, encouragement and hope.
The reality of the initial total lock down, the gradual easing of it and the still in force social distancing protocols, has more than ever before demonstrated the inevitability of shifting businesses online. The front desk, display shelves, Point of Sale has inadvertently moved online. SMEs that will weather the storm must deploy strategic and dynamic online presence and access, to retain customers and attract new ones. The power of branding must be unleashed by creative and compelling messages and visuals that maintain the connection.
New onsite practices
There are businesses that cannot but have customers/client come physically to their locations. They must rebrand their environment to make it more attractive, and particularly easy to direct and encourage compliance with safe practices required by covid-19 regulations. The messaging and visuals must soften the sense of restriction and sometimes apprehension that some feel when they are in public but enclosed spaces now.
Successful brands thrive on loyalty, which in turn fosters repeat patronage. Branding activities that include: promos, reward schemes, home deliveries and other such goodies ought to be explored to oil existing relationships and attract new ones. We must think up simple but emotionally connecting means of engaging with your customers regularly. I call these brand activations and they are indeed extremely useful in proofing the very essence of your brand promise, your value proposition.
A discussion on branding can never be exhaustive. It takes deliberate and intentional execution of your brand strategy to build a strong or modern brand. Most brands are doing very well but they remain a classic brand because they do not mean anything to their audience. We’ve got to emotionally connect with our audiences (customers and the general public). We must focus on the end-value as defined by the market.
Effective branding guarantees profit and sustainability. It therefore requires considerable investment, as it will, alongside technology and innovation, and will play big roles in the evolution of businesses in the emerging scenario. Entrepreneurs and SME operators must task themselves with clear, honest thinking. Everything we do impacts on the brand, good or bad.
It is popularly said, “think outside the box”, but I dare I say – break the box!
Ikechukwu Kalu is the Lead Consultant at Customer Passion Point Limited (CPPL), a firm of Value Creation Consultants providing Marketing, SME Consulting and Training. He is being a part of the development of great brands across Manufacturing, Telecommunications and Financial Services.
He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, London, a Member of Nigerian Institute of Marketing; an Adjunct Lecturer at Pan Atlantic University and a Resource Person at the Lagos Business School, Lagos, Nigeria.
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