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Approaching branding as behaviour

SMEs need a new method of living their brand

SME businesses are very different from corporates in one important respect: the percentage of staff who have customer contact. In a corporate environment, media handles a lot of the work of influencing perception. Big advertising campaigns, product promotions, PR, lots of automation. Customers can grow to love a brand without much, if any, direct human contact being involved.

For smaller businesses, media-driven marketing has to be a more careful choice. We don’t have the luxury of such a great margin of error in establishing what media can work for us. Instead, we rely far more on the most trustworthy vehicle for persuading prospects: Our own people.

For businesses where that person is a director or founder, it’s fine, they can exercise control over the message and the persuasion is largely down to personal branding. Networking and referral can deliver the lion’s share of sales. It’s not a scalable model, but it can work fine for business with 1-5 employees.

What happens when your business grows?

The problem for SME brands is what happens when the business outgrows the “one person sales/marketing team”. Now you have multiple personalities representing the business. They may not even be your employees. Perhaps marketing content has been outsourced to an agency, or you’re using a telemarketing service. That has created a whole new set of skills you have to learn.

You have to learn how to brief external resource, not dash out social, blog, or video content yourself.
You have to be able to train new, or inexperienced staff how to speak, and write, in a manner that was automatic for you.
And most important… these other people have to be able to interpret your values, purpose and tone while still being themselves.

That’s not easy.

How can you help others represent your brand?

To answer this, we must ask a simple question: How do people learn anything? It depends on the person. Some people need all the facts and time to digest. Some people need to learn by doing. With communication, some people need to hear both the tone and the terminology rather than read about it.

Having brand guidelines is a useful starting point. But many people can read them and still not really be aware of what to do with them. They need both situational context, to learn how to apply them, and also personal adaptation, so they feel they can speak as both themselves AND the brand. Again, not easy!

It’s easy for directors to become frustrated that not everyone is “getting it”. That the brand is becoming more inconsistent, as more people have to represent it in different ways. But bear in mind, brand is fundamentally a connection, between the audience and whatever the entity is that represents it. It’s easy to make a advertising campaign consistent across formats, but for that connection to spark between people, how can that consistency come about?

Behaviour is a universal human language you can utilise

We are built, and develop as people, with largely the same types of cognitive commonality.

  • We don’t like too much information, it confuses us
  • We need to be able to compare things, to find meaning
  • We feel compelled to make decisions quickly
  • We can’t remember everything, we have to filter information effectively

These problems are common to the person representing your brand AND the prospect who is encountering it. Once we know our brand intimately we lose the ability to sense these issues, leaving us with the sensation of “it’s obvious, what aren’t people getting it?”

The good news is, this isn’t impenetrable magic, these are just cognitive biases. They are known, described, and you can employ all manner of techniques to shape people’s perception and help overcome these challenges.

By seeing our brand anew, we can begin to understand why the things we’re trying to tell people aren’t getting through. The twin challenges of honing your messages for your audience, and training your people, are one and the same! Once we realise that, we can simplify things for the benefit of both parties.

How can that be achieved?

Sufu has developed a set of services to achieve this outcome:

Our brand psychology report will help you understand where you are now, in terms of how your brand makes people feel and why.

Our content brand guidelines will create consistent messages and tone that provide a foundation for your communication.

Then we can help bring the brand into your marketing strategy by one of three means:

We build strong brand perception
then convert it into lasting brand opinion.


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