As a small business owner, you might think that "branding" is all about big businesses.
But that's probably because when you think of a company's brand, you think of its logo.
In fact, a company's brand is a lot more than a logo. It is all about what your business stands for, and how you portray it to the world as you do business - buying, selling, hiring, growing.
For example, Apple's "brand" is not just their logo or even their device designs. The Apple brand includes all that you feel as soon as you hear of the name - their designs aim to make tech look like art, they aim to simplify, to combine, they "think different", they make the release of new products art, you expect them to say "and one more thing" as made famous by Steve Jobs.
When you think of "big businesses" and their brands, you will actually see that everything about their business aligns with the brand - the way they act in the market, how they appear to customers, their public values represented by the way they do business, their business model, the messages they give out in advertising and even the look and feel of their products, and their logo - designed to reflect and represent all that.
You can have your brand in your small business. In fact, you may not know it but your customers may already identify the way you do things, with you - the way you treat them, the way you sell, the way you show integrity (or not!), and the way you stand by your product (or not!). They are already talking.
Here are the 5 things you can do to intentionally create your business brand.
1. Define what you stand for
Write down the 10 most cherished values you believe in - then narrow it down to 5 that truly represent the person you are.
These values don't have to be about business.
They might be about your values on ethics or on society such as "honesty beyond reproach" or "I believe in an inclusive society." They might be about what you hold dear in your life such as "family above all." They might be about your style like "casual and comfortable" or "organic and natural."
There are no right or wrong answers.
As you collect the 10 and then narrow it to 5, ask yourself if these are core values - if you were ever in a position where you have to choose between one of them and total disaster e.g. business closure, would you sacrifice the value and act against type?
For example, many people include "honesty" in their personal values and yet they cheat on their tax or told a white lie to win a contract.
Your 5 core values need to be your "will-die-for-rather-than-betray" values.
Once you have your 5 core values, ask yourself how many of them translate to your business. Hopefully most if not all 5 should be capable of being reflected in your business otherwise you are going to feel so conflicted if you had to make a business decision that breached a "personal" value.
What you should end up with is the definition of your personal brand - "this is what I and my business stand for, and this is how I and my business will behave."
2. Know your ideal customer
You need to be very clear about who you serve.
Who your ideal customer is will also define your brand because that "avatar" will tend to affect your thinking and decisions about your products, delivery methods and messaging.
Describe your ideal customer in terms of what they are, what gender and age, what they do, what they like. What do they struggle with and need solutions for that your product or service will help with? What benefits are they looking for?
Creating a brand to appeal to everyone is an exercise in futility, so your task is to create your brand to work for one person.
Once you have defined this ideal customer, check if your core values appeal to this ideal customer. Hopefully, they will, or you may have to rethink your product, business model or ideal customer because something does not align!
Ask yourself how you need to portray your personal brand to the ideal customer.
If your business was about training people to use MYOB, you will find that training a non-finance trained person on "how to keep the books on MYOB" is very different from training an accountant on how to use MYOB. You can't create a brand about the way your training shows an accountant how to use MYOB and hope to attract small business owners who don't know anything about accounting.
So your messages about your brand - and therefore how you behave, what product content you create, what images you use in branding - have to be uniquely represented to different target markets, and target market segments.
3. Find your unique proposition
Having found your values and behaviour sets, and identified your ideal customer, you need to discover what makes your brand unique to the ideal customer.
Your uniqueness could come from your business model - "I'm the only one offering 5-minute pop-up training on my area of expertise."
It could come from your product or service - "I'm the only one that sells healthy gluten-free cocktail sausages." (Is that even possible?)
It could come from your delivery methods - "I'm the only one to personally drop off your order, with a flower attached."
It could come from your style - "Hey, my video courses on how to clean the house are funny, quirky and fun."
It could come from comparison with the competition - "Why would you buy from that traditional old store when you can get sleeker, cutting-edge stuff from me?"
You can be unique because your product is unique, or you serve a very narrow market niche that nobody else serves, or you could be unique because you serve a unique industry or slice of demographic like age range, or you could be unique because of the way you do things.
Whatever it is, make your brand pop out from the others.
4. Describe your brand as a personality
If your business was a "person" separate from yourself, how would you describe that "person"?
Would it be predominantly a male or female person? What would they wear and what would they look like? What age might they be and how would they express themselves?
You may never describe these characteristics to a customer, but knowing them would help you become more precise about your brand.
Once you've brainstormed this through, start to write some characteristics about your business brand, described as a person. Incorporate all the thinking from the previous steps.
For example, if you were a relationship counsellor, you might say that "My brand is an older man who believes in social equality and helping people to become the best they can be. Through core values that are the same as mine, he serves older gentlemen regain confidence in themselves and find romance again after a death or other separation. He totally understands his customers' needs, especially about privacy, and is unique by providing an "after-first-date" counselling service."
5. Use your brand in marketing
Now that you have a clear idea of your business brand - and how you wrap around it - think about that brand/person's characteristics and translate them to the other areas of your marketing activity.
Let's take the logo. What colours might be in the logo? They should be the colours the "person" you described your brand to be would like. My description above of the "older man" would probably not be associated with pink, but perhaps blues, grey and dark reds (think of a conservative business suit and tie). The font is unlikely to be something loose and wild but measured and more conservative.
What about brochures and websites? Think of the language that the person may use - understanding, measured, unbiased, honest.
If you have team members ask how they would represent that person? How would they speak and behave in line with the look and feel of that person?
So now that you have "fleshed out" what your brand is, start to speak from that brand/person's position in everything that you do. Get your team engaged and on board with the description and review it every time it is used to see that the brand is properly delivered.
Marketing is a long journey and everything has to be lined up. It's a far easier journey if you know "who" is taking the journey for you so that you can reflect and portray that journey from the heart.