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How to Build a Winning Brand

Image Is Everything--For Everyone

Image Is Everything--For Everyone
Small-business branding expert Maria Ross, founder of Seattle-based branding and marketing consultancy Red Slice and author of Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget, offers her take on brand strategies for the up-and-coming. --Interview by Jason Daley

Why does a plumber need a brand? Isn't that for companies like Coke?
That actually stems from the misconception about what brand means. It's your impression, your reputation--it's the mindshare you occupy in a customer or client's mind. Do they file you under high-end, expensive luxury brands? Do they file you under cheap and convenient? It doesn't matter what size company you have. Branding is about the impression that will best help you reach your goals and serve your audience.

I just sell stuff. How do I figure out what my brand should be?
Determining your brand is a combination of things. What can you authentically deliver? You can't go out and say you're innovative and high-tech if that's not what you deliver. Who is your target audience? That's one where small businesses fall down. Pinpoint who your audience is and figure out what will appeal to that audience. You also need to look at your competitors and decide where you want to fit. Do you want to zag when they zig? Maybe there's an opportunity to stand out.

How do I communicate brand?
Brand is every single customer touch point you have, from your voicemail message to how you pack a bag if you're a retail shop, to how your store is laid out, the colors that you use, the imagery you project, the quality of your staff and how they treat customers. It's a lot more than just posters and advertising.

That all sounds good in theory. Give us an example.
One of my clients is Alinga Bodywork, a small massage and energy work practice. It was a typical story: She designed a website quickly herself and put up a logo. She wanted to charge a little bit of a premium for her services, but it didn't attract the right people. That template website-in-a-box doesn't communicate that. We worked through what made her unique and what benefits she offers--what she can claim that other people can't. She saw an uptick in her business, and she was able to move into a larger space and grow her practice.

What else can brand do?
I know a soda company that used its brand strategy as a litmus test, and turned Wal-Mart down when they came calling because they thought it would tarnish their brand. They will be partnering with Target, which
is closer to their brand strategy. Questions like who to partner with, where to distribute, who to hire--brand strategy can serve as a guide for all of those decisions.

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Craig Reiss is the former editor-in-chief of

Adweek

,

Brandweek

and

Mediaweek

. He also was chief creative officer for Primedia, where he oversaw positioning for 150 media brands. Reiss is now principal of CIA: Customers Into Advocates, a Connecticut-based customer research firm.

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This article was originally published in the April 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: How to Build a Winning Brand.

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