Should You Brand Your Small Business or Solo Practice? Of course—before someone else does…

I tend to be passionate about some odd things (I can tell by the way people look at me sometimes…) One of the things I’ve been passionate about for a number of years is effective branding. It’s an issue that I find that many people—even very smart business people and sometimes even extremely smart communication professionals, don’t really fully understand.

Recently I was asked to provide some insights for a small business audience about whether small businesses really need a brand (yes!!), and how they should do this. I jumped at the chance!

Understanding “Branding”


First a definition: Branding is about the combination and alignment of all of the elements of the marketing mix—price, product, place and promotion. “The brand” is defined by a company’s external audience, but can be impacted by the company’s actions and activities.

That leads back to the title of this post. Businesses don’t create brands. Their audiences do. Businesses can, and shouldtake steps to manage their brands though. That’s true whether you’re a Fortune 100 global organization, a small to medium-sized business, a “mom and pop” shop, or a solopreneur. You have a brand, whether you know it or not. It’s best to get in front of it to take steps to manage the brand in ways designed to form the kind of impressions you’re hoping to make with your audience.

Here’s how to do that.

Define Your Desired Brand Image

How do you wish to be viewed by your target market? What are the most important attributes of your brand identity? If you’re in a larger organization it can be very instructive to do this as a leadership team. I’m often surprised to find that even among the senior leaders of an organization there can be differences in how the desired brand image is perceived. If that’s the case, it’s important to gain clarity and consensus around what your shared brand image is.

Do a Reality Check

So, you know how you wish to be perceived. Now it’s time to find out how you’re actually perceived. Again, if you’re in a larger organization a great starting point for this can be your own employees. After all, if they don’t share your understanding of what your brand is, chances are your external audiences won’t either. Whether seeking input from internal or external audiences, a very simply want to do this is to provide them with paired lists of attributes and ask them to rate those attributes on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being high.  You might have paired attributes like:

  • Innovative — Conservative
  • Economical — Luxurious
  • Modern — Nostalgic
  • Flexible — Rigid

Each of the word pairs should include a word representing an attribut you’d like to be known for with the other word representing the opposite, or close to opposite of that word. When coming up with attributes it’s also important to come up with attributes that are different than those your competitors may be using. The idea is to differentiate your company and its products from other available alternatives.

Identify the Gaps

Once you’re gathered input, the next step is to identify the gaps between your desired state and how you are actually viewed, and then prioritize those so you can see where the widest gaps are. This should the prompt discussions focused on:

  • Is this a truly desired attribute that you are willing to invest in to shift perceptions?
  • What are the various ways—that customers may be influenced in their perceptions of this attribute? For instance: product quality, product packaging, pricing, etc., etc., etc. Keep in mind that these are not, necessarily “marketing-related” attributes. In service industries, in particular, many of these impacts can come from your employees who interact most regularly with customers or prospects.
  • Which items should be tackled first (e.g., based on their impact to the organization, resources required, etc.)?

Identify and Prioritize Where Changes May Need to be Made

The next step is to determine how you might make changes to any of the elements of the marketing mix (your product, its price, its distribution channels and access, and how you communicate about it) to move consumers closer to describing your desired brand identity. (Note: in some cases, assessing consumers’ perspectives may point to new branding opportunities for your business that you hadn’t previously considered.)

Be sure to expand your focus beyond logos, slogans and colors! While logos/slogans, etc., are often considered to be “the brand” they are simply a reflection of the brand. These elements are very important from the standpoint of providing reinforcement and a recognizable symbol to reflect your organization and its brand, but they are not the brandThey represent only a piece of the overall branding effort.

Everything a business does (whether it’s a very large or a very small business) impacts the perception of the brand from a market perspective. That includes things like store furnishings. It includes how employees dress and interact with customers. It includes the bags that items are put in when they’re purchased. It includes how quickly you process an order, or a return. And, yes, it does include your web sites, your advertising–and your logo.

Measure, Rinse and Repeat!

Branding is an iterative process, not an event. It’s a process that is ongoing and that is always shifting based on changes that occur in your business as well as changes that occur in your market—with prospects, customers, and competitors. No brand, regardless of how well-established or well-respected will ever rate a solid 10 across all of its desired attributes.

To me, that’s what makes branding—and marketing communications—so much fun and so continually engaging. There really is no point at which you “arrive.” Some years you’ll do better, some you’ll do worse. Some years you’ll need to add new attributes that have become important to your target audiences. Some years you may need to remove some.

So: Should you brand your small business or solo practice? Of course! How could we help?

About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results at reasonable rates.

In addition to content creation we specialize in helping B2B clients raise awareness and drive website traffic through a strong LinkedIn and Twitter presence.

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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