ThunderbirdMost small business owners understand the concept of branding. However, they might assume that it’s something that only big companies with massive budgets do.

Small business owners often find themselves too busy with the day-to-day running of their businesses to think about branding.

But they would be missing out on an opportunity.

Branding is an incredibly powerful marketing tool that can be used by small and solo business owners to gain recognition and grow their customer base.

Clement Lim is a marketing consultant who works with businesses to help them get more leads and close more sales. Clement recently published a blog post that was one of the best I have read on branding, showing businesses how to create a compelling brand identity: “Creating a Kick-Ass Brand Identity in 6 Easy Steps.”

Below is an interview with Clement on how small business owners can use branding to grow their businesses.

1. Why does a very small or solo business need to create a brand?

When people think of branding, they think of Nike or Coke or Apple. Small business owners can fall into the trap of thinking brands are something that only the big names need.

But that would be a mistake.

The thing is, every business has a brand – whether they like it or not.

Simply put, their brand is the way their customers perceive them: are they premium or affordable, are they corporate or friendly, are they conventional or cutting edge?

The concept behind branding is to be able to shape the way customers perceive your business. If done well, your brand will add value to your business. Customers will seek you out over your competitors. And you won’t have to compete on price alone.

Just think about a can of soda from the supermarket. People are prepared to pay more for the branded product than the unbranded version. In fact, people will actively seek out their preferred brand when they’re shopping for soda.

What business wouldn’t want this?

So, there are many reasons a small business needs to create a brand. It sets them apart from their competition, it promotes recognition, it conveys value, it builds an emotional connection, and it inspires loyalty.

2. How does consistent branding help a small business as it goes to market?

Before a small business goes to market, it needs to come up with a strategy. Who are their customers? What value is it providing for its customers? How is it different from its competition?

Developing a brand identity and using it in a consistent way is an essential component of a successful go-to-market strategy.

Firstly, who are their customers? Are they single or married? What are their income levels? Did they go to college? What values do they hold?

These are vital questions for any small business to answer before they go to market. They need to really break down the demographics of their customers as much as possible. They need to do research, conduct surveys, and go out and talk to people.

When they’ve gathered this information, they can build buyer personas of their customers. This is where branding comes in. What’s the best way to appeal to the target customer? What brand values would attract the target customer?

Secondly, what value is the business providing for its customers? Is it solving a problem? Helping them achieve an outcome? Is it making them look cooler? More desirable? More successful?

The answers to all these questions should be reflected in the brand.

Thirdly, how are they different from their competition? Are they more effective? More efficient? More exciting? More friendly?  More reliable?

Again, their branding needs to reflect this.

And their branding must be consistent. If it’s not, the audience will be confused, and the business will lose trust and credibility.

So, with consistent branding that appeals to the target audience, emphasizes core values, and stands out from the competition, businesses can make a strong impact right out of the gate.

Without consistent branding, there’s a real danger that new businesses will get lost in a sea of competitors.

3. You say that a brand needs to tie into emotions. How does that work?

Emotions are very powerful factors in motivating people to buy. When people’s emotions are engaged with a brand, they’ll actively seek it out – and be happy to pay a premium.

When people’s emotions are engaged, they’re buying not just the product: they’re buying the brand and the associations that go with it.

For example, people buy jeans to cover their legs. They can buy a pair from a discount store for $20. But some people shell out $200 for a pair of designer jeans. They’re prepared to pay 10 times the price for a product that performs the same function!

They might justify their purchase on the grounds that the designer pair has better fabric, nicer stitching, or is a more attractive shade of blue. But that’s not why they buy it. They buy it because of the associations they have with the designer brand: the glamour, the exclusivity, and wanting to be part of the cool crowd.

Apple is another great example. Before Apple, technology was drab, functional, and differentiated only by hardware and specs. Apple created a brilliant branding strategy that focuses on emotions. They created a brand personality about lifestyle, individuality, and passion. They made technology friendly, easy to grasp, and cool.

It’s hard for a small business to market like Apple, but they can still use their brand to tie into emotions.

Take a restaurant business. They can develop a brand that provides their customers with more than just tasty food on their table. They can provide an experience. They can incorporate live entertainers, striking design, table-side food preparation, etc. Now their customers can feel an emotional connection with the brand, one that will leave them wanting more.

4. Can you give some examples of questions small business owners need to think about?

In marketing, everything starts with the customer. What are their habits? What do they want? What do they need? How do they see themselves? How would they like to see themselves?

The more time and effort is spent on this stage, the more successful the business will be.

The next thing is to look at the business. What are its values, its purpose, its personality? Where does it sit in the market?

Now the message the business wants to put out can be crafted. The message or “brand mantra” should sit at the heart of the strategies used to market the business. The message can be expressed in many ways: as a slogan, a logo, a design scheme, etc. It should be set out in all marketing materials, written down, and talked about.

Branding is not just about what a business says: it’s about what it does. So, the business needs to actually conduct itself in a way that is consistent with its brand. The brand should be reflected in the type of products and services the business offers, the way the products and services are delivered, and most importantly, the way the business interacts with its customers.

Consistency is very important in branding. It’s important for businesses to develop brand guidelines to ensure that everything they do or say remains true to their brand values. This can include the language they use, the images associated with the brand, the topics they produce content about, and their customer service.

5. What are some of the key components of a compelling brand?

Brands are compelling because they stand out. So businesses need to consider how they can stand out.

The best way is to be unique. Now, if a business is offering an innovative new product or service, they’ve already got this covered. However, not many businesses are going to be fortunate enough to be in this position. Most businesses are surrounded by competitors offering very similar products and services.

So how can they be unique?

One way is to look at the features of the products and services. Does a business have a feature that its competitors do not? It doesn’t matter if the business is offering products that are almost indistinguishable from its competition. All they need to do is find one feature that makes them stand out.

The classic example is Domino’s Pizza. They were delivering fast-food pizza just like their competitors. But they made a unique promise: they promised fresh hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, or it’s free.

Domino’s made that their slogan and ran with it. It was so successful they became one of the fastest growing franchises ever.

Building a community is also something that can make a brand compelling. People like to feel a sense of belonging, to connect with others who share their values and aspirations. Social media can be a very powerful tool to help brands build a community.

A community allows brands to interact with their audiences. This builds the emotional connection we were talking about. It also allows brands to understand their customers more. This understanding can be used to refine the brand so it resonates more with their target audience.

Lastly, storytelling can make a brand compelling to their audience. Storytelling is a very powerful marketing tool. People love stories, that’s why they read books, watch movies, or play computer games.

Marketing that incorporates stories around the brand can bring to life the brand’s values, its authenticity, and its personality. The stories can feature characters that the audience relates to, or aspires to be.

One brand that does storytelling very well is Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Brand storytelling is a powerful way to build that emotional connection that we talked about.

In conclusion

As you can see, building a compelling brand takes some time and attention, but it can have a huge payoff. If you are building a brand from scratch – or or want to take your current brand to the next level – read Clement’s post on how to create a kick-ass brand identity.