Many of us are now feeling the pinch of global economic slump and increased prices in most materials and goods. It is a challenging task to bring the company forward not to mention just to be able to survive. Budgets are tight for most SMEs thus the decision remains: “Do we continue to brand or not to brand?”
Before an SME answers the above question, let us be clear that branding is not equal to advertising and promotion. Branding is a strategic organizational effort, leveraging on internal strengths and capitalizing external opportunities to differentiate itself from competitors. Advertising and promotion is just one of the executing elements of branding.
So, do we brand or not brand in bad times? I would say YES! Some of you might think that it does not make business sense because it will increase expenditure and risk bottom line especially in such volatile market.
My argument is based on two main reasons. Firstly, branding does not necessarily need a big budget. Secondly, people will hear you better when others are not talking at the same time.
Branding does not need a big budget
In bad times when business is slow, SMEs should make an effort to embark on internal branding – the most important clement of branding. We need to understand and define our brand be-fore we can communicate it effectively. Such an exercise cost little or does not cost anything, some call it “moneyless” branding.
Defining or reviewing ones brand identity via a strategic planning session is one “moneyless” branding effort. SMEs can gather senior management to set their brand positioning relative to the competitive market; brand promises commit-ted to their target market; brand values; and personality engaging customer with memorable brand experience.
Yet, brand identity is just a conceptual idea until it is put into action. Brands can only be alive when it is embraced, lived and communicated. It needs to be developed as a brand culture among SME stakeholders especially members of the company.
SMEs can initiate games, competition, internal corporate blog, and work-life sharing sessions that relates to its brand identity. These kind of activities are more engaging than just a classroom brand training in an expensive hotel or merely hanging nicely designed posters on the brand vision, positioning, values on the office wall.
Other moneyless branding initiatives which SMEs can consider are standard phone greetings with company taglines; encouraging team members to wear at-tires with company brand colors; develop a simple brand guide book on how best to use company brand logo; and many more.
The above suggestions are only limited to internal branding. What about communicating the brand? There are many cost effective brand communications methods and tools available. Public and media relations for example are an effective way to educate, promote, and increase credibility of a brand. The result sometimes is more effective than advertising.
Should SMEs have some budget, then they can hire PR agencies to co-ordinate the media relations effort. Failing which, SMEs should produce newsworthy news, comments or articles to be sub-mitted for media publishing. Of course, cif SMEs have good relations with media Mends it will be an added advantage.
Constant and meaningful communications with target market will increase mindshare and enhance brand preference. E-newsletter is one of the most cost effective communication tools. It can be designed, created and distributed easily using personal computers with simple built-in applications.
SMEs can also consider creating a blog using tree online applications like BlogSpot or Facebook to share content and knowledge on specific topic relevant to the brand. It enables online users to be aware of the brand, understand the industry plus perceive the brand as the industry leader or authority in the subject matter.
It is the effort and commitment that makes a brand successful; not how much money we spend to make it known.
People can hear you better when no one else is shouting
Imagine if you are standing in the middle of a stadium. People can hear you sing when the stadium is empty compared to singing during a concert in the same stadium. In bad times, many companies will first tighten their marketing budget to minimise cost thus less advertising noise in the market.
SMEs with some budget in hand can take this opportunity to communicate its brand. With the same amount of bud-get, the market will hear you better and notice your brand more.
In addition to stronger branding impact, SMEs have better bargaining powers are more willing to give you more. For example, SMEs can negotiate for extra spots in TV or news write up about the brand. Lewre – an unknown brand from Malaysia embarked on brand campaigning during the economic turmoil in 1997. Now Lewre has grown into a global designer shoe brand commanding premium pricing and brand loyalty.
SMEs can also seek external help other than using internal resources during bad times. The Malaysian Government has set up many brand and marketing related grants for SMEs. For example Brand Promotion Grants, Market Development Grants and Service Export Grants by Matrade. Tight budget should not be an excuse for SMEs not to brand.
Branding is such an important aspect in today’s business. Today’s businesses and consumer are more sophisticated, knowledgeable and more demanding than before. A distinctive brand helps them to make their choice. If you are not branding, you might not even be considered as a choice for them.