How to build a brand for your small business. 

For small businesses in competitive markets, building a brand that enables you to stand out and be memorable is essential. Learn how to create a successful brand identity to support your company's marketing. 

A man behind the counter at a health food restaurant.

What do people think of when they hear your business name? Hopefully, their impression of your business is positive. It could be negative, though, and it would probably be even worse if they had no impression of your business at all. But whatever their impressions—good, bad, or indifferent—and whatever it is that they think, that's your business brand. 

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's what a brand is; it's your business name, reputation, promise, and personality all rolled into one, and it takes only an instant for it to pop into someone’s mind. 

Small business brand identity

Branding is vital to all businesses, but it is more important to small businesses because they have a lot of competition. There are 30 million businesses in the United States, and 99% are small1. So, what is it that your business promises customers? Are you the affordable lawyer, the pain-free dentist, the grocer with the best produce selection, or what? Figuring that out is the first step. The other four steps are as follows: 

Step 1: Defining your small company brand. 

When your "promise" dovetails with the customers’ 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, the local java drive-through is probably what you will think of. 

Step 2: Focus on your X-factor.

Your X-factor is 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 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: Suppose 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. 

A woman at a table working on a laptop computer.

Step 3: Craft a memorable tagline

You want a tagline that reflects your 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 it should immediately let people know how they will benefit from your brand.  

Nike says, "Just Do It." De Beers 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: your website, social media sites, your email signature, your signage, your advertising—everywhere. 

Step 4: Repetition is the key.

If you want to get people to think of your business in a certain way, they will need to hear your name and tagline again and again and again. Every time they encounter your business, the company 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 spread it in all you do.

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1 U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy “Frequently Asked Questions”. November, 2020. https://cdn.advocacy.sba.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/05122043/Small-Business-FAQ-2020.pdf