Pick up any business magazine and chances are you'll find a few articles on branding.
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But savvy entrepreneurs know better than to write off branding as just another small business fad. Branding is getting a lot of small business buzz because it is a critical element in small business success. Without an effective brand, your business is going nowhere - fast.
What is a brand? A brand is the public face of your company. It's an emblem, a symbol - your image, proudly displayed for the world to see. If done effectively, branding will cement a solid buying relationship between your business and your clients.
However, an anemic or ineffective brand will probably make it difficult for your customers to connect with your company and its products.
As you might imagine, designing a brand for your small business is a little more complex than sketching a cool logo on a napkin. In fact, branding is a process with at least two distinct parts: invention and growth.
Inventing the Brand
As you begin to consider your company's brand, think about the characteristics you would like your brand to convey to your customer base, i.e. the public-at-large. In some cases, your products themselves will dictate your approach, while in other cases your brand characteristics may be more subtle.
Once you have decided on the characteristics your brand needs to convey, the next step is to sit down with a graphic designer or at least someone who is both artistic and knowledgeable about branding.
When creating your brand, be bold, be creative - but also be honest. Your brand should reflect who you are, not an unrealistic fantasy version of who you want to be. Customers will quickly catch on if your ability to deliver doesn't live up to the promises of your brand.
Experiment with different colors and images until you find one that you like, and then live with it for a while before making a final decision. You'll have your brand for a long time, so don't be rash in the decision-making process. You might even want to run possible brands and logos by a few friends and family members to see what they think about it.
Growing the Brand
Creating a logo is only the first step in designing a brand for business. Since a brand is only as effective as the number of customers it connects with your business, you'll need to give your new brand as much exposure as possible.
Ever wonder why Donald Trump puts his name on everything from his buildings to his corporate jet? Is it ego? Probably. But it's also smart business because he's creating opportunities for people to see and connect with his corporation's brand identity.
Likewise, you need to create opportunities for your customers to connect with your company's brand. Consistently employ your brand identity on your letterhead, in your advertising, even inside your store to create lasting impressions with your customer base.