Branding Your Family Business
Successful use of ‘family’ in marketing and branding appears to correlate with how actively involved family members are in the day-to-day running of the firm. Some industries might also be better suited to branding as a family business, for example, wines, luxury and artisan products where craftsmanship and heritage are valued. Those family businesses that believe marketing and branding are merely about the external image of the firm are certainly taking some risks with their hard earned reputation. Marketing, customer experience and branding represents your company in its entirety and how your customers and competitors perceive and experience it. Effective marketing, branding and in particular strong customer experience as a brand building tool helps you preserve your competitive advantage.
As a family business it may be hard to decide whether to incorporate the ‘family’ component of your organisation into your brand and marketing strategies.
This seemingly simple decision can be fraught with complexity because branding can encapsulate both significant business issues and more superficial tactical points at the same time.
Family owned and run businesses have become even more appealing since the global financial crisis in 2008 where many large and respected public companies lost the trust of customers and employees. Many people subsequently found the promise of security and accountability in long-standing family firms highly appealing. Nationally over 65 per cent of UK businesses are family run. They employ over nine million people, accounting for 40 per cent of all private sector jobs.
‘72% of consumers… say they trust family-owned businesses’
Past research shows consumers believe family companies make products they can trust and are more committed to their communities. Edelman, a public relations firm, found in studies that 72% of consumers in developed economies say they trust family-owned businesses. Yet the family connection is often poorly communicated because the role of ‘family’ in marketing and branding has not been clearly defined. Frequently it is reduced to a mention in a tagline or on the history page of a company website and the message could be a lot stronger in many cases. It raises the question of why even mention the word ‘family’ if firms don’t make it a point of difference and provide experiential evidence that ‘our customers benefit because we’re family owned’.
All brands need to be authentic in their communication and for the use of ‘family’ to be credible in communication, it is important that the family do still play a significant role in the business. Those family firms that have successfully passed from one generation to the next, can also lay claim to the even more emotive concept of having heritage, showcasing the family’s ability to sustain their business and creating associations of dedication, quality and integrity. These can be used as powerful motivators in the mind of your customer. Here, family businesses have an authenticity advantage; they can communicate a clearer longer-term purpose rather than being merely motivated by short-term profit taking.
The world of marketing and branding is constantly changing and it seems many family businesses may be among those not keeping up. In the past, poor customer or employee experiences might have been passed by word of mouth, but today they are spread via review sites and social media. Companies need to treat marketing as a way to invite customers and prospective employees inside their firms, to provide transparency and promote authenticity, not to use marketing and communications as a screen behind which they hide reality. In the digital age, inconsistency of message is easily detected which is risky when the reputation of your business is increasingly in the hands of its employees and customers.
Not everyone is going to appreciate the family dimension of marketing or branding strategies. The firm needs to understand what ‘family business’ means in their industry and to their customers. Despite the many positive attributes associated with family businesses, there are some significant negative expectations also, such as a lack of professionalism. Indeed 30% of family business respondents in a recent UK survey by professional services firm PWC claimed that raising professional standards in their business would be a key challenge over the next 5 years.
‘when your family is the brand, it makes the necessary consistency for first class marketing and branding so very much easier’
When it comes to the inclusion of ‘family’ in marketing and brand strategies, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. It is dependent on the nature of your business, the degree to which your family is engaged in the firm, and factors such as target audience and competitors. By understanding and assessing whether ‘family’ adds meaningful value to your brand, product and customer experience, you can find the best approach for your company.
Before raising the profile of the family element of your business, all family members must be in agreement and fully prepared. Once exposed to public scrutiny families potentially leave themselves vulnerable to negative as well as positive news stories. Yet the benefits most often outweigh the problems. For families closely involved in their businesses, no-one else understands the firm quite as well so when your family is the brand, it makes the necessary consistency for first class marketing and branding so very much easier.
Tips for success:
- Listen regularly to what customers say they value about your service and your brand and observe the competition. Adapt the marketing and branding strategies as needed.
- Do make sure employees understand and deliver the brand and family values to create a differentiated customer experience. Don’t create a hefty brand manual; a single, clearly articulated sentence can be all it takes.
- Use marketing strategies and social media to invite customers inside your business, create transparency and earn trust.
- Engage all family members who are active in the business in the branding process, allow the business to become an integral part of who they are which can help further family unity.
- Be yourself and be authentic. Use heritage where is exists and tell your story in through compelling marketing.