When most people think of branding, they think of corporate logos and high dollar ad campaigns designed to do little other than sear images into your brain, in the hopes of influencing future purchase decisions; a practice largely impractical (and frankly ineffective) for cash and time-starved small businesses.
The truth is, branding is about much more than glossy images and doesn’t have to cost all that much. Non-descript logos and meaningless slogans strewn across all forms of media are usually products of large ad budgets and limited creativity. Real branding, the kind people identify with, describes the intellectual and emotional responses people associate with your business. Whether you know it or not, your business has a brand. Each customer touch point (signage, business cards, greetings, store environment, etc.) forms impressions and associations, and ultimately shapes your brand.
Why should you care about your brand?
Your brand is important for two reasons. First, your brand defines the type of customers you attract and second, your brand helps shape the conversations your customers have about your business and the word-of-mouth you receive.
How do you brand your small business?
Before you can shape your brand, you must determine what your brand should be. This can be more difficult than it sounds. You need to know who you are and what you believe in. You need to know your ideal customer and what he values. You need to know your skills and passions. You need to know whether you are about passion or pop. And you need to know what sets you apart from everyone else. At the intersection of all these, you will find your brand.
Once you have defined your brand, refine it, clarify it, focus it, simplify it, and make sure it resonates with your customers. Then, be your brand in everything you do. Avoid spending money on branding for branding’s sake, however make sure you express it through your logos, business cards, décor, customer interactions, websites, etc. Your brand is your identity. Make all your business decisions with your brand in mind. Be consistent. Stay in tune with your customers - their perception of your brand may be different from yours and may change over time. This can be either good or bad, but it is important to know which.