Small Business Guide to Branding

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“Necessary evil” – that’s how most entrepreneurs and small business owners I’ve crossed paths with see marketing. Sure, in an ideal world we’d all be judged by the quality of our work and our service, but we all know that’s not the way the game works – in this day and age more than ever! Even the smallest markets are saturated with plenty of options in every industry and every sub division of every industry, and it’s extremely difficult to find any sort of competitive advantage.

The more far-sighted among my business acquaintances understand that marketing is arguably the most significant aspect of your business in terms of gaining a competitive edge. In this scheme, the importance of an established and well formulated brand cannot be overstated.

Developing a recognizable brand is a process that doesn’t just happen overnight, especially if your means are limited, which is the case with most small business owners and entrepreneurs. A quality brand usually requires a multi-front approach and a long term commitment to a single, clear vision.

Some people believe that branding is all about a nice logo and a catchy slogan. Even though both of those things can’t hurt, branding is about the entirety of your business. It is the way you present yourself and the way your business is perceived. It is the values you stand for and the way you stand behind them. Every aspect of your business comes into the brand equation.

Understanding that it won’t happen overnight, there are certain paths you should follow and be certain you’re on the right track. Here are a few guidelines you should consider in order to ensure a solid foundation for your future brand.

Define

Before you present yourself to the world, you need to decide how you want to be perceived. What would you like to be the core values of your business? The answer to that question is greatly determined by the nature of your work. You need to focus on one thing, whether it is the value your business represents or a specific quality of your service that separates you from your competition. Remember, you want your business to be the go to place when people require a service you provide, and in order to achieve that you will need to find a way to stand out among your competitors.

Once you define your strategy, the logo, the slogans and all the rest will follow. Be focused, be consistent and be committed to your vision.

Be good on your promise

Whatever it is your promotional efforts offer and promise, make sure you deliver. Attracting the public attention is the easier part – proving you’re as good as your word is where a lot of businesses fail. A clever marketing campaign may entice people to give you a try, but the quality of your service is what’s going to keep them coming back.

Network

You know how every once in a while in your life you have a door opened for you by a personal acquaintance? Well, it works the same in business, doubly so when you’re operating on a smaller level and in a lesser market. Sometimes the best way to move forward is to get a helping hand.

Try to identify businesses that share both your core values and your target clientele, and then make a concentrated effort to connect with them (perhaps getting together behind the same cause, or designing a package deal). Aligning with a successful brand makes you look successful as well.

Spread the word

It is up to you to choose your promotional channels, but you should cover all the bases. Even if you’re focus is on the traditional means of marketing (TV, papers, etc), you should at least have a functional website and utilize the social networks. And don’t forget promotional items. Freebies are a nice way for your logo to enter people’s homes, and that is your ultimate goal – for your business to be considered a house member or a part of the family. If you’re organizing a business or a community event, make sure you have your logo on everything, from gift bags to custom printed labels on water bottles.

Give back

There is no better PR than charity work. Find a cause worthy of your backing, a cause consistent with the core values of your business. You don’t need to donate a million dollars; sometimes a small, local cause can make a big splash. You can be creative with it – sponsor a local sports team, organize a charity event. Feel the pulse of your community and you’ll know what to do.

Jenny Hahn is a marketing consultant from Sydney, Australia who enjoys sharing tips and advice with free thinking entrepreneurs. You can find Jenny on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

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