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'Your brand is your promise to customers'

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Creating a small-business brand, or branding your company, isn't about plastering your logo on everything possible.

It's about asking yourself some important questions and then acting on the answers.

“The logo comes last,” said Andrew Stanten, president of Altitude Marketing in Emmaus. “You need to take a hard internal look at your core values as a business.”

Stanten said a business owner needs to look at a company's verbal, visual and emotional attributes to define a business and what sets it apart from competitors.

“Your brand is your promise to your customers – that's key. The attributes help define what the promise is,” he says.

Your promise to your customers tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and how you are different from your competitors. It's about the sum total of the experience customers have with your company.

It's much more than logo creation, website development and other marketing tactics. And it's a branding strategy that gives small businesses a fighting chance to snare a share of the marketplace.

Mike Keenan, president of Keenan Nagle Advertising in Allentown, said small business owners need to be smart enough to get help when they need it.

“Don't spend all your money on branding,” he advised. “Do what you can afford. It should be a simple process at the small-business level.

“For example, a small business doesn't need to get involved with focus groups.”

Forbes Magazine recently suggested six steps to get on board with branding your small business:

First, define the purpose of your organization. This may surprise you. You may think selling golf clubs is the purpose, but educating customers can be a purpose, too.

Then, Forbes said, decide what you want your brand to represent. Sincerity, expertise, innovation? This should be authentic, and be apparent in what you say and do as a company.

Next, what are your brand values? These answers should demonstrate who you are as an organization, according to Forbes. What's important to you: fun, determination, passion, excellence?

Fourth, what is the culture you want to create and nourish? This is where your reputation comes in, according to Forbes. What do you want customers to say about you, and what are they actually saying? They should be the same.

Then you want to institutionalize the culture you create. This means every aspect of your business should reflect your reputation, Forbes said. How you treat customers and what you say in advertising is included.

And finally, how well do you communicate who you are? Your message needs to be consistent, and that can mean using the same copywriter or ad agency for all promotions. Consistency needs to be carried over to your use of a logo and social media.

Stanten said it is important that messaging be consistent, or the brand becomes diluted.

He used the example of a small sporting goods store branding itself as different from a “big box” store.

“A small sporting goods store can have the values of knowledgeable and attentive sales people,” Stanten said. “That helps build the brand, and differentiates the store from an impersonal chain.”

Having knowledgeable and attentive sales people should be a message that's consistently emphasized throughout the company's culture and reputation.

Overall, the professionals said, a company brand is a mentality and way of viewing an organization, not a marketing exercise.

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