Variety may be the spice of life, but not when it comes to marketing your business-especially when you're creating a brand image to set you apart from the competition.
Branding is a way to help companies of all sizes achieve the highest level of professional awareness. It's also one of those 50-cent marketing words used by super-successful companies like Nike, whose "swoosh" logo has become synonymous with its brand.
This isn't to suggest that you need big bucks to brand your homebased business. Rather, you need your own "swoosh," a singular look that you use on all marketing materials, including your letterhead, business cards, Web site and any signage.
It sounds simple enough, but it's not, at least according to Aaron Pratt, owner of Prattboy Dot Com, a Hayward, Wisconsin, graphic design firm. "One of the biggest problems I see is people start going nuts with desktop programs like Microsoft Publisher," says Pratt, who often counsels others on creating a unified marketing look. "They think they have to use all the clip art available, [so they] end up with a fancy hodgepodge of ideas that on their own are OK, but together, don't say anything about their business. This is especially confusing for potential customers."
That said, just do the following:
1. Remember that one is not the loneliest number when it comes to creating a consistent marketing message. Find one look or message that describes your business and stick with it.
2. Use the same color scheme, fonts and design throughout your marketing materials, business cards, letterhead and Web site.
3. Get a second, third and even a fourth opinion about your idea-and get them from people who might be more objective than your spouse or your mom.
4. Finally, put the rest of those fancy ideas in a folder. Microsoft Publisher may be cool, but if you use every trick the software offers, you'll end up looking messy, not professional.
Julia Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer who specializes in business and marketing. She can be reached at email@example.com.