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This is one of the most frequent questions I get asked by small business owners. The heart of the question is the belief that having a brand requires a significant investment in marketing and advertising and, in the end, if having a brand is a “nice to have” rather than a “need to have."
When you are just starting out, it might be tempting to postpone thinking about your brand for another day, but the essentials of the branding toolkit are not costly and are fundamental to your business success. At the risk of oversimplifying the process, here are a few thoughts to get you started.
Start with the why.
Why are you in business? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why is it that you think the world needs your version of a cupcake, salon, legal service or widget? When you can answer this question, you will be halfway to defining what differentiates you.
Know your competitive set.
Identify your competition and then decide how you will be different. Will you be faster, cheaper, better, more convenient, more experiential, more personalized or something else? When you answer this question, you begin to complete the differentiation equation.
When you think about what you do, ask yourself who is the best in the world, regardless of category. In today’s world, consumers don’t compare apples to apples. They are more likely to compare apples to bananas. If you are operating in the e-commerce space you might want to benchmark against Amazon and Zappos. Strive to understand what makes the leaders successful and then replicate that trait as closely as you can.
In the old days, advertising and communication served as a surrogate for a real brand experience, expressing the brand’s attributes and benefits to a potential customer in an inviting way. Today, you have to think about how your brand will behave in media and in the world. How will you behave when faced with bad press or negative comments on social media? What will the box that holds your product look like and how will it be opened? Think of every touchpoint, from flyers, to signage, to uniforms to menus, to your "hold" music, as an opportunity to deliver a message that brings your brand to life.
Practice saying “No.”
Having a good brand strategy means saying “no” to things – new products you could introduce, new customers you could market to, new partnerships you could pursue. Be clear, be ruthless and say no to anything that does not serve the strategy set forth by the questions you answered above.
Know yourself. Know your competition. Know your customer and behave yourself. It you follow this approach, you are on the road to building a brand that people can trust and count on.
Laurie Coots, Small Business Advocate