Smarter Branding For Your Small Business

 A few thoughts and hints I presented last July for the Plan Fund – a non-profit organization that provides coaching, resources and micro-loans for entrepreneurs in Dallas, Texas.  The session gave insight into what a brand really is and what it means to develop, position and maintain it.

Adrian Parker Plan Fund LectureWhat is a brand? The best way to answer that question is with another question: What is the first thing people think when they think about you?


Whether your brand is a product or service, the way it looks, smells, feels, tastes and sounds is all part of your brand.  Your brand is the sum of all your communications.

Adrian Parker Plan FundThe single-most important thing to remember is this: Your brand is a democracy.  The second you own a business, it doesn’t belong to you anymore.  Your brand becomes the property of your customers.

Because your customers and clients have the right to directly influence your brand, think of it as a democracy.  To get as many “votes” as possible (in the form of sales, orders, referrals, etc.) it’s important to view your branding program as an on-going campaign, as opposed to a one-time transaction.Brand Democracy

Often times, perception is reality when it comes to creating your brand.  What consumers think about you matters more than what you think about yourself.

So how can a small business owner create and maintain a brand without breaking the bank? Great question.  If you’re convinced that branding is important, allow me to introduce you to the process of owning and growing your brand… marketing!


Name the top 5 fast food restaurants… (go ahead, I’ll wait)


OK, now name the top 5 luxury car makers.

 McDonald's Rock

If you’re like most, your list started to get a little fuzzy around item #4.  I mean, we all know McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s, right?  But then, is it Subway or Taco Bell?  Pizza Hut or KFC?  Who knows? (I know someone who does – click here for the official results.)

Well, your customers are pretty much like you.  As a general rule of thumb, we have mental room to rank about 3 items in any category.  After that, it’s every man for himself.  So the goal of branding your business is to get your product or service in the top 3 ranking of the target who is most likely to care (and most profitable).

I make my living consulting, coaching, counseling, challenging and championing companies whose ideas outweigh their budgets.  How?  Very carefully.  There is no magic formula to marketing success. If so, I would create it, patent it, sell it and be on a yacht in Tahiti. 

I dream of Tahiti
I dream of Tahiti

Instead, experience has proven there are practical tools for building your brand consistently. These are some of the overlooked weapons in your brand building arsenal. As you read through these tips, think about what works for you or, more importantly, what works for your customer.

Tips for Smarter Branding For Your Small Business

Read it. Learn it.
Read it. Learn it.


Research is Your Friend – Get as much information as possible and then get some more. Not only will you be smarter, but also it helps counteract the emotional aspect of running your business. When you’re building a brand with your heart, it’s easy to overdose on zeal and creativity while starving for information. Take an introspective look at yourself and your plan while gaining knowledge from books, experienced peers and advisors. Must Read: The Portable MBA in Entrepreneurship  – Social marketing, search engine optimization, keywords, Google, Tweeter and the list goes on. When it comes to online marketing, EVERYONE has a strategy. If you’re not online, that’s your strategy. I can’t stress enough the importance of including online resources in your marketing arsenal. Some quick tips I’ve learned:

  1. If your business model already doesn’t work, the internet will not magically fix it. Websites take asWeb Biz Success book much work to maintain as traditional businesses. Must Read: Web Business Success
  2. If you’re using the internet to simply promote your business, it’s OK to start simple and work your way up. For starter websites, check out: Red Silo, Magnt and Photobiz for great, cost-effective designs. For custom work, get some professional muscle from Prototype Advertising, Majestic Design Group or Lancaster Advertising.
  3. Never buy a list of e-mail addresses. Always build your own. Check out rankings & reviews of e-mail marketing services here.
  4. The good news is – the web is accessible to everyone. The bad news is – the web is accessible to everyone.  These days everyone has a site and building a shiny new one doesn’t guarantee traffic.  I’m always surprised at how many folks think launching a site automatically entitiles them to attention.  I recommend a crash course in internet strategy and then a conversation with someone who knows how to get attention on the web.

rise of PR book Al RiesPR Works – Public relations is all about building a credible relationship with your customers and the media they consume. We sometimes refer to PR as “earned media” because you have to earn the media coverage. Use PR to build and launch your brand. Then use advertising (paid media) to sustain your brand once you have built awareness. Take my word for it or pay $12 for 320 pages of explanation. Your choice.

Bring the Fruit to You With Seeding – Find a notable broadcast personality that championsdj-clark-kent-sole-collector-magazine your cause or has an affinity to your product. When I worked in the sneaker industry, we gave (seeded) media personalities sneak peeks at the hottest shoes and provided them exclusive product. In turn, they naturally promoted the product – not only because they received a free pair of kicks. But also because it was a part of their lifestyle and something they would have purchased for themselves.

And for the finale, here’s a list of the DOs and DON’Ts of Smarter Branding For Your Small Business


1. DO be your company’s #1 sales person. Never stop learning about your market and seeking opportunities to gain an advantage.

2. DO take ownership of your brand by building a repeatable experience for your customer.  What processes can you enact to ensure top quality and minimal overhead (cost of goods sold) every time?

3. DO define your purpose for being in business. Whether it’s for income, social awareness, pursuit of a passion, creating a financial legacy or just having fun, your motives will ultimately determine whether you consider your brand a failure or success.

4. DO build barriers to entry.  New ideas are hard to come by, once you get one you must protect it. Guard your brand’s “vital organs” with patents, trademarks, copyrights, licenses, exclusive deals and other tools.


1. DON’T chase opportunity.  95% of the folks who claim to be able to “take your business to the next level” are fakers. Run! Most paths that seem like great opportunities for quick growth are merely distractions. Some can be costlier than others. Focus on long-term growth and reference DO #3.

2. DON’T borrow equity. Build it on your own.  There are no shortcuts to being #1 and this is one of those instances where “fake it till you make it” won’t cut it.  Embrace where your business is now and resist the temptation to cut to the front of the line by imitating the category leader. Don’t be McDowell’s, build the next McDonald’s.


3. DON’T skip the research! Please, just don’t do it. 

4. DON’T fall for the fallacy of “OR.” It’s the false assumption that you can have one desirable choice OR the other, but you can’t have both:
*Low cost OR high quality
*Wealth OR give back to community
*Pursue long term OR short term goals

Branding success means doing both at the same time – on a professional and personal level.

7 thoughts on “Smarter Branding For Your Small Business

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