What do people think of when they hear your business name?

Hopefully of course, their impression of your business is positive, but of course it could be negative, and probably the worst thing would be if they had no impression of it at all. But whatever the case–good, bad, or indifferent–whatever it is that they think, that is your business brand.

Don't think so? Let's try this thought experiment:

Quick, what do you think of when you think of Apple? Probably their sleek, cutting edge, if expensive, products, right?

And now, what about McDonald's? You likely think of easy, quick, cheap, predictable, fast food to go.

Big companies like Apple and McDonald's spend billions of dollars getting us to think in a very specific way about their businesses; what you and I think of McDonald's and Apple is no accident. Big companies know that branding takes place in the mind; it's what people think of when they think about a business. So that is what a brand is–it is your business name, reputation, promise, and personality all rolled into one, and it takes place in an instant.

Branding is vital to all businesses, but let me suggest that it is most important to the small business because we have a lot of competition. There are 30 million businesses in the U.S. and 99% are small business.

Like I said, a lot of competition.

So, the question is, what is it that your business promises customers? Are you the affordable lawyer, or the pain-free dentist, or the green grocer, or what? Figuring that out is Step 1.

When your "promise" dovetails with the customer's needs, they will choose you. Do you want a cool place to hang out and get a great cup of coffee? Then the promise of Starbucks is for you. But if you just want some quick, inexpensive coffee to go, then the local java drive-through is probably what you will think of.

Step two: Focus on your X-factor, your unique value proposition. You need to figure out what it is that your business does and offers that is unique, different, and special and you will want to start to build your brand around that. Being different is good because it is memorable, and the whole point of branding is to get people to remember you.

Example: Say that you own an architectural firm that focuses on high-end eco-friendly design and materials. That should become your branding. Your green efforts must be highlighted on your website, social media, signs, logo, etc.

Even better: Consider having the brand promise be part of the name of your business–Eco-Architects, or Sustainability Architectural Partners, something like that. Having your X Factor be part of the name of your business creates instant branding.

Step 3: Craft a memorable tagline, one that reflects this message. Our green architect could have something like, "Conserving the planet, one building at a time" or "Never compromising materials, or the earth". You get the idea.

Your tagline should be short and sweet and should immediately let people know how they will benefit from your brand. Nike says, "Just Do It." De Beer's tells us, "A diamond is forever." You want something like that–a tagline that will quickly cut to the core of your brand promise.

Once you have that tagline, use it when and wherever people see your business name–on your website, on social sites, on your email signature, on signage, in your advertising–everywhere.

Step 4: Repetition is the key. Repetition is the key. Repetition is the key. What is the key? See?

If you want to get people to think of your business in a certain way, then they need to hear your name and tagline again and again and again. Every time they encounter your business the branding must be the same. Indeed, your brand must be reflected in everything you do, from what you post on social media, to your URL, to how the phone is answered, to how you treat customers. It all matters.

Remember, the way companies like Apple and Nike present and promote their brands is not accidental. Of course, you cannot invest billions into your branding, but you can be just as precise. It is up to you to figure out what makes you different and better. Focus on that, come up with a persuasive, compelling message, and then spread it in all you do.

Just do it.

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