I was recently honored to participate as a judge providing small business branding tips to young entrepreneurs at Project Echo’s 11th annual business plan semi-finals competition. Project ECHO (Entrepreneurial Concepts Hands-On) collaborates with young entrepreneurs throughout Southern California to evaluate their business plans, the quality of their ideas, the strength of the management team and the persuasiveness of each pitch presentation. The winning teams in each of three categories (technology, retail and growth) move on to the finals competition later in the year.
My first and foremost message to these young entrepreneurs is that no one should ever fear failure. We will all fail at some point in our life, but failure and mistakes will always provide us with a foundation for future success. The only failure is not to try.
As a brand strategist for businesses looking to elevate and strengthen their brand image in the marketplace here are my 7 important branding tips for small businesses.
7 Small Business Branding Tips:
Write Your Vision and Mission Statements
- A vision statement is your hopes and dreams for the future. A vision statement is often uplifting, inspiring and encourages the community to get involved in your effort. A mission statement is more practical and describes exactly what your company does now and why it is doing it. What is the value you provide to your customers? A clear and concise vision and mission statement help communicate exactly what your business does as well as your community beliefs and values.
Design a Professional Logo
- Have a professional logo that can be easily recognizable in small formats such as social media profile profiles. A professional logo is a critical first step in building a strong brand image that will resonate with your loyal customers
Create a Memorable Tagline
- A tagline is a unique and catchy slogan that captures the essence of the company’s mission and vision. The best way to think about your tagline is to think about what makes you passionate about what you do? What is the best essence of what your business is and does? What is it about your product or service that makes people’s lives better?
Develop a Professional Website
- Your website is the central hub of your online presence. A professional website with an integrated brand image will help elevate your business from the competition. Your website must also be responsive for all internet devices. The latest studies show that mobile traffic will soon surpass desktop traffic, so having a mobile responsive website is critical for engaging visitors no matter what type of internet device they are using.
Differentiate Yourself From Your Competition
- Be innovative, bold and daring. Strong and enduring brands are distinct from their competitors. Stand for something and don’t try to be all things for all people. Communicate a vision that is unique and separates you from the pack. Remember the power of being seen as an expert. Experts are not good at everything, they are great at one thing and people always seek out experts. Being an expert in a niche category will help you stand out and charge more for your products or services.
Live Your Brand Image
- Often companies don’t live up to the expectations of their brand positioning. However, one of the primary drivers of brand loyalty is a consistent brand experience. Do what you say you are going to do and focus on how you and your employees interact and communicate with customers – in-person, on the phone and on social media. Positive experiences with your brand will lead to good feelings which lead to word of mouth brand exposure for your business.
Build Your Brand by Communicating Regularly
- How will your brand gain visibility if no one hears about you? By communicating regularly with your audience you will increase your brand visibility and generate top of mind awareness for your products and services. Write and issue press releases to the media. Post regular news updates and informative content to your website and social media channels. Write and pitch feature story ideas to the media and partners to post on their own websites. Participate in local and national industry conferences and local and regional events to gain additional exposure.
Brand building is critical to your company’s long term success. Many people think that branding is just a logo and tagline, but successful branding is really about identifying with the thoughts and feelings of your target audience and ensuring that they relate to the values of your business more than your competitor’s. As the often recited quote says, “the customer is always right.”