Branding.  Small business owners hear about it all the time, but many think it applies only to large corporations. But in reality, it does apply to your business too.

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” Your brand is what your customers say about you, what they expect when they do business with you, and what makes you different from competitors. Even if you haven’t purposely established a brand, if customers are talking about your business you already have a brand in development.

Rather than letting others decide what your brand is, you need to develop your own brand; one that fits your business goals.

Here are 3 effective branding techniques that will help you develop yourself as a brand.

1. Ask Questions

Before you decide on your brand, ask yourself some questions to determine what people think about your business, as well as what you want them to think.

  • What is your company’s mission?
  • Why should people use your products or services?
  • What are people already saying about your company?
  • What do you want people to think about your company?
  • Who is your target audience and what do they expect from the companies they buy from?

Perhaps your brand is safe and reliable, or maybe you want your customers to see you as rebellious and innovative. Are you formal or informal? Is there a way to differentiate yourself from your competition? Asking these questions will help you develop your brand identity. Channel this into a SWOT analysis to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for your company to help you differentiate yourself in the market.

2. Know Your Target Audience

You also need to develop a relationship with your customers. This will help you understand how they perceive your business and what they expect from it. You may think they come into your nail salon because of your selection of high quality polishes, but maybe it’s the relaxed, casual atmosphere they like. Maybe you have the most comfortable chairs in the city or your aestheticians give the best hand massages. Knowing why people buy your product or service helps you understand the branding that should accompany it and the little touches your customers will appreciate.

3. Start with the Branding Basics

Once you understand your brand, develop your logo, tone and procedures based on it. Make sure your brand is reflected in all of these, whether it’s the colors of your collateral or the way in which your business information is presented.

You want to make sure your brand’s identity is clear and consistent so that your customers know exactly what to expect from you. One advertising agency might be regarded as a young up-and-comer, willing to take risks and innovate within the industry while pushing boundaries. The other might be seen as more experienced, stable and reliable. Neither will appeal to everyone, but both will appeal to people in their target market.

The branding you develop should also take the form of a vision statement that identifies what you want your company to become in the future, and a mission statement that summarizes the purpose of your company.

Once you’ve got this in place, communicate (and reiterate) it to your employees to ensure your entire team is aligned on your brand strategy. The next steps are to:

  • Have a logo or wordmark that is consistent on all of your collateral (both in print and online). This includes company communications, advertisements and promotions, and social media feeds.
  • Make sure your employees embrace and represent your brand. If you want your business to be known as a casual place, make sure your employees are easygoing with customers too. This should be communicated to your employees in a specific, actionable way. For example, if you say your service is “quick”, be clear on what that means. (Five minutes? 15 minutes?)
  • Use your branding in every aspect of your business—from how you greet customers to how you sign off an email.
  • Develop a voice for your brand, then use it in all your communications internally and with your customers.
  • Make sure your brand is authentic. If it doesn’t suit you or your business or you don’t believe in it, customers will be able to tell.

Some Final Tips

When you’re taking the time to develop your brand, remember these three things: have a strong identity, be consistent, and most of all, be authentic. Branding is something that shouldn’t be rushed. It’s a long-term investment, so the more time and effort you spend upfront, the better the result will be in the long run and the more likely your customers are to buy in.

Miranda is a Volume Nine SEO contributor to the Connectivity blog.