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Branding is something that is often poorly understood and badly implemented. As a service provider to many small businesses, one of the most common mistakes we find small business owners making, is failure to convey a coherent message to their target market.

Gridworldwide.com has one of the best definitions of branding that I have come across: “A brand is what they say about you behind your back.”

Your brand is the gut feel people have about your business; what they visualise in their mind’s eye when your business name is mentioned.

If you hear someone’s name (someone you know, or know of), the name conjures up feelings and memories; and you think about experiences you have had with the person. The feelings, memories, and experiences could be good or bad. If they are good, they leave you with a pleasant feeling and a desire to contact the person; if they are bad, the feeling is not so pleasant. For example, think about your bad-breakup ex, and then your current significant other, if you have them. Notice the difference in how they make you feel?

This is what branding is. It has nothing to do with either marketing or sales, but has a huge impact on both. That person who leaves me with bad feelings, memories and experiences? I cut them out of my life. So do customers that have a negative minds-eye picture of your business.

You do not build a mental picture of a person by throwing other people – and what you feel about them – into the mix. That just confuses you and eventually you have no idea who you are thinking about.

Many businesses forget this simple lesson when they construct their branding message to their clients. Think about e-mail. Small business owners often use a Gmail account, even when they have a website and domain name. If your bank were to contact you using a Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail account would you find it suspicious? Perhaps a Nigerian 419 scammer? Your clients do too.

Branding is about building a trust relationship with people who buy into your business philosophy: what you stand for.

If you do not believe that is how your customer’s mind works, think about the washing powder you use (or some other basic product like bath soap or toothpaste). Why do you use that brand of soap and not another one that is cheaper, more easily available, or smells better? brandThe washing powder I personally choose to use is often more expensive per packet, but cheaper per wash. It cleans your machine while it washes your clothes, so your clothes don’t come out with machine-dirt marks and your whites don’t end up grey. That’s how they brand and market it. I actually tested it when I first started using it, by running the machine without clothes in it. The water came out black, so I know it really does clean my machine. I tested their promise and it was true. I also verified that it was more economical. What sealed the deal is that my family had allergic reactions to other powders, but not to the one I use. I have been using the same soap for a couple of decades, because I have tested what they are selling (their promise) and believe it. I haven’t bought washing powder in a while now, so I actually can’t recall the product’s exact name, but if I walk down the shop aisle, I recognise it immediately by the colours and packaging.

Your potential customer thinks about your business and what you are selling in the exact same way.

You build that trust relationship and your brand by making a promise to your clients (whether implicit or explicit) and co-ordinating the message of the promise across your logo and colour scheme, your pricing, your advertising, your packaging, your vehicles, your window displays, and your printed items (business cards, letterheads, brochures). Your people must display and broadcast the same message when they interact with others – what they wear, attitudes, how they answer the telephone, their e-mail signatures, how they approach customers. Your digital media must carry that same message, down to the last detail.

If you are portraying your organisation as vibrant and innovative, your corporate colours are not going to be shades of grey with a company slogan of “You can trust us, we never change.” They do not agree with your message of vibrancy and innovation.

Common mistakes we find on company websites and Facebook pages are: spelling and grammar mistakes – seriously? That is what you want to portray to your clients? On your home page? In your slogan? That's poor branding of the worst kind.

An internet message that does not agree with your printed media. If your shop window says you do design, print and signage, your website must say you do design, print and signage and your Facebook page must say you do design, print and signage. Digital and print tag lines and slogans must be the same. The colours you choose must be the same. If you do not give the same message across all platforms, you confuse your clients and your branding message.

You recognise people you know by their voices, before you even see them. Your business has to have a voice that is just as recognisable to the people who know it.

Have you created a voice for your company that reflects your brand? Have you identified what your brand is? Well-designed branding is a reflection of what you the owner believes about life, and how it relates to the products you are selling. If your personal and business philosophies agree, being passionate about your business and what you sell is easy. In large organisations, the personnel have to buy into the corporate brand (message/promise), otherwise they are not effective employees. Your personnel must be believers.

Once you have identified what you believe about what you are selling – is that what your target market believes? Can they buy into what you believe and are selling? If they cannot, you need to change either your target market or your products.

Once you have done that – is the message you have decided on integrated across every aspect of your business?

You may believe that none of this is relevant to your small business. Have you heard of a company called CTR (Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company)? No? Few people have. What about IBM (International Business Machines)? Heard of them? They changed their name and branding when they changed their vision, and decided they wanted to grow from a medium sized, local business into the international giant we know today.

appleApple currently has the most valuable brand in the world, valued at $170 Billion in 2017. This represented 21% of the company’s market valuation of $806 Billion.

Any Apple user (and even non-users like myself) can easily articulate exactly what it is they like about Apple and it is usually: the sheer beauty of their premium products, their ease of use, their reliability and quality.

That’s branding.

These two simple examples encapsulate the importance of good branding for your business.

Small businesses are usually even more dependent on customer loyalty and retention than a big business, which means your brand is proportionately even more valuable to you than Apple’s is to them.

Contact us for more information about branding or assistance with integrating your branding message.