Caleb Owino

Tue, 11/22/2011 - 19:00


Show me sustained demand and I’ll show you a successful brand. There are two sides of demand though; creation and fulfilment.

In the same mould, there are two types of entrepreneurs; the replicative and the innovative entrepreneurs. Replicative entrepreneurs are myriad but often with average success, if at all. This is your typical neighbour or friend who will copy your business idea at the drop of the hat.

Conversely, innovative entrepreneurs invent new products or services, systems or processes, thereby creating new demand. Because innovation, by its very nature is difficult, innovative entrepreneurs often enjoy strong brand equity and unchallenged success.

And there in lies the SME brand conundrum. How should you go about building a brand? On the one hand, there are those who believe that advertising is the key. On the other, there are those who will swear by a great product in the belief that if you build it right, the customer will come.

I say two can never be separated. But you must start somewhere! Before you put money into your next product, think of it as a brand. Which customer will it be for? What should it do for the customer that none of the available alternatives could do?

If done right, the simple process of brand creation often lead to entrepreneurial paradise. Eight years ago, a college student established a global web brand with virtually no resources. The core brand elements had to be clear. Who would it be for? …Largely young people. What would it do for them? ...Connect them with their friends around the world.

You know the company as facebook, the brainchild of Mark Zukerberg. At 28, he’s 35th in Forbes’ billionaires list, thanks to innovative entrepreneurship. Had he gone replicative like most entrepreneurs, Zukerberg could have ended up with an also-run search engine several places, behind Google or Yahoo! At best, his would be in the fifth or sixth place. Worse, no bank would have offered funding for it

Closer home, there was a time we all took tap (or stream) water with abandon. Not a soul would have known that the day would come when few would be seen near a water tap with a glass. Mr. Mahmood Somani then started a mineral water business. Today, Ugandans know it as Ruwenzori and collectively consume over 12 million litters of it monthly. As at the close of 2011, Ruwenzori was the most sold item across the entire retail chain in Uganda - supermarkets, minimarts, dukas, kiosks and taxi parks combined. While many other replicative models have since arrived, none have come close to Ruwenzori and few will do any time soon.

Privileged to interact with the Top-100 SME’s at a recent workshop, I asked them what they consider to be the barriers to SME’s when it comes to brand building. Lots. But cost, people and leadership stood out. The participants that attended my break out session agreed that it’s costly building a strong brand – you would expect this. The less obvious is however the issue of people and leadership. Brands come from well thought out ideas and not merely advertising. In turn, ideas come from people. It follows that for SME’s to build great brands, it would help to have access to (not necessarily employ) people with superior competence on the dynamics of brand building. The leadership to motivate, reward and get the best out of such minds is paramount.

But how exactly do you create an innovative enterprise that would be a befitting foundation for a great brand? There are certainly many ways to skin this cat. I give you a few ground rules.

First: Begin with the end in mind

Even before you create it, be clear on the benefit your product or service will deliver that the customer does not have access to currently. Then deliberately invest in creating the differentiated value. Even a shop competing amongst many will do better if for instance, it is the best lit at night, the neatest or the only one that opens late.

Second: Build a reputation around your products

Customers buy products they know from people they trust. Focus on building a reputation around the things that your customers care about. What’s the one thing that your business should stand for in the mind of the customer? Quality, affordability, convenience; name it. Be sure that this is what the customer cares most about. Then work tirelessly to convince the customer that s/he can never get this benefit elsewhere.

Third: Build a relationship with your customers

Create an emotional bond with your customers beyond the transaction and they will never want to buy from anyone else. Go out of your way to do things that your customers care about. MTN sponsors the marathon, which has no direct link to selling airtime but helps company sustain a relationship with Ugandans beyond telecom. The net effect is that customers will be willing to forgive, should anything go wrong with the network. Is there an initiative that fits your budget?

All said, your brand is a sum total of what your customers think of it. At the very base of the customers’ psyche, the most loved brands are used for self-expression.  A Calvin Klein on a teenager’s back says he’s cool. You arrive in a Mercedes Benz or Range Rover if you want express “prestige”. Hold that Ruwenzori bottle and they’ll know you are health conscious (never mind the tap water you brush with in the privacy of your bathroom). Matooke in your plate at a corporate dinner says you are authentically Ugandan – no pretender!

What does your product say about your customers, the few or many times they use it?

The author is the Managing Director of fireworks Advertising. He may be reached on for comments on this article

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