Your brand is your business's most important asset. As Jeff Bezos says, "your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room." It's the sum total of everything you do – and it needs to tell the story of your business in an irresistible way.
I'm the Head of Brand and Communications at Simply Business, one of the UK's largest business insurance providers. We're dedicated to helping the UK's small firms flourish, whatever industry they're in. Simply Business is a rapidly growing company but, about 18 months ago, it became clear that our brand hadn't kept up with our expansion.
We knew that we needed a truly world-beating brand to reflect what we're trying to build: one of the best companies in the UK, and worldwide. To achieve this, we embarked on an ambitious project: a full refresh of the Simply Business brand.
We think it went well – and others agree. Earlier this year we won the Transform Europe Award for Best Rebrand of a Digital Property. At the same time, we've seen double-digit growth in brand awareness within our brand advertising channels, plus growth in new business and record retention levels.
Want to know how we did it? Here are my tips for an award-winning brand refresh.
The idea of a 'brand' has been around for a really, really long time – as far back as 2700 BC cattle were being marked to show that they belonged to a particular tribe. Branding has, of course, developed and mutated almost beyond recognition since then, but it's important to understand the long history of the brand as a cultural mark.
Today, brands are the beating heart of successful businesses. Many companies make the mistake of assuming that a brand consists solely of visuals. This is an important part of the story, of course, but it's just that – only a part. In fact, your brand encompasses everything you do: the way you speak, look, and behave. It's not as simple as just sticking a new logo on your website. Your brand has to be deeply rooted in your organisation.
Great businesses tell a story. Whatever industry you're operating in, your success depends not only on your products or services, but also on your culture, heritage, and trajectory. These all need to be represented in your brand.
At Simply Business, our story has several key parts. We promise a simpler, better insurance deal for every type of UK business, and we're dedicated to supporting the vibrant and diverse community of small firms that make up the backbone of the economy. We're also established and trustworthy – two key selling points for an insurance provider – but we at the same time we're flexible, and dedicated to tailoring products to individual customers' exact needs. We needed our brand to reflect these pillars.
As we explored earlier, successful brands are rooted in an existing company culture. You can't fake a great brand – it has to be at the heart of everything you do.
To achieve this, you need to get buy-in from staff and existing customers. At Simply Business, we're constantly collaborating and listening in order to build a great company – in fact, we even won the Sunday Times Best Company To Work For Award in two consecutive years.
A few years back, we conducted a major project to identify and build on our core values. We spoke to everyone in the business, and listened to our customers' needs, before deciding on some themes that we all agreed define the business. Today, those values are at the heart of our brand.
But you also need to understand how your business is currently perceived. Research is key to a successful branding or brand refresh project, and this research should take a variety of different forms.
At the very beginning of our refresh, we conducted a number of listening exercises to help us understand how customers and prospects thought of us. We used competitive audits, brand health audits, online tracking, and focus groups consisting of both customers and employees. We ended up with a wealth of information, both qualitative and quantitative, that informed the rest of the brand refresh.
Building on that listening exercise, your company story, and the buy-in you've secured internally, you should now identify the goals you want to achieve through your rebrand.
Identifying your audience is key. We often talk about 'SMEs', but for us the sweet spot is the 'S' – the smallest businesses and sole traders, many of whom have leveraged digital technology to enable them to turn a passion or hobby into a business. The key questions for us were how to reach those people, and how to craft a brand that really speaks to them.
Through our research, we also found that general perceptions of Simply Business lagged behind employee and customer sentiment. For example, nine out of 10 of our 500,000 customers rate us good or excellent, and internally we're immensely proud of our Sunday Times wins – but outside the company itself and our existing customer community, we were struggling to get that message heard. Reversing that was another important goal.
We also had some additional strategic goals for the brand refresh, one of the most important of which was that we needed outputs that could support our expansion into the US. On a more practical level, we realised that we were looking for a brand that was simple, clear, and memorable; that was gripping and engaging across multiple media and formats; and that could really bring the customer into the heart of our identity.
Finding the right partner to deliver your brand refresh is crucial. I was lucky to already be in touch with Start Design, an agency that I trust enormously. We had a series of initial conversations, and it became clear that there was a great mutual excitement about the opportunity.
But beyond this, you need to be absolutely sure that you're communicating your goals clearly. The brief is the most important document you'll write during your brand refresh, and we dedicated a lot of time to making sure it was absolutely watertight.
Using what we'd learned in all the previous steps, we set out exactly what we wanted to change, why we wanted to change it, and what we wanted that change to feel like. We were very clear on drivers, inputs, and outcomes, and spent a lot of time thinking about and articulating exactly what we wanted the refresh to lead to.
Just as important was the development of key milestones. We dedicated a lot of time to exploration and input from a wide range of stakeholders, including a number of different customer groups. Towards the end of the project, we also set aside real resource to hand the new brand over to our internal teams. These are, of course, the people who are going to operate the brand going forward, and this period was crucial for achieving a seamless delivery.
OK, you've got your beautiful new brand and, hopefully, you're over the moon with the results. But that's not the end of the story!
A brand is a living, breathing thing – one that evolves and changes according to a huge number of factors, including customer needs, market environments, and strategic goals. You should treat your brand like a beautiful garden – it needs to be tended to every day.
In practice, this means setting up another, ongoing series of listening exercises, both internally and externally. Identify some key, genuinely quantifiable metrics, and keep a close eye on your brand as it matures. Your business isn't standing still, and you need to remember that your brand shouldn't, either.
One final note. As we've explored, your brand is the essence of your company.
It should embody everything that's great about your business, both as a place to work and as a company with which to do business. Don't spend time second-guessing, or copying what your competitors are doing. Instead, identify the things that truly make you unique, and use these as the building blocks for your identity.
In an increasingly competitive landscape, branding is king. Tend to it properly, and it will pay dividends.
Michael Garvey is Head of Brand and Communications at Simply Business.
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