Builders' Merchants News
NMBS Conference 2014: The importance of branding
Published:  20 June, 2014

Rita Clifton is a leading expert on branding. She has been called ‘the doyenne of branding’ by Campaign magazine and a ‘brand guru’ by the Financial Times. She began her speech at the Conference by noting that not every industry gets the importance of branding, but that really thinking about their brand can help companies to develop better relationships with their customers, which will ultimately help to improve the bottom line.

"A great brand is the most sustainable asset that any business has," she said, "and it's great to see that the concept of branding is so central to the NMBS Conference."

While many believe that 'people' are the best asset that a company has, Ms Clifton disagrees. "When people tell me that, I always ask 'people organised to do what?'. Without the coherent message that a brand gives you, they're just a group of people doing stuff."

She also added that while people in a company may leave, and services can become obsolete as technologies change, the brand will always be there, as long as you look after it. She advised delegates to always invest in their brand and make sure it is a strong one, since you never know who is going to decide to enter your sector as competition, and while every company may have things that go wrong, a small mistake in a company with a strong brand can be fixed, while a mistake in a company with a weak brand can prove to be far more serious.

"You've got to be a very good business with people who care about what you do, as people can be a great asset or a company's worst downfall," she warned. "Strong brands will always financially outperform their weaker competition, and B2B companies with strong brands will outperform weaker businesses by almost 20%.A strong brand generates more reliable sales, because people will always come back and try again."

A respected brand will also save a business on things like employment costs, she said, because people are more likely to stay with the company. This can provide a 50% saving on hiring costs, which in turn increases profits.

So, Ms Clifton asked, why don't people get the importance of branding? Branding isn't just a company's logo or advertising strategy - it permeats everything you do, and the front-facing logo and marketing needs to simply be a reflection of the strength of the company that lies beneath.

At its core, Ms Clifton said that branding is about how a business is different from its competition, and that companies should ask themselves what their brand is truly about, what stands them apart and how it can train its employees to be ambassadors for their businesses. She also said that whatever the company decides that its brand is, that value has to permeate through the whole company. If you say that 'trust' is one of your brand values, then you have to make sure that customers who come into contact with the business feel that they can trust them, and have customer experiences which encourage that reputation.

Three key characteristics will help to build a strong brand:

  • Clarity - If you're not clear, then the message of what your brand is will always be less effective
  • Coherence - How is your brand's message displayed in everything you do? The brand has to be clear both internally and externally.
  • Leadership - The leader of your company must epitomise the very best values of the company, as well as leading the company as a whole in innovating and setting the agenda for the company and the industry.

Ms Clifton then talked delegates through examples of a number of well-known brands who are examples of both good and bad branding, including Google, Apple, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Ford and BMW.

"These days, every market is ultra competitive and you have to make sure you stay number one," she said. "Builders' merchants have the expertise and knowledge that their clients need to know to keep up to date, which gives you a great opportunity. But you've got to look like you know what you are doing, with a consistent approach to your brand portfolio."

Ms Clifton concluded by posing some questions to the listening delegates:

  • Whatever the size of your business, are you clear about what you stand for?
  • Does that show up in everything that you do?
  • Are you constantly innovating and setting the agenda?