These days I find myself obsessing over the question of who is the best. Usually the question is reserved for sport – i.e. who is the best cricket team, rugby team, tennis player, golfer or 100m sprinter…in the world. I am however also asking: which is the best business, in any given industry, in the world?
  • Which is the best plumbing business in the world?
  •  Which is the best construction company in the world?
  •  Best bank?
  •  Best cell phone company?
  •  Best business in the world when it comes to tree felling?

And my favourite: who serves the best hamburger….IN THE WORLD?
I am asking this question for any business – no matter how small and seemingly insignificant. I’ll admit it, it is a very simplified way of looking at things. Quite possibly there is no single best hamburger in the world. So too for many of the other examples in my list. But, there will be one that comes close to being the best, in its segment, in the world.
Surely, a key determinant to being the best, is having the most competition to beat. No one becomes the best by being all alone in the race. You become the best by having to beat a whole pack of wolves vying for the same meal! You become the best, when you face fierce competition.
South Africa is a relatively small and isolated market dominated by a few big companies that face little competition. Let’s be honest, does anybody really think the big banks are competing? Are the cell phone companies really trying to eat each other’s lunch? Not to mention the beer companies, tomato sauce companies or satellite TV companies? In this country, big companies face little competition, leading me to conclude: the biggest in this country, cannot possibly be the best in the world. At a push they might be number two – but definitely not number one.
The situation is however very different for small companies where competition is everywhere. Just ask yourself: “how many people in my neighbourhood can make me a pizza, mow my lawn, install my satellite dish or fix my geezer?” The answer is plenty. If competition determines excellence, then surely small companies in South Africa stand a chance to be some of the best in the world, in their segment? Other than their big counterparts, they actually do face stiff competition. Dog actually tries to eat dog.
This brings me to the topic of branding, and back to sport. The best sportsmen don’t just win on the field. They also win off the field. They do speaker engagements, sponsor products, launch books, sell clothing and hand out signatures. To put it simply, they stand out both on the field and off. It is this standout value that translates into brand value. The best performers in sport, are also the biggest brands in sport. Examples are: Manchester United, Roger Federer, Ferrari and the All Blacks. For these stars, it is about more than pure performance on the field. They also tell people that they are the best. They make sure they extract maximum value from their talent. Usually, these individuals and teams earn much more off the field, than on the field. The brand is built on top of the performance, and is often the more valuable, profitable part. The real money is earned off the field.
Small businesses can learn from the sports analogy. As in sports, small companies also face stiff competition. Just as with top sports people, small companies also invest heavily in their operational performance, constantly trying to become better. Practice makes perfect. But it cannot stop with the operational. It must go beyond operational excellence and extend to brand excellence. It is the brand, which ensures real profit. The cream on top of the cappuccino.
So why do so many small companies ignore this truth and chronically under invest in their brand? The establishment of a corporate brand has for many years been the exclusive domain of big companies, but it is small companies that need brand presence more. Small companies face the real competition. It is them that must win or die a slow death.
What are key elements to a small business brand? Here is a short tick list:
  1.  Invest in a meaningful logo that is clean, clear and visible.
  2.  Have a website, and treat it like it is your target market’s window into your business. Make sure it is up to date, well laid out and easy to navigate.
  3.  Spend a moment and identify all your customer touch points. Make sure you are happy that this is what the customer sees when dealing with you. Examples: How does your receptionist answer the phone? How does the couch in your reception area look like – is it filthy? How do your staff dress, especially those that interact with the customer? Are your vehicles branded and in good condition?

Ultimately, small businesses ignore their brand at their own peril. The competition is just too intense not to have a brand. It is not just about whether you are the best laundromat. It is also about whether people know it.