How branding can help small firms beat the big boys

I’m really interested in how branding can help solo entrepreneurs or micro-businesses beat the big boys. With advances in technology small firms can now present and market themselves professionally. And people love getting personal service from someone they can trust. This is true in our field, where we and a network of other small, specialised consultancies and agencies collaborate to take on and beat the bigger agencies.


I recently wrote an article on this for a column called "The Entrepreneur’s Mind". The link is here, and some of the highlights are given below.

Brand-led Business
Many small firms have a mistaken belief that branding is only about designing a nice logo. Branding fiascos like the furore over the
2012 London Olympic logo only serve to reinforce this impression that branding
is restricted to working on the visual surface of a business. To really create
growth, branding needs to drive the way the whole business operates, with four
main areas to work on: insight, ideas, impact and image:

Insight: branding starts with clearly defining your target market, then
understanding in depth their needs and where the competition is failing to fully
meet these. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But many entrepreneurs are so busy
managing their business that they don’t always invest time doing this.

Getting this sort of insight doesn’t need to be expensive, and can often be
free. The creators of fresh, fast Italian food chain Fresh Italy got valuable
knowledge by interviewing customers outside Pret stores. They figured out that
most people wanted a main course, dessert and drink for under a fiver, which
helped inform their meal-deal pricing.

Ideas: the next step is defining how a company positions its product or
service in the marketplace. What are the two to three key ‘benefits the business
will deliver, by solving a customer’s problem, or making their life better? And
what are the ‘truths’ about the business that will make customers believe these

Take Pimlico Plumbers as an example. It has positioned itself as ‘The posh
plumbers’, offering highly reliable, 24 hour service at a premium price. Its
supporting brand truths are highly qualified staff and the fact that the company
is trusted by famous celebrities.

Impact: the heart of branding, or what I call the ‘sausage’, is using the
brand idea to differentiate each part of your product or service. When Robert
Stephenson started computer repair firm the Geek Squad, now entering the UK with
Carphone Warehouse, he broke down his service experience into tiny steps. He
then came up with ways of improving each step of the process, such as ensuring
repair people arrived five minutes early, wiped their feet and spoke normal
language, not techno-speak.

Image: The final stage is creating awareness of the business and trying to be famous
for something. Having a well defined target audience and clear brand idea will
help focus a company’s communication efforts and so make them more effective. By
raising its profile, a small company can become a ‘thought leader’ in this
chosen area of expertise.

New online tools such as the blog you are reading have also created new, cost effective ways
for small firms to polish up their communication act and present themselves

Branding is potentially a great way
for small firms to take on the big boys and beat them, but only if it’s based on
substance, not spin.