small business branding

By Rieva Lesonsky

Does your small business have a business brand? Of course you do. Whether it’s strong or weak, every business has a business “brand”—the personality and image that customers think of when they think of that business. If you think of Apple, which is frequently used as an example of great branding, you think of ease and simplicity. The company’s products, packaging and marketing are all designed to promise streamlined ease-of-use.

Because of its strong business brand, Apple can command premium prices. That’s why some analysts are already viewing the company’s recent lower-end smartphone, the iPhone 5C, as a failure. MediaPost recently reported that the company had reduced orders for production, that the demand for the 5C was “tepid” and that some resellers were discounting the phone shortly after its debut. Critics say the iPhone 5C doesn’t mesh with Apple’s brand positioning as a high-end consumer product.

What lessons can you learn from the iPhone 5C’s struggles? Here are four business brand tips to take away.

  1. Find your niche. As a small business, don’t try to be all things to all people. (As you can see, even Apple is struggling with that challenge.) Instead, pick one market niche where you can excel by offering something that no one else is offering. That may be a unique product, extremely personalized service or a new way of doing business.
  2. Develop your brand. Your brand is the “personality” of your business and grows naturally out of your niche. For instance, if you’re selling ultra-high-end gourmet peanut butter sprinkled with gold leaf or caviar, your brand might be a little bit snooty, a little bit Kim Kardashian. (Sounds silly, but it can help to picture your brand as a person.) If you’re selling farm-to-table organic peanut butter packaged in Mason jars with gingham labels, your brand might be more of an earnest, earthy farmer type.
  3. Build your brand. Once you have your brand firmly in mind, all of your marketing, advertising and social media outreach needs to convey your brand. Every time you post a status update, send a tweet or design an ad, think “Would my brand do/say this?” (This is where it can help to picture your brand as a person.) Also make sure your employees understand your brand so they can “live it” too. (Kim Kardashian wouldn’t do well working at the farm-to-table peanut butter store, and the earthy farmer wouldn’t last long at the caviar-peanut-butter boutique.)
  4. Stay true to your brand. When your business doesn’t have the clout of Apple, it’s even more important to stay true to your brand. At some point when your business is new and growing, you may be tempted to break out of the mold. Don’t. Even as you expand into new products and new markets, make sure your brand message doesn’t get diluted. Your brand tells new customers who you are and encourages them to try your business. When customers don’t know who you are, you lose your edge. That’s a lesson Apple may be learning the hard way—but one that you don’t have to if you follow these four steps.