What Is A Brand?

Your brand is the foundation that sets your small business apart from competitors. Everything starts with your brand. It’s the foundation of everything you create. It’s important for small businesses to develop a brand that sets them apart from their competitors.

A brand is not your company’s name or logo. Those are just ways to identify your business. A brand is also not your tagline or slogan. Taglines and slogans are great ways to condense a brand into a word or short phrase to share with your audience.

A brand is unique message about who you are and what you stand for. It’s what people think of when they think about your company.

 What Does a Brand Need?

 All great brands need three key ingredients: authenticity, uniqueness and simplicity.

Let’s start with authenticity. Your brand has to be true and has to be real. It’s too hard to be fake and your customers and potential customers don’t want to deal with someone who is fake. Identify your core values, what you do great and the main benefits you provide for your clients.

Uniqueness is the most important piece. This is where you position your brand differently than your competitors. Look for common themes that other businesses in your area use to promote themselves and do the opposite.

As for simplicity, people are hit with 10,000 messages each day, per the American Marketing Association. That’s a lot of messages. If your brand message is too complex, people won’t remember it or won’t know why they should pick your business over another.

Using the above criteria as your guide, let’s talk about how to create a brand for your small business.

Creating a Brand

There are five steps to building a brand:

Analyze. Take a temperature check and think about your goals. What are you putting out there now? What message do your competitors use (you want to avoid doing the same thing as them)? What do want to accomplish with your new brand?

Research. Ask yourself a lot of questions. What are my values? Why did I start this business? What makes me different than my competitors? Why do customers choose my business? What do I want people to feel after buying/using my product? And so forth. But don’t stop there. Ask your suppliers why they work with you. Ask your employees why they come to work. Ask your customers why they keep coming back. Ask your old customers why they stopped buying. Be honest and dig deep.

Define. Now the research is done, take a step back. Look at everything you’ve learned and find the common themes, trends, words, values or stories that came up over and over again. These trends are likely the most important and interesting parts of your business. Choose the ones that are the most relevant to share and different than your competitors. Don’t force it. You have to buy into the definition and feel comfortable sharing it or the rest of this process is much harder. This will form your core brand message. One way to do this is start with a sentence that describes your brand. Then cut it down to a phrase, and then down to one to three words. It’s tough, but focus on what means the most to you.

Develop. Using that definition as your guide, fill out the rest of your brand blueprint. Your brand blueprint is a document that includes stories, ways to talk about the brand, key messages and a brand history or “about me” paragraph (or three). Your blueprint should delve into your company’s history and why the brand is what it is. We’ll get more into this below.

Launch. You have everything in place and are ready to start sharing your brand with your current clientele and leveraging it to find new audiences. You’ve done the ground work, but every interaction is a chance to push it forward or backward. Share the key messages with your staff so they know them well and can live them out daily. Continue to monitor what’s being said and done to promote your brand needs to keep it relevant and growing. There are plenty of ways to launch a brand, but a few popular ways are an event, an ad campaign or a creative refresh: updating your website, storefront and/or digital presence.

 How to Create a Framework Around Your Brand

 Using that brand message as your guide, fill out the rest of your brand blueprint. Your brand blueprint is a document that can include the following:

Brand statement: As mentioned above, one to three words that communicate who you are and what you stand for in the simplest way possible.

Values: The foundations by which you run your company.

Mission: Your company’s reason for being. What you strive to do every day.

Vision: Long-term outlook, the legacy you want to leave.

Tagline or slogan: Short, easy to remember phrase or promise that hammers home the core message of your brand. This can be used on signage, marketing materials, social media, ads and anywhere you like. Make sure it’s tied to your brand and not just catchy or rhythmic for no reason.

Key stories: Three or four stories that you can tell consistently that bring your brand to life. They could be about customer success, employees, the founding of your company or any number of other topics.

Brand voice: How you want to sound when talking about your business. Informative, funny, helpful, educational, strict, kind and so on.

Storytellers: Those who can tell those stories about your brand — maybe it’s you, a co-owner, employee, vendor or customer.

Brand history: Like an “about us” paragraph (or three) that goes beyond “we sell widgets” and into the fabric that makes up your business. The why behind the what and the things that set you apart.

Now you have the what, why and how behind your brand all in one place. This is your brand blueprint and there’s no marketing challenge you can’t solve with this foundation. You can write blogs, ads, social media posts, user guides — literally anything! You can also communicate what you’re all about and what makes you different to your employees and ideal clients.

How to Put It Into Action

 A company has dozens of touchpoints — times where a client or potential client comes into contact with your company. These are when and how you communicate your brand. Examples include:

Digital assets like videos, website, social media and blogs

Your staff, especially those that are customer facing

Traditional media that cover your company

Your physical location(s)

Uniforms or dress codes of what you and your staff wear

How you answer the phone

Paid advertisements on any channel — TV, print, outdoor or online

Surveys and follow-up communications

Each of these is an opportunity for clients and potential clients to think something about your brand. Think of your brand as a bank account. Each interaction or impression can be a deposit or a withdrawal. Brands and bank accounts rarely get massive with one deposit, but rather grow over time by dozens and hundreds of deposits. Little by little you will build goodwill for your brand if you stay on message.

Branding isn’t just for big businesses with huge budgets. The fundamentals of a brand can be developed on any budget. A strong brand sets the foundation for your business and guides all your communication and marketing. It helps you separate yourself from competitors and give your desired customers a reason to pick your business.

What is Your Brand?