TMD Magnifiying glass for branding-72dpiWhat makes you memorable is more than what is unique about you: your brand is the value you provide.

In the rush to market, small business owners often let their branding fend for itself, thinking it will evolve on its own.

Yet start-up teams and established businesses work to define themselves powerfully, by recognizing that branding is one of the surest ways to express your value. When undefined, your audience will do it for you, without the patience or care you alone can provide to make it what you want. How do you source your brand?

Sourcing your Brand • 3 Keys to Brand Clarity

Branding Research

Knowing what your prospects and clients are seeing from others in your field gives you the advantage: being unique, knowing your strengths, and preparing for important questions they’ll ask you.

• Competitor Reviews: Head-to-head comparisons are everywhere online. Ask vendors, strategic allies, and yes, trusted clients what has come their way.

• Trends Research: Check industry writers and publications weekly for what’s new in your industry, in both rising and falling trends.

• U.S.P. (Unique Selling Proposition) & Positioning Development: Work on finding a way to say what’s truly unique about you in under 10 words and a quick couple of seconds. That’s how much time people give you before their innermost yes or no kicks in.

• Market Receptivity Testing: Ask your customers what they think or want, both new and long-time, active and lapsed. They are a goldmine to help you avoid unprofitable directions.

Branding Development

• Business and Product Naming: Start with domain name research. So many great ideas are already taken, but others are happily yours for a modest annual fee. Don’t stop there; think through how how a name can be adapted to PR and ad campaigns. And don’t forget to Google or Bing it to see who’s using it, or something very similar, in your industry. Consider both positive and negative word associations.

• Tagline and Slogan Development: Humor is great, bold claims feel terrific, but how will your audience respond? Ask them before you commit to this critical aspect of your brand persona.

• Visual Branding: What’s customary in your industry or client universe that inspires trust? What’s been done-to-death? Know your own visceral prejudices. Increase your objectivity by going beyond yourself and your significant other, to evaluate whether a draft concept is a strong fit for your business. Critical: make sure you obtain the rights to any images to avoid some expensive lessons in copyright or trademark infringement.

• Branding Coordination:  Personal Presence, Products and Services integration all need to be thought through intentionally. If your personal social media is visual to your business contacts (and mostly it is) are you happy to have them see all your posts? Or do you need to elevate your online communications? Do you present your brand consistently across advertising, business cards, website, social media headers, product graphics, etc., etc.?

• Rebranding: This takes careful planning, and often multiple graduated stages so you do not lose client connections. Yet rebranding can powerfully expand your reach into new arenas. It can be just the thing to create newsworthy PR when handled proactively. If not, you may disappear online if search engines can no longer find you. Worse, clients may think you are out of business, so let them know what’s going on so they feel included.

Branding Implementation

• Creative Brainstorming: The key here is not to edit yourself severely in the early stages. Many find using outside facilitators helps stretch insiders’ own mindsets. It takes being willing to hear what you might normally reject, then giving your creative juices time to marinate.

• Creative Direction: Once you’ve gathered input and ideas, sifted and found those that you want to rise to the top, it;s time to establish clear creative direction, adopting branding stands that will guide future endeavors for brand presence.

• Media Selection: Where do you need to be seen? Where do your audience segments expect you to be? Budgeting time, timing, and money are essential. Making a momentary big splash may feel exciting, but it’s usually not smart marketing budget allocation, and rarely yields the results we fantasize.

• Media Integration: Small business owners wearing too many hats simply turn away in overwhelm here. Big companies err by throwing the kitchen sink at multiple media, often equally ineffective. Identify your options, then choose a top few where you want to have an ongoing presence for the long run. Always be testing new media channels, but in limited scope and defined ways, using trackable offers you can reliably measure and replicate if they test well.

• Marketing Outreach: Big companies accept the mantra “always be selling,” though some do it much more attractively than others. Small business owners are challenged to wear this hat among many others that they like wearing better. The phrase “marketing outreach” creates a new context that emphasizes strategy and marketplace presence, both central to effective branding.

What’s next?

Get yourself a cup of coffee or tea, and sit for 15 minutes with this checklist.

Quickly note what you do, and what you need to consider adding to your brand activity. It;s a first simple step toward creating greater clarity for your own brand, whether new or a longtime marketer of your business.

We wish you prosperity and satisfaction!

— Diane A. Curran

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