How to make small business brand ‘cool’

Yahoo Finance, September 2013

Apple has topped an annual list of the ‘coolest brands’ in the UK, with carmaker Aston Martin making second place and luxury watch brand Rolex third. Despite a subdued share price and concerns from some quarters that its growth may be waning, the tech giant made the top spot for the second year running.

Other well-established brands failed to maintain their 2012 position on the list, with Haagen-Dazs, Vogue and Ben & Jerry’s slipping down the top 20, replaced by Chanel at 13, Prada at 14 and Alexander McQueen at 19. The CoolBrands list is voted for by 3,000 shoppers and a panel of 38 ‘key influencers’, which this year included Dragon’s Den star Kelly Hoppen, fashion designer Julien MacDonald and actor David Harewood.

Of course, these major corporations can afford to invest heavily in marketing their products to make them appeal to fashion conscious consumers. So how can small businesses, often with far fewer funds available, make their brands or products similarly ‘cool’ on a limited budget?

The language your firm uses to communicate with its customers, whether on product packaging or your website is crucial, says award-winning advertising copywriter, Victoria Crump, who has worked on many brands including Adidas, Soap and Glory and Clearasil.

“It’s all about tone of voice, ”she said. “Most businesses don’t want to be quirky as they’re worried about alienating their audiences. But it’s about understanding what the customer wants and telling them the benefits of their product without using jargon.


How SMEs can stand out from the crowd


“People think that jargon makes them look clever but it doesn’t. The way to be cool is to speak in a really distinctive way. Apple is a tech brand so it could be saying things in a very complicated way, but it says them in a simple way.

Victoria points to smoothies maker Innocent which has created significant buzz about the humorous messages it uses in its packaging.

“Remember the cool kids at school,” she said. “They were happy to be themselves and maybe even funny. Innocent, for example, has a sense of humour. Being cool is about being confident. Innocent created that tone of voice themselves in-house [rather than paying an advertising firm to come up with it] and everyone in the industry was really impressed.”

Small businesses should also beware of wasting their marketing budgets on expensive one-off advertising or public relations campaigns, say London-based brand experience experts I-am Associates.

“Putting all your budget in one great PR pot or spending out on an advertising campaign that isn’t niche enough are some of the biggest mistakes SMEs can make,” says Mel Connell, Director of ‘iam’ Beyond, the firm’s experiential marketing arm.


Don’t be a shoddy business


“SMEs need to think less about overarching brand awareness and more about generating brand advocacy.”

Mel recommends that instead of building an community based around their brand, firms should instead tap into existing communities or “influencer groups” to generate word of mouth interest in their products, developing what she calls “advocacy soldiers” – individuals who will vouch for your brand.

The firm, which works with Diageo as well as smaller companies, typically creates events around client’s brands, such as pop up events and parties, to which it invites influential bloggers with the aim of creating a ‘buzz’ about a product.

However, these events don’t have to be expensive, says Mel. “We’ve done lots of low cost guerilla marketing events,” she said. “It could be at a music festival, it could be in the street, a flash mob, projections onto something, etc. or even chalk spraying on the pavement,” she said.

To achieve ‘coolness’, it’s crucial to target the right audience, she says. “Gaining traction within a target community is vital to gaining credibility,” Mel said.

Social media is another area which, while low cost, is where many firms – large or small – can easily become unstuck. “There are a lot of brands trying to fabricate content online and a lot of misconceptions about buying fans online,” said Mel.

“It’s important to sit and work out your online strategy before doing anything because you can’t oversaturate. Oversaturation of your brand message can be off-putting [to consumers on Twitter, etc.] and if you do so I can turn you off my filter.”

I-am also argues that small firms should concentrate on producing good quality content that is of interest to their target audience and features the right ‘tone of voice’, rather than bombarding users with sales messages.


Why not crowd fund your business idea?


Meanwhile, Iwoca, a small firm which provides funding to online sellers, which combines more tradition direct marketing to clients with an online presence, reckons it’s possible for SMEs to create a ‘cool’ brand on a small budget.

“You don’t need big budgets to do this,” says Tracy Waxman, the firm’s chief marketing officer who previously worked at HSBC where her marketing spend was larger. “Surprise and delight your customers. We used a ‘graze box’ [a box of snacks designed to fit through a mail box] as a marketing tool around the theme ‘food for thought for your business’. That was a way to take a marketing tool such as direct mail and make it interesting.”

She also recommends that companies put a friendly face to their brand name by organizing events and maintaining a dialogue with their customers.

“We have a blog and personal account managers for each of our customers,” she said. “Even as a small business there are things you can do online that make you approachable and ‘cool’. Iwoca holds presentations around the UK to help customers network, but instead of holding them in hotels we hold them in bars. Small businesses can also get involved in their local communities.”

However, it’s not enough for your product simply to look ‘cool’ or for your company to have a ‘cool’ philosophy, your firm also has to walk the talk.


Yahoo! Finance, September 2013