How to Brand your Small Business Tutorial

This post leads off our “How to Build a Bullet-Proof Brand” series. This series aims to introduce practical branding principles that apply in any small business or entrepreneurial business environment.

You don’t need a bank account with millions of dollars to create effective business branding. If you practice and apply what you learn in this series, you will be building a solid foundation for your brand!

PART ONE: WHAT IS A BRAND, AND WHAT'S IN YOURS?

In this first post, we will clear up some misconceptions about what a brand is. Let’s start with a basic definition of branding.

MYTHBUSTER NUMBER 1:  Your brand is NOT just your name, trademark, logo, package or product.

Your business brand is the total of people’s experiences with you, your business and your products and services.

Lamborghini classic car

Your brand represents who you are in the mind of your audience.

It’s the sum total of how people think and feel about you. Your name, logo, trademark, packaging, or products reflect various aspects of your brand. THEY ARE NOT YOUR BRAND!

They all need to be in alignment and harmony with your core values, mission and business purpose, or you will fail to attract the loyalty of customers, partners and community advocates you need to succeed. Remember that your brand’s function is to link your brand principle, mission and values with what you do.

When your brand acts out of character, your brand’s very essence is corrupted and such damage takes time to repair.

This blog series is designed to bring all of the following essential elements into alignment with your authentic brand. Your secret brand sauce contains:

  • Your true brand essence
  • The visual and emotional experience behind logos, fonts and color
  • The emotional connections with a feeling that happens with images and videos
  • The power of words and messaging to convey your brand promise, your brand essence and your stories
  • How you show up in the world. How you appear in the many worlds of social media – consistently and meaningfully.

Brand essence, visual and emotional experiences are all-powerful intangibles. You can’t touch them, smell them, taste them, or feel them. Instead, they evoke feelings and emotions. These intangibles are what connect you to your loyal customers and communities, not the actual font or color of your logo.

In other words, what do people feel or experience when they see your logo? Your website? Are these feelings and emotions what you intended to express, or do you lose them “at hello?”

Brand intangibles

In short, your brand essence is your brand personality. Just like people, brands have distinctive personalities. Some are bold and strong and independent, like Harley Davidson motorcycles. Some are soft and soothing, like Dove personal care products. Some like to play and have fun. M and M candies, anyone? (For a fun learning assignment on brand personalities, check out our brand archetype blog series listed in the resource library!)

BMW branding slide

BMW is a perfect example of how you should manage the essence of your brand: Their brand stands for “pleasure” (which is also what their slogan “Sheer Driving Pleasure” says) with the values: innovative, aesthetic and dynamic.

 This manufacturer does not stand for “technology” (which is Audi’s brand essence), or for “longevity” (Mercedes), “sportiness” (Porsche), or “fun” (Mini Cooper).
branding is what people say

What's in YOUR brand?

It’s just like Jeff Bezos and Amir Kassaei say. What stories or experiences do people share about your business? What are the feelings and emotions (those darn intangibles, again!) that are expressed? Are they excited and eager to engage with your brand, or do you “got nothing?”

If you “got nothing;” then your brand is as good as generic soggy cornflakes or clumpy kitty litter that stinks. Sad, lonely, ignored, like the Maytag washer repairman. Your brand doesn’t stand out from the rest of the pack.

A brand’s intangible benefits are “in the eye of the beholder.” Sounds really obvious, but if your audience doesn’t see or appreciate your brand’s intangible benefits, then you don’t have a brand. You are the generic ketchup stuck at the back of the refrigerator, not the cool gourmet stuff that everybody wants.

ketchup love

KETCHUP INDECISION V.S. KETCHUP LOVE

Be the gourmet brand with the secret brand sauce that everybody wants to grab, not the generic bottle that gets left in the fridge.

THE BOTTOM LINE ABOUT WHAT'S IN YOUR BRAND

If people can’t see your brand’s intangible benefits, then your brand has no perceived value to them. Your brand becomes a commodity that can be easily exchanged or substituted, based solely on pricing.

Having to compete on price alone is a quick death sentence for small businesses and entrepreneurs. It’s why even toilet paper brands go to such effort to differentiate themselves from their competition, based on what they know is important to their customers.

Your small business branding lesson for this blog post: You do not want your brand to be viewed as a commodity.

Remember, people make buying decisions based on their emotions and feelings, not just the facts. In other words, people will make their buying decisions based on how they feel about your brand. Facts and reasons are the justification for their choices. And no amount of logic or proof is going to make them change their minds. You have to build a bridge between your brand’s physical aspects and your brand’s intangible benefits. We’ll have more to say on that in a future blog.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series: Why you need business branding — the good and bad news! We promise to help you work on creating the “secret sauce” that goes into your business branding!

Maja Haloway


As a director at Xylina, Maja helps clients find their ideal audience and connect to them through the right branding, messaging and marketing channels. Maja holds an MBA degree from St. Thomas University. She can be found at marketing, entrepreneur or techie-related meetups in the Portland OR/Vancouver WA area.

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