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Some companies use their status as a family business as part of their brand, while others choose not to. What are the advantages of a family business brand? And is it something you could consider? Michael Gough explains more.

85% of all companies in Britain are family businesses – owned by one or more members of a single family. They employ half of all private-sector employees, making them a vital part of the economy. But you won’t always recognise a family firm when you see it.

Foreground And Background Families

Take Mary and Doug Perkins. The opticians they founded in 1984 was the first to feature a showroom, and following changes to UK regulation, the first to brand itself and advertise. Specsavers now has 1,978 stores across ten countries. It is still owned by its husband and wife founders, and all three of their children work for the company. It’s a quintessential family business, but you wouldn’t know it from the branding.

Others put the family front and centre. Warburton’s have the words ‘family bakers’ in their logo. Their tagline, ‘from our family to yours’, appears in adverts and on the packaging. You can’t miss the fact that Britain’s biggest bread company is a family business. They really want their customers to know that there have been five generations of Warburton’s bakers. It’s central to their brand proposition.

Why do some family businesses use it in their branding and others don’t? And what are the benefits of using the family connection?

Positive Connotations

Research shows that people have very positive impressions of family business, and that highlighting family ownership can be a valuable aspect of a brand. People associate them with trustworthiness and social responsibility. The family connection also has connotations of quality and a focus on customers.

It’s not hard to see why. ‘Family’ is a positive word in the English language. It suggests that there are real people behind a company – people who get up and go to work and care about what they do. It gives the business a human face, and that helps to build trust and rapport. Even though you are unlikely to ever meet them as a customer, there is a sense of relationship there, a friendliness and approachability.

For multi-generation family businesses, there are the added benefits of longevity, family history, and expertise passed down. In some cases, such as the investment and banking services of Rothschild & Co, there are centuries of tradition to draw on. The value of that heritage is incalculable, provided it can be successfully communicated.

Staying true to tradition and adapting to changing markets is an ongoing balancing act for older firms. Plenty of family businesses have faltered by failing to stay relevant, and the strength of longevity became a weakness. That’s one of the reasons we recommend brand reviews and audience surveys from time to time.

Emphasise With Care

Building a successful brand takes strategy and application. There’s nothing automatic about sticking ‘a family business’ on your letterhead. Neither do you need to roll out the founding family all the time. There’s a balance to strike, incorporating the family into the way that you talk about the business, highlighting it when it’s helpful, and making it part of the origin story.

An outside perspective will help to get this balance right, and as a branding agency a large part of what we do is helping clients to focus in on their strengths and distinctives. The family and its story may be one of those things.

If you’re a family business, your customers may value that about you. It could help to build a connection with new customers, giving them a sense of who you are and what you stand for. It’s an advantage that you might not be tapping into at the moment.

Could you be doing more to highlight it? A good first step would be to research it with your audiences. We ran a survey as part of our work on rebranding the property developer Thornsett. We discovered that their clients and investors really valued the company’s family bond, something the directors had assumed was irrelevant. You don’t know until you ask.

About the Author - Michael Gough is the Strategy Director and co-founder of the brand and design agency Sparks Studio. He helps established businesses with rich histories and complexity to re-establish their relevance, to connect with changing audiences and express what matters now. He also hosts the podcast Why It Matters, a series of conversations with leaders who are passionate about something that is at risk of being overlooked.


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