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SME Branding Lesson #12 – To Brand or Not to Brand…

… advertise that is the question.

I recently came across an article written by a marketing expert that suggests SMEs spending time and money on branding really are wasting their time. As I read on, I realised that he may have simplified the subject and based his conclusion on comparing brand advertising versus direct response advertising as parts of a marketing strategy for SMEs.
Pretty much all major fashion, lifestyle and consumer goods brands practice a mixture of both, but we probably mostly remember them for their brand advertisements.  Distinct imagery, a clever tag line, sometimes just an image and a logo – welcome to the very different sibling of  direct response advertising.

Miu Miu Advertising Campaign
Showcasing the brand. Then the product.

It’s an investment. It’s not instant gratification. It’s hard to track and hard to justify, but it seems to be working for the big boys. So why shouldn’t SMEs do the same?
Brand advertising is not meant to sell a product or service directly to a potential customer. Brand advertising skillfully nurtures potential buyers by keeping your name and what your business stands for in the mind of the consumers so when they eventually get to make a buying decisions, your brand is one of the few they will consider.
As such, it may take months for a campaign to show results. Equally, it will take repeated appearances of adverts – but in my mind most importantly, companies that successfully use brand advertising have spent years if not decades building up a public perception of their brand and their values so now they ‘simply’ have to reinforce this perception and introduce the next generation of customers to their brand.
I believe this is the major reason why it won”t work as effectively for local SMEs as a means of getting new business. Even if you had the money to place large double spread adverts in the local paper with little more than your logo and strap line on, chances are, people just won’t know your brand enough to understand.

A Case of Benetton

Benetton baby brand advert
Not seen before. In the 90s this had shock value. And it positioned the Benetton brand.

In 1993, clothing company Benetton launched a campaign for their new range featuring images such as a ‘branded’ HIV victim, a newborn, a guy on death row, a dying seagull bathed in black oil, soldier’s graves – basically anything you and I may consider boarder line fascinating / scandalous / tasteless.
Benetton HIV ad
Talking about tabu subjects when nobody else did. The Benetton brand had their own strategy for leaving an impression

Benetton have continued over the years to use their brand to raise awareness of social and environmental issues. They are doing it again now with their ‘UNHATE‘ campaign featuring politicians kissing. Somewhat easier to digest than those older campaigns, they still use shock to create attention for their brand.
Benetton UnHate Merkel Brand Advert
Just one of the series of adverts featuring kissing politicians. In Germany, we called it the 'Bruderkuss' and it was for real!

However, they don’t exclusively advertise like that. There are also specific sub brand advertising campaigns featuring clothes. Brightly coloured, fun and happy – a stark contrast to their other campaigns.
Benetton brand advert
Bright is beautiful. A lighter advertising campaign by Benetton.

What Benetton have achieved is to create an almost instinctual understanding within us about what they represent. This didn’t happen just by placing a series of brand adverts. It’s the result of lots of background activity to instill their values and opinions in the public mind – be it on the environment, RFID technology and Turkish child labour or denim sand blasting practice.
Without the strength and backup of a global advertising campaign programme that runs over many months and communicates your business clearly to the masses, your money will probably be better spent in a more direct approach to gaining new customers.

Creatively Direct

I guess one way to distinguish direct response from brand advertising is the more explicit connection between the advert and the product or service. There may be an offer or incentive, there may be a clear call to action, a listing of features or a value proposition and a strong emphasis on communicating the selling points/differentiation from competitors.
That does not mean it has to be or appear boring, with lots of copy and little ‘white space’ to let the brand identity speak as well as the product. There are some amazing direct response campaigns out there and the web hosts perhaps far more than print advertising at the moment because of the immediacy of possible reactions a mouse click away.
tontine pillow adverts
Levis_curve_1
Dove Direct response ad

Tridos direct response ad

Out of the Question

Going back to the earlier statement of branding being a waste of time for SMEs, I think nothing could be further from the truth. (I have actually just recently written about why I believe SMEs should bother to spend time and money on branding.)
Whilst SMEs may benefit easier and more measurably from response-driven advertising, it’s the branding activities that do the heavy-lifting, that establish a business in the mind of the consumer, influencing buying and response decisions.
Relying on direct sales marketing alone is short sighted. You only need one new local player on the market who is mastering their brand management and without having invested in creating loyalty to your brand, they have every opportunity to take over your position.
A thought-through strategy to get your business present on the market and positioned where you want it to be is as important as the right mixture of branding and marketing activities. You may not be a global brand, but there are lots of local small business brands that shine and there is no reason why yours can’t be one of them.

advertising, Brand Strategy, Branding, SME

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