The risks of growing a brand at speed

Digital communication has had a game-changing effect on the play for brand recognition. Every 60 seconds there are over five million videos watched on YouTube, 571 new websites launched, 67,000 Instagram photos uploaded and 433,000 Tweets sent.

Social media is now the primary way consumers discover new information. This poses unparalleled opportunities for brands, and for start-ups in particular.

The playing field has been levelled. You no longer need big marketing budgets to get started. The ability to convey a compelling story and create meaningful engagement online can turn a relatively unknown brand into a hero at unprecedented speed.

Build a website on Squarespace for next to nothing, craft your story and pick your platform – brands now have the opportunity to engage with potential customers from day one, improve their service through social listening and adapt and change according to what they find.

This means that many smaller players are winning the war for consumer perception. The lines between big and small are blurring and young, savvy start-ups can appear to be much larger than they are, gaining real brand loyalty very quickly.

Kate Lester is founder of Diamond Logistics, one of the fastest growing courier firms in the UK. She says that brand, PR and social metrics are increasingly important in wider business negotiations, from raising finance to network sales, and this is amplified online.

“Fast-paced brand building acts as a snowball, it has a cumulative effect, leading to new marketing opportunities on PR, awards and press. Diamond Logistics has managed to secure marketing opportunities with Vodafone worth in excess of £1 million as the network has grown following radio, TV and newspaper coverage.”

And the benefits extend even further, not least when it comes to recruiting talent. Competition for people is fierce and the stronger a business’ brand is online, the better chance it has of winning favour with potential staff. This also applies to existing teams and Lester says she has seen them become more empowered as the brand’s reputation has grown online: “They’re very motivated as it’s ‘cool’ to be involved in a high profile company.”

Keir McConomy is the founder of iMend, a phone repair business he launched online less than a year ago, but which has scaled at speed. He currently operates the largest network of phone repair technicians in the UK, and has international ambitions. “The great thing about the internet is that you can be a small start-up and appear to be a big brand based on good marketing and technology. That’s why we’ve seen start-ups disrupt entire industries, because the market is no longer dominated by one or two big players.

“What’s more, any business can be a global brand from day one. Every start-up operating online is by its nature an international business and there are no limits to where you can trade or who with.”

Of course this puts pressure on start-ups, because whilst a strong brand with credible PR and social media support can have a positive impact on sales, it can also bring risks. Any growing business has to be sure they can cope operationally by the time that surge comes, otherwise the risk to its reputation is high.

Lester warns that “if your profile is too successful, and increasing demand outstrips resources, the service expectations and quality standards are significantly impacted.”

Building a strong brand that people recognise and trust leads to a level of expectation about how a company should perform and behave. This means that defining the core values of the business from day one has never been more important. This is crucial in helping with consistency of message, service and service.

Your brand has to live up to these values, or it will get called out. Consumers expect a level of service and efficiency that matches the perception they have about the brand itself.

The things that helped your brand grow – easy access to customers and speed of communication – can easily become its downfall

Because the things that helped your brand grow – easy access to customers and speed of communication – can easily become its downfall.  Brands are now defined as much by what their customers say as what the company says about itself. Consumers have the power to build and destroy a brand's story.

McConomy also warns start-up companies of being misleading or failing to deliver on their promise. “If you can compete with bigger firms and offer a better service then that’s great – but you have to be able to meet the promises you’re making.”

Online, the potential to make a mistake is enormous, and young companies that are perceived to be much larger than they are may not have the resource or experience to deal with issues as efficiently as a larger brand. When this goes wrong, the impact can be devastating.

The decision makers within a company that is growing at speed might be rushing to keep up with a brand that is gaining credibility and recognition. They can end up making calls that are based on impulse, not strategic thinking.

The most important thing to remember about building a brand online is maintaining authenticity and transparency. Customers will happily forgive a brand that is open and honest, but may have less sympathy if they feel they have been duped.

- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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