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Authentic Branding

January 27, 2014

Q: Hey Steve: I attended part of a webinar you gave but I had to leave when it got to the branding discussion, which bummed me out because that is what I really need to know. How does a small business like mine, which has been around since dirt, brand itself as new or different?


A: Well, for starters, if your business has been around forever, then, in all likelihood, you should not be branding yourself as new or different. 

A brand, to be believed, has to be authentic, and it must reflect the values and personality of the business. Think Starbucks. If ever there was a business that had a great brand, a brand that stood for something, it is Starbucks. What does the Starbucks brand stand for? 

• Great coffee, not inexpensive
• A third place to hang, that is neither home nor work
• A cool vibe

Now, if Starbucks tried to brand itself as a cheap, discount coffee shop, and then you went into one of their trendy stores, there would be a disconnect, right? The business wouldn’t match the brand’s promise. 

Back in the day, my dad made that mistake. He had a billboard on the San Diego freeway in Los Angeles that said, “Carpet World – Elegance Underfoot.” But in fact Carpet World was a carpet warehouse. Dad’s thinking was that people would expect to pay more when they saw the billboard and be pleasantly surprised when they found a discount carpet store. My thinking is that they would be confused, but I was 17 and so I got outvoted.

Today though, I know for sure that dad was wrong on that one. You don’t have a lot of time to make a brand impression; usually it’s only a matter of seconds. (Below, I show you how to make that great impression in seconds). But the point is, you can’t confuse people. Your branding efforts have to be consistent, repetitive. That way, people will remember you and know what you stand for.

And, after all, that is what a brand is: A promise. Costco’s brand promises affordable bulk items. Lexus promises high-end luxury cars. Starbuck’s promises a great cuppa Joe in a cool place.

So, what does your business promise? What is unique and different about it? If your business has been “around since dirt” then that is a great hook to hang your brand hat on: Established, respected, tried-and-true, tested . . . you get the idea. “New and different” wouldn’t fly because it would be untrue.

So the first step is to figure out what your business offers that is real, and unique. 

Once you have that, you have to then figure out how to convey that that desired brand in a few seconds. Think about it – most people have never heard of your business, and may never hear of it again if they don’t remember you. So, when they do hear your of your business, that is first and best chance to stick your brand in their mind, and it is the mind where branding happens anyway. A brand is what people think of when they think of a business. McDonald’s. Taco Bell. Nike. The brand is in your head.

So, how do you create that in a few seconds? I think there are two ways:

First, consider your business name. That is the first thing people will hear about your business. You can brand with that. Now, if you have a long-established name of course, it is what it is. There is goodwill attached to that name. But if your name is not so established, or you are just starting, the name of your small business is everything.

If you can combine your desired brand, or business benefit, into the name, bingo:

  • Baja Fresh
  • Jiffy Lube
  • Quickee Mart

The second you hear a name like this, you know what the business is all about. You know the brand. But, what if you don’t have a name like that, you ask? Have no fear. That’s is what your pal Steve is here for.

The secret then is to create a great tagline that conveys the same thing. Then, have that tagline become synonymous with you business name. Whenever someone sees your business name (on a sign, website, business card, wherever), they should see your tagline too.

And the tagline needs to do the same thing: It needs to convey in a sentence the value of your business/brand.

At my website, TheSelfEmployed, our tagline is “Your job just got easier.” See? Or what about:

  • “You’re in good hands, with Allstate.”
  • “The few, the proud, the Marines.” 
  • “BMW: The ultimate driving machine.”

You get the idea. A great tagline is a fantastically powerful way to quickly brand your business. 

Just do it!

Today’s Tip: Another great way to reinforce that brand is with a logo. And you don’t have to spend a fortune to get one either. In fact, Squarespace just launched a new, free logo generator. Squarespace Logo is a do-it-yourself logo builder. Squarespace Logo is free for anyone to use for non-commercial purposes. High-resolution logos for commercial use are free with a Squarespace account, or $10 without. 

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