Branding 101: What exactly is branding and why is it important to your small business?

Small business owners are constantly being told how important it is to build their brand. But I think many people are confused about what a brand actually is…and is not. So I thought we’d take a step back today and consider exactly we mean when we say brand.

For me, your brand is the image that comes to mind when people think about your company and its products and services. What adjectives would one of your customers apply to your business? Or, put another way, how do they feel about your business or its products? Yes, your logo and other visuals associated with your business are part of that, but I am talking about far more than just graphic design elements (although they are important) when I talk about branding.

Here’s a definition I love: “The simple truth is that a brand isn’t a logo, an advertisement, or a poster hung on the wall in a corporate office. It’s a gut feeling about a company, and smart companies know the power of a brand done right.” That quote comes from a terrific article on branding, “Everything You Know About Branding Is Wrong,” written for Forbes by David Gallulo, CEO of Rapt Studio, a global design firm.

Graphic designed Jacob Cass does an excellent job of explaining branding and why it’s about much more than just your logo in “Branding, Identity & Logo Design Explained.”

Chris Kocek, founder and CEO of an Austin-Texas-based strategy and design studio. adds an important perspective in this Entrepreneur.com article, “The Difference Between a Business and a Brand.” He contends that a business becomes a brand when “it transcends its category of origin,” to create something entirely new in customers’ mind. The example he gives is Lego, which is so much more than just a company that makes building blocks for kids.

How does all this relate to a small business, possibly operating in a single community? Some would argue that branding on this level is only for large corporations, but I disagree. No matter what our business is, we don’t operate monopolies; our customers have other options than just doing business with us. They may have to drive a little farther to get to our nearest competitor, but, still, there are competitors out there, including those on the Internet. So you still have to work hard to build a brand that people trust and value.

It is possible, I believe, for even a small business to “transcend its category of origin” within its market to become a company to which customers are unusually loyal. The key to this is often in the little things you do for your customers that make your business standout.

Here’s a quick example: When we moved to Durham, NC, last summer, we moved into a house with a cathedral ceiling in the living room. When Christmas rolled around, Bob was very excited because he loves big Christmas trees and our old living room in Massachusetts hadn’t accommodated a tall tree. He went to the nearest Christmas tree lot and picked out a nine-footer. But then, looking at his VW Jetta, he wondered aloud how he was going to get the tree home. Without a second’s hesitation, the owner of the tree lot said, “Here, take my truck.” Seriously…he had never seen Bob before in his life and he just handed him the keys to his pickup! Who does that??? Bob hadn’t even paid for the tree yet! How could we possibly consider ever buying a tree somewhere else? This guy “branded” himself as someone who goes out of his way to make life easier for his customers and, in the process, won us over as customers for life.

What things do you do every day that build your brand in that way? Sure, it helps to have a memorable logo and great advertising and marketing materials. But it is how you and your employees treat customers and the quality of the products and services you provide that blend with the visuals to create your brand experience. I encourage you to keep these key elements of your brand constantly top of mind in decision making about your small business.

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