From the March 2002 issue of Startups

Q: My goal is to build my home business into a brand name. How do I do stand out in a crowded marketplace?

A: Build your brand around a real person, like Lillian Vernon, founder and CEO of giant gift and houseware products catalog company Lillian Vernon Corp., who started her company as a homebased business. It's reassuring to know that Lillian Vernon believes there's more to the art of branding than a jumbo advertising budget. Here are some tips on how to create a brand through the power of personality.

It's one thing to create a symbol, like Betty Crocker, and build it into a brand, and quite another to build a brand around a person. The person needs to have the qualities that underlie what you communicate as the company's strengths.

  • Communicate your brand's personality. You can convey personality with unique products, clever presentation, a strong guarantee and other qualities that represent promises you can keep. Vernon communicates in each of her company's catalogs, "I am my customer's personal shopper, even though I have a team of buyers scouring the globe."
  • Build credibility-keep your promises. Gallup has research showing that if customers don't have a firm foundation of confidence and trust in a brand, customer loyalty erodes. Trust in a brand also pays off because as a company moves into new products and markets, the power of the personality helps improve the chances of success. By relying on the key aspects of her personality, Vernon was able to extend her credibility to the children's market by introducing a catalog with children's products. The same has held for the online marketplace.
  • Rely heavily on public relations. If you as a personality are regarded as interesting and creative, opportunities open up for magazine profiles and appearances on talk shows.
  • Don't lose sight of your original values. Promises must be kept not just at first, but always. As your company grows, it's easy to get sidetracked into ventures or products that might not be worthy of the personality's claims to high quality or value. For example, a new product line may not be of the same quality, or the company may discontinue a highly valued money-back guarantee.

Paul and Sarah Edwards' most recent book is Changing Directions Without Losing Your Way. Send them your start-up questions at www.workingfromhome.com or through us at Entrepreneur.