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  • Writer's pictureBrian Fleming

Why strategic branding is essential for your small business

What Is Strategic Branding and Why Is it Essential for your Small Business?

Take a moment to think about a brand you really love. Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

Got it?

Now, chances are, that brand you love sells a product you could get almost anywhere. Take Apple, for instance. They’re one of a dozen computer manufacturers on the market. So why do so many people love Apple?

The answer is strategic branding.

Sure, the product is important, but what we really respond to as customers is a brand that we know and love. Those who are loyal to Apple have emotional and intellectual associations with the brand and they are repeat customers because the brand fulfills their expectations and connects with their aspirations.

How can other businesses achieve that level of customer love and loyalty? If you can’t be the next Steve Jobs, you can still create an irresistible brand.

Whether you’re a small business owner, an entrepreneur, or even a freelancer, you know that standing out from the competition can be a real challenge. You need every possible tool at your disposal, and there are few tools more powerful than a well-developed brand. It can mean the difference between the next Apple-style success story and another non-descript bankruptcy.

Let’s take a closer look at the essence of strategic branding and why it’s vital for your small business.

Great brands are part story, part strategy

Branding means creating an identity around your product, something customers can recognize and relate to. This is important because customers want a brand they can rely on consistently over the long-term. They’re even willing to pay for it. The relationship between brand and customer is known as customer experience. It comes down to the emotions a customer has for a brand.

DID YOU KNOW: By the year 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. (

This changes everything for entrepreneurs.

For centuries, competitive pricing has been the best way for brands to prosper. That era is coming to a close, which is a good thing for small businesses, because you know how little small businesses can compromise on price.

But while small businesses are at a disadvantage in terms of cutting costs, they have huge potential in terms of creative branding. Fewer executives means more direct decision-making, so as a small business owner you have the ability to instantly affect the way customers think about your brand.

Assuming you’ve got a viable product of comparable quality to the competition, in today’s business environment, the best brands get the most business. That’s true regardless of whether you’re a freelancer or an entrepreneur starting your own small business. So how can you create a brand that customers will really respond to?

Every great brand is a combination of a compelling story and a winning strategy. Follow these two basic building blocks:

  • Conception (Story)

  • Vision (Strategy)

Conception: The origin of your brand

Don’t get me wrong, a great logo is important. But the logo is only the tip of the iceberg; there’s much more you don’t see underneath. A logo needs to reflect the design, attitude, values and vision of the brand, but it’s only a visual representation of those elements that run to the very core of the brand.

The brand’s origin story is an important foundation. This, rather than product, is what customers will relate to. What is the brand’s origin and who are the key figures in its development? What events have unfolded along the way?

The brand’s origin story establishes its values and style. These should contribute to your vision for the brand.

Key point: Your logo is only a reflection of your brand’s style and values, which stem from its origin story. Start with the origins, then start thinking about a logo.

Vision: The “why” of your brand

From the very beginning, you need a vision for your brand. This is a statement that answers the question of why your brand is different. While there’s always room for adjustment and improvement, this comprehensive vision should guide every decision you make regarding the brand.

Questions for creating a brand vision:

  • How does your product contribute to a better world?

  • What role does your product play in your vision of an ideal future?

  • What emotions do you want customers to associate with your brand?

  • Besides a product, what do your customers get from your brand?

Key point: Envision the role of your brand in the customer’s life and allow that to inform the way you present the brand.

These are the building blocks of great brands, but they’re really only the beginning. You can learn more about brand building and strategic branding with this free guide to strategic branding for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

The necessity of branding a small business

Small businesses need to make a big splash. You can do that by creating a vibrant, unforgettable brand that makes you stand out from the crowd. Achieving that means brand awareness, and it’s a necessity.

In terms of capital and manpower, independent entrepreneurs and small businesses are at a disadvantage compared to companies the size of Apple. A smaller margin for error means strategic branding is key. The underdog should always over-prepare, and branding is a low-cost investment with a very big potential ROI.

There’s more good news for entrepreneurs. The limited size of small businesses can unleash more creativity and personality. No corporate-speak and C-Suite buzzwords! Small businesses should play to their strengths, which means creating a brand that reflects your core values and shows how you do things differently from larger competitors.

You don’t have to do all of this alone. I recommend getting in touch with a talented brand development team who can help.

Every great company has a brand strategy

From Apple to Zappos, every great brand starts with a clear strategy. But, really, if it were that easy, every brand would be great. And that’s certainly not the case!

A strategy will help you build a great brand from the ground up. Branding is about establishing and projecting the core values of your brand, figuring out who your customers are, what value you bring to them, and how you’re going to reach them and earn their loyalty. It’s imperative to get the strategy right from the start.

If you’re looking for an online brand strategy, look no further. Here’s what the process should look like:

  1. Core Vision, Values & Story

  2. Core Offer

  3. Features & Benefits

  4. Target Analysis

  5. Competition Analysis

  6. Positioning

  7. UVP & USP

  8. Personality

  9. Visual Identity

  10. Activation Strategy

You can download this free 10-step strategic brand building system for small businesses here.

When to build a brand strategy

Going onto the market without a new brand strategy is like building a house without a foundation. Regardless of the industry or size of the businesses, brand strategy is one of the first things any entrepreneur or small business should think about. Again, that origin story and the “why” of your business will help you direct the company from its earliest stages.

When you’re already on the market, it’s too late to create a brand strategy. You want to hit the ground running. It helps if you’ve got the right brand consultant on your side.

Consistency is key to establishing brand identity

Do you have a best friend? Someone who has been with you through thick and thin? Someone you can always depend on? The best brands are just like that.

Consistency is key for branding, especially for small businesses. That’s what we mean by being “on-brand.” You can think of a brand as a company’s personality: if your best friend looked, sounded or acted differently all of the sudden, you’d think something was wrong. That’s because as friends and as customers we come to depend on reliability.

This consistent reliability needs to come through in everything a brand does, from the logo to the font to the tone of voice in advertisements, on the website, and on social media. The identity of the brand determines what the brand says and how. On-brand communication should be part of the branding strategy and it needs to be adhered to for the lifetime of the brand.

What kind of impression do you want your brand to make? What kind of mood do you want to create? These questions need to be answered early on and adhered to faithfully.

Since we’re talking about communicating with customers, maybe you’re starting to think that branding and marketing are synonymous. Wrong!

Why branding isn't marketing

Branding and marketing are closely related but they’re certainly not the same thing. Marketing is essentially advertising. It’s telling customers who you are and what you do. Branding is creating a holistic personality that will bring customers to you.

Think about Apple again. One of their greatest campaigns was “Think Different,” which rejuvenated the company in the 1990s. It did so not by showing off sleek designs, new features or competitive pricing, but by projecting the core values of the brand.

From one point of view, this isn’t a very effective ad. It doesn’t even tell you what they’re selling! But since Apple’s brand is so established and consistent, the combination of the photo of Picasso and the two words (which aren’t even grammatically correct), evokes a creative, groundbreaking, revolutionary mood, and that is exactly on-brand for Apple.

Marketing is selling. Branding is compelling.

Why company branding engages customers

In love and business, everything depends on attraction. Brands that attract and engage customers do so because they offer a personality, not just a product.

Research shows that our decisions are guided by emotions rather than logic. That means small businesses and entrepreneurs need to take the emotions of their customers into account when building a brand.

Customer engagement is vital. Because as much as we like to think we’re rational creatures in total control of our decisions, our feelings tell us what to do.

  • Emotions guide decisions: Customers decide to choose one brand over another based on how each brand makes them feel.

  • More positive feelings, more purchases: The more consistently a brand engages a customer positively, the more loyal the customer will be.

  • No brand engagement, no purchases: If a customer has no emotional connection to your brand, they have no reason to buy from you. (

  • The bottom line: A well-developed brand with a distinct image, tone of voice and vision will attract, engage and keep more customers.

Bringing it all together (and writing it down)

A great brand can mean the difference between success and failure for small businesses. Entrepreneurs need to think hard about brand building, early and often. It’s the foundation for everything you do, whether you’re a freelancer or you’re starting a small business.

Creating an alluring brand takes real work, and it doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already begun the thought-process. Don’t keep it in your head! A brand remains abstract until its components are laid out on paper, (or at least on your computer screen).

Once you’ve started to build your brand on paper, you might find that you’ve got an x-ray that needs fleshing out. That’s where business branding companies like Mongrel come in. We’d love to help turn your branding ideas into reality.

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