As much as you think you can do it all, sometimes you need to know when to step outside of your comfort zone and hire a consultant. And, for most people, branding is one of those times. We spoke to Michael Marsland-Root, Owner and Creative Director of Red Five Design, Small Business BC’s resident brand expert, about the importance of branding and how it can affect your bottom line. Here’s what he had to say.
“Small businesses often consider branding as only something large companies do,” said Michael. “People associate it with big advertising campaigns, something unaffordable, and not for their small business.”
However, there is much more to branding than advertising. It is about how your business interacts with your customers. Yes, this includes a logo, but it’s also about how you answer the phone, how you interact with your customers, how you process a sale and how you carry on that relationship. Although a graphic designer can create some of this, threading the personality of your business through everything that you do is where a branding consultant comes in.
Common Branding Mistakes Made by Small Businesses
So what are the most common mistakes that small businesses make when creating a brand?
“Thinking too small,” says Michael. “There is a tendency to see a well-designed, well thought out brand as too slick or big.” But the truth is many customers do not factor size into their decision making process, they just want to deal with a cohesive, professional business, no matter if they are small or large. “Just because you’re a company of only one, there’s no reason not to look as professional and ‘put together’ as the big guys.”
The Two Most Important Roles of a Branding Consultant
Impartiality as a sounding board and a set of fresh eyes are invaluable when it comes to developing a brand or re-design.
“When someone starts a business, it is their dream, their life’s passion, and it’s very difficult for them to step back and look at the business through impartial eyes,” he explains. This is why a brand consultant can be so valuable. Their unbiased opinion can see things that you may have overlooked and may be harming your competitive edge, which is where their experience kicks in. “The brand expert may be able to very quickly provide ideas and suggestions that you may not have considered,” says Michael. “And those suggestions, big or small, can have a massive impact on your business.”
But that experience does not mean that they are unwilling to listen. “I find that most people new to the idea of hiring a brand consultant fear that the consultant won’t listen to the business owner’s real needs and desires,” says Michael. “In truth, while some are like that, the vast majority of us believe in a very co-operative approach.”
He explains that when starting a relationship with a branding consultant, the consultant’s primary role is to listen. Listen to the story of the business. Listen to where you see your business going. Listen to where you see yourself in the marketplace. After all, how can a consultant recommend a strategy if they don’t understand the business?
Choosing the Right Sounding Board
It’s hard to stand back and take an objective look at your business, so it is natural to look to a trusted family member, good friend, former co-worker, mentor, or yes, brand consultant. But be careful about collecting too many opinions warns Michael.
“Friends and family love you and want you to succeed, so they will often be the most outspoken with free opinions and feedback. And often this advice is contradictory, which can drive you crazy,” he warns.
Instead, Michael advises business owners to pick a select few voices to listen to, and to remember that at the end of the day the business is your dream. After all, “No great company out there has ever made everyone in the boardroom happy. They each had hard calls to make, that they knew were right. So seek out advice but ultimately you must decide which to listen to and which to politely ignore.”
Ask the Expert
Michael is Small Business BC’s resident branding expert in our “Ask an Expert” series. For just $40, you can book a 45 minute appointment with him to ask for tips and ideas of how to start building your brand. The service is available both in person and via Skype and will give you a great taste of the types of advice and services that he provides.