Branding is crucial for small business, and although owners acknowledge its value, they're often slow to react. Our experts tell you why you need solid branding now
In British Columbia, small business is a big deal. Besides accounting for 56 per cent of all private-sector jobs in the province and employing over one million people, small businesses account for 98 per cent of the total number of businesses in B.C. And all those little companies provide an incredibly diverse collection of services to B.C.’s communities, ranging from family-run restaurants to lumber mills and self-employed dog trainers.
The Canadian economy is still recovering from 2008’s economic downturn, and it remains a challenging time to be a small-business owner. So, what are B.C.’s entrepreneurs doing to help their businesses thrive? According to research released last month by American Express Small Business Monitor, Canadian small businesses are focusing on their branding.
Brand-obsessed British Columbia
The research, which surveyed 529 Canadian small-business owners across myriad industries, says that over 90 per cent of business owners see a “unique brand that differentiates them from the competition” as more essential than ever before. Just over half of the surveyed entrepreneurs consider branding to be a critical factor in attracting new customers, and 84 per cent believe branding is important to a business’s overall success.
The vice-president and general manager of American Express Canada, Athena Varmazis, sees this as “refreshing,” and notes that good branding can be “the difference between a business that blends in with the crowd or stands out from the competition.” But although the majority of business owners see good branding as a vital part of their strategy, few are actively improving their brands.
Branding in theory, but not in practice
The research conducted by American Express says that small business owners “are wary about the outlook of their businesses and are therefore making more reserved and thoughtful decisions when it comes to business growth.” Only slightly over half are currently using an online presence to build their brand, while 86 per cent choose to not consult branding experts to grow their business. Varmazis weighs in, saying she is surprised that more businesses aren’t using experts as resources to improve their performance: “Branding plays a significant role… and shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
Varmazis isn’t alone in her view. Rob Barnett, managing director and lead brand strategist at Vancouver's Straydog Branding, is an advocate for compelling and distinct branding. “As an entrepreneur, you’ve taken a leap of faith in starting your own business,” he says. A good brand will both “help you connect with your customers” and provide a small-business owner with guidance. “Business plans will change,” he notes, “but your brand strategy will be the true north in your business.”
Mike Withers, a graphic designer with Hangar 18 Creative Group, also emphasizes the importance of branding. Withers has worked with clients such as YVR, The Vancouver Writers Festival, Richmond Centre and The City of North Vancouver. “Ideally,” he says, “your brand is a distillation of what the company stands for. It’s an expression of your company’s personality,” and tells consumers “something about the quality of the product or the service you’re providing.” It’s rarely as simple as creating a logo; good branding is a coherent system of textual and visual elements that work across many platforms and in many different contexts.
Branding builds business
Though the American Express survey shows that only 14 per cent of Canadian small-business owners have consulted a professional about branding their business, both Withers and Barnett tout the value of professional brand-building. “Everybody feels like they could do it themselves,” says Withers, “but there’s a lot that goes into creating a strong and consistent brand.”
For small-business owners that haven’t yet sought the help of a professional, Withers has a few suggestions about how to prepare for your meeting. “Small business owners should think about what they feel is the core essence of their company, and what differentiates them from the competition," he says. They should consider the following questions: "What are their most important values? What kind of personality do they want to put forward? Who do they want to attract?" Withers adds that that the more time the owner spends reflecting on these aspects, the smoother the design process will be.