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Growing Your Business The Family Way

What are the unique challenges and rewards of marketing a family business? Nicola Stamford, a specialist family business marketeer, shares her thoughts.

According to the Institute for Family Business, family-owned businesses in the UK employ 14.2 million people, generate a quarter of our GDP and pay £196 billion in tax. They are the backbone of our communities, forging the way for socially responsible, sustainable living. Yet all too often they remain low profile.

As a marketing specialist who has worked with family businesses for over 20 years, I’m on a mission to stop them hiding their light under a bushel! In my experience, marketing family businesses offers unique opportunities, inspiration and rewards.

The Family Factor

By their very nature, family businesses have a head start when it comes to marketing. Think about what ‘family’ means to you – love, warmth, happiness, care, support… Subconsciously we tend to translate these positive feelings across to family businesses. Finding out that a company is family owned gives it a human face and helps to engender a sense of trust.

If a family business harnesses this effectively, it can be extremely powerful. However, it’s not enough to simply add the words ‘A family business’ to your strapline… For the family factor to bring true competitive advantage, the essence of family needs to run through everything you do – from your values and working culture, to your customer service and community action.

As well as having a positive impact on all the people directly involved in your business, this generates great news stories to share in your marketing materials. In my experience, many family businesses struggle with this and are nervous about blowing their own trumpet, instinctively wanting to ‘keep it in the family’. But highlighting the great things you’re doing as a company can make all the difference when it comes to winning and retaining customers. The key is to get your brand voice right and communicate in a way that makes it clear you’re still a humble, values-led organisation that puts people first.

If, like many of the family businesses I work with, you see your employees as an extension of your family, make sure you build internal comms into your marketing mix. Show people how important they are to you through clear, open communication, regular get-togethers, celebrations and rewards. A loyal, energised workforce with shared values, unified purpose and a strong sense of belonging sits at the heart of successful family businesses.

Tradition For Today

Brand storytelling is a key part of effective marketing and there are few businesses with a better tale to tell than a family business.

Whether you’re the fourth generation to run your company or a young couple just starting out, you have a unique family story that will resonate with customers and employees. Making this the cornerstone of your marketing can give you a distinct competitive advantage, making your business more credible, authentic and memorable.

Having said that, respecting your history doesn’t mean living in the past. You might want to stay true to tradition, but just because your company dates back to the last century it doesn’t mean your marketing should! Marketing platforms have evolved rapidly in recent years and family businesses – however steeped in history – have to be willing to embrace change. Traditional media like TV, radio and newspaper may still play a part in your marketing strategy, but be open to the power of social media, blogs, email marketing, SEO, podcasts, video, display ads, paid social ads…

If this all sounds daunting, why not consider getting advice from an agency that has particular expertise in marketing family businesses? They will be able to get under the skin of your business, bring a new perspective to your brand, suggest innovative approaches and help you grow.

Ultimately, however you go about marketing your family business, the key is to adapt, innovate and tell your story to the world. In our increasingly impersonal digital lives, I believe that the personal touch of family businesses has never been more valued. The opportunities are huge – we just need to capitalise on them.

About the Author – Nicola Stamford is the Founding Director of Big Bamboo, a Yorkshire-based marketing agency that supports family businesses.

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