By Jim Crimmins

Small business owners hear a lot about the importance of “branding.” So what in the world is branding? In essence, your brand is your public promise to prospective customers. When communicating that promise, you are branding your small business. Though often neglected by small business owners, branding, done right, can elevate your offering in a crowded market. To give yourself a competitive edge, keep these five things in mind:

1.      Mental Pop

Mental pop is the ease with which your brand springs to mind when prospective customers need what you offer. Of course if your brand comes to mind, you’ll probably get considered. But mental pop is a lot more than getting considered. People use the ease with which your brand comes to mind as a short cut in judging the value of your brand. People rely on and have more confidence in brands that spring to mind most easily.

How do you create a brand that springs easily to mind?  Be distinctive. Run when your competitors walk. Stand when your competitors sit. Even trivial differences can make your brand stand out. Be vivid. Bland brands fade into the background. A simple figure of speech in your brand name can help—alliteration, rhyme, metaphor—WaterWorks, Clean Jean, Rock Security. Be repetitive. Get your brand name in front of prospects over and over and over again. Be familiar. Let your prospects see you so frequently that your brand becomes an expected player.

2.      Mental Links

When your brand springs into mind, what other thoughts come in along with it? The possibilities are endless but you have to select a few links to forge. Links are forged not by information or logic but by simple, memorable, and repeated paring. If you want people to think “tough,” or “fast,” or “reliable,” or “inexpensive,” repeatedly pair that quality literally or symbolically with your brand.

3.      Action

In branding, what your brand does is far more important than anything you might say. Your prospective customers won’t pay much attention to what you say because they know you will say whatever you think they want to hear. But they will pay a lot of attention to how your brand acts. The promptness of a call-back, the professionalism of the website, the style of a business card, the attitude of the service provider, even the way the phone is answered all speak compellingly to prospective customers. Your brand’s actions will define it in the eyes of your prospects.

Since your brand’s actions communicate so clearly and convincingly, what your brand does is a good way to forge the links you desire. If your brand was indeed “tough,” or “fast,” or “reliable,” or “inexpensive,” how would it act?

4.      Feeling

You probably know a lot about the attributes your prospects want in a business like yours. But take the time to think about how your prospects want to feel. Your brand can save prospects a few dollars or it can make prospects feel smart. Your brand can offer quality day care or make your insecure prospects feel like good parents. The attributes of your brand are just a means to an end. What your prospects really want is a feeling. Link your brand to that feeling.

5.      Popularity

When choosing among brands, people pay a lot of attention to what other people choose. The perceived preferences of others are important information because no one has the time to try and evaluate all the options. Make sure prospects know that many others have chosen you.

You have no doubt heard about the importance of concentrating on a limited number of loyal customers. Baloney. The fact is that when brands have many customers, each customer is, on average, more loyal. And when brands have few customers, each customer is, on average, less loyal. This pattern has been demonstrated in category after category around the world. To be successful, you should be seen as uniquely able to provide something many people want. Figure out what many people want that your brand is better at providing than any other brand and you are on your way to success.

Jim Crimmins is the founder of the ad rating site Persuade the Lizard. Follow him at @persuadelizard.