Branding: Stop Throwing the Word Around, Unless You Mean It

Branding is one of those words people love to toss around in a conversation because they think it makes them look smart, or cool, or something like that. But the word is much more important. It’s not just jargon. It is a term that, when fully understood and implemented, can propel you to success or, if misunderstood and ignored, will lead to business failure. 

Having a great brand is one of many aspects of business and marketing success (read Marketing: A Misunderstood Word). It cannot stand alone. Simply having a great brand does not ensure success. Yet, it is vital to your business. Just like a body needs a heart, lungs, brain, etc. to survive, so it is with branding. In fact, I would say that your brand is the heart of your business; it is what pumps the lifeblood throughout the whole body. Having only a heart will not allow for life but we most assuredly cannot live with it.   

Below I will address two primary issues: I will give a simple definition of branding and I will explain exactly why it is so important to help you succeed and prevent business failure, especially for small businesses. 

The Definition of Branding

In its simplest form (and I like simple things), branding is the consistent story that your company tells. Yes, that’s right: I said “story.” A brand is all about helping people recognize, relate to and fall in love with your business. The keyword to pull out is “consistent.” If people don’t recognize your story, you don’t really have a brand. 

So how do you tell the story? The story is portrayed in three ways: 

Through great design: your logo, colors, website, print and advertising materials, and your location’s atmosphere.

Through the words you use to describe your business: your tagline, mission statement, product descriptions, staff bios, testimonials, and company history.

Through your actions: your product/service quality, values, customer service, work ethic, and knowledge and expertise.    

Why Branding Matters (Especially to Small Businesses)

For decades, branding has been seen as a big business term. The thought is that it is expensive, time-consuming, and a way to stand out in the national or even international arena.  Small business saw branding as a waste of time and energy, thinking that the fact that they were local and more relational would compensate for their lack of a clear and consistent message and identity. This trend is starting to change and small businesses are realizing that branding is a tool for them as well. 

The truth is that having a high-quality brand, with great design and a consistent image, is not just for the multi-billion dollar corporations. In fact, the smaller your company is, the more your design and brand matters. Small businesses have to make big first impressions because they can’t afford to pay for a second or third impression.

Yes, your brand needs to look good but that is not the point. The point is to use your brand to gain the trust, and respect of your customers, by showing that you care. If you don’t care about the way your business cards look, or the way that your employees dress, or the cleanliness of your store, that tells your customers that you don’t take your business seriously. So, why would they believe that you would take them and their needs seriously? 

On the surface, branding may seem to only be about looking flashy, but it would be a mistake to think this is true. Your brand is your reputation; it speaks volumes about how healthy and fit you are as a business. Just as a healthy heart helps build a strong body, a healthy brand shows your customers that you are ready, willing, and able to serve them, meet their needs, and exceed their expectations. Not to mention the added benefit of looking good and being easier to recognize in a crowded and cluttered marketplace.   

Today, competition is steep and if your business does not look like it’s healthy, alive, engaging, and thriving, people won’t give it, or you, a second look