Importance of being on message

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WHAT puts a business ahead of its competitors, what makes it stand out from the crowd?

Jonathan Rayfield has no doubt.

“The big challenge for a business is actually differentiating yourself,” he says.

“It’s all about brand positioning.”

Jonathan is the founder of brand communication business Aspect Design, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

And there is no doubt that Jonathan firmly believes in the difference branding can make to a company – even during recession.

“People are recognising the benefits of marketing through the recession,” he says. “A study at Harvard University found that during the midst of recession, businesses who had marketed themselves and those that hadn’t both held their own. But as the green shoots of recovery appeared, those who marketed through the recession emerged stronger.”

Aspect’s job is to help businesses build or strengthen their brand, to help them find a voice which speaks to their target audience.

Jonathan explains: “We work with clients who do not know what they need to do to market themselves. It’s about taking all the marketing communications elements and saying it’s better to have a plan about how they interact with each other. It’s almost like creating a tone of voice for the whole business.”

To this end, the company provides a range of services from PR and marketing to SEO, web design and social media.

A large proportion - up to 40 per cent - of Aspect’s work is in the manufacturing sector where, Jonathan says, “it’s not necessarily a natural thing for manufacturers to market themselves.”

The company also has clients in the construction, energy, retail and business services sectors, as well as carrying out philanthropic work for the likes of Western Primary School in Harrogate and the Ministry of Justice.

One of the company’s oldest clients is the Gregory Property Group, which they have helped develop a brand. Aspect do most of Gregory’s corporate literature and exhibition work, as well as marketing some of the most prestigious developments such as the Broad Street Plaza in Halifax, and a number of promotions.

One successful project was Aspect’s work for the $90 million American and British industrial gasket manufacturer Flexitallic on the launch of a new gasket that reduces the leakage suffered by off-shore platforms.

The unit was considerably more expensive than competing products but Aspect focused on its USP of being able to cold install it, meaning that installation costs were smaller. Jonathan says: “We positioned that brand as: You can get cheaper but why not get the best? By understanding that market place, we were able to launch that product and help the company achieve their annual target in just six months.” One of the tools used by Aspect for its work with Flexitallic was a ‘DNA consulting’ service, where Jonathan and his team carry out interviews within a company to find out exactly what it does, who its target audience is and what it wants to achieve.

This is used to help it position itself correctly in the market. Locally, Aspect has worked on websites, PR and social media for James Brindley.

It carried out a rebrand for Nidd Transport in Knaresborough, and in February was appointed by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to develop an equine booking system for the Great Yorkshire Show.

Jonathan says design is in his blood. His father was an interior designer and his mother is a fine artist, and he followed their creative lead when he left St Aidan’s High School and went to Harrogate School of Art to pursue a general art and design course. But he left to go into business. “In the end, I decided I wasn’t going to be a designer – I’m a better art director,” he says.

“I have an understanding of form, style, shape and colour, and what works.” Jonathan cut his teeth in a variety of businesses, including working for Canon UK for three years, where he became a senior sales person.

“But I really missed my creative roots so I got a job with a small design agency,” he says. “I worked with them to generate and account handle new clients, and in nine months we doubled turnover.”

At the age of 26, Jonathan approached the company’s bosses with a proposal to make him a partner.

But as they were left to think about it, Jonathan realised his future wasn’t with them. He decided to set up his own agency in the garage of his home in Harrogate.

An early coup for the fledgling company was being asked by law firm DLA Piper to produce all their corporate sales literature.

Eighteen months on, things were going so well that Jonathan invested £2,500 in the company’s first Macintosh computer. “It was an enormous investment for us,” he says.

“But we saw that as a feature, the market was going digital and the ability to show a client work on a computer screen like that was vital.”

Aspect moved to its current offices on Victoria Avenue, Harrogate, in 1995.

“It’s good for our business that we have a brand association with such a beautiful town,” he says.

Jonathan’s wife, Helen, who also grew up in Harrogate, joined the company in 1994 and is now a director

He says they’ve never had a problem working together, as each recognises “what the other is great at”.

Aspect now has a team of 15, including copywriters, designers, web developers, PR people and an SEO expert.

Although times have been tough over the last three or four years for all businesses, Aspect included, Jonathan says the re-engineering of many companies’ structures due to the recession has actually provided his agency with opportunities to help with branding or rebranding.

The company has seen a 15 per cent growth in turnover over the last three years and Jonathan says they are “very excited” about the future.

“As a business, we’ve weathered the storm of recession and have consolidated our offering. We have honed and defined our expertise in what we can offer to businesses,” he says.

Indeed, just as is the case with its clients, Aspect’s aim is to define itself in the market place.

“As a design agency, we decided we wanted to be recognised for brand,” adds Jonathan.

“It’s about that brand message and tone of voice.”