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What Small Businesses Can Learn About Creating a Lasting Brand From Apple, Dunkin' Donuts and CVS These three examples provide a template for success.

By Ivy Cohen Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Songquan Deng | Shutterstock

Once you start a business, the hard part of entrepreneurship is keeping your business going. Pivotal to building a long-running business is creating a lasting brand. Small business owners and entrepreneurs can gain valuable insight on how to develop a thriving brand by emulating the actions of well-established brands.

Of the many elements that go into building a successful brand, three major branding tenets can make or break your company. They are: a unique brand identity, a consistent brand identity and value through product differentiation. These three examples provide a template for success.

Unique brand identity: Apple

The visual elements by which your company is known can have an indelible impact on how your business is viewed. Your company's logo, color palate and graphic elements may seem like a simple thing, but having a logo that is distinctly and instantly recognizable as your own can help your business stand out from a crowded field of competitors.

Related: 5 Tips for Building a Strong Brand Identity

Apple shows us the power of creating a unique brand identity. Apple is distinctive for its clean, forward-thinking design features, as well as its minimalism in messaging and advertising. These aesthetics perfectly complement its unique selling proposition: intuitive electronics that are easy for people to use while providing cutting edge technological capabilities.

The instantly recognizable Apple logo has had remarkable staying power with only a few variations along the way. It began with the Apple silhouette filled with rainbow stripes. Then, wanting a simplified look with adaptability for future products, Steve Jobs moved to monochrome silhouettes, generally in black or silver, keeping the focus on the Apple and making the logo more readily identifiable across all uses.

Over time, the Apple logo became synonymous with cutting edge design and technology. People valued the symbol and what it stood for so much that they would stand in line for a product they knew very little about simply to be part of that community of tech-savvy early adopters. And, this is still the case 30 years later. When people see the Apple logo, they assume they are getting the best that money can buy in consumer technology.

You may not be Steve Jobs, but you can create a brand identity that expresses how you aspire your company to be seen -- and own it!

Related: Don't Be Like the Rest. Set Your Business Apart Like These 3 Companies.

Consistent brand identity: Dunkin' Donuts

In an age when most businesses do not have a brick-and-mortar storefront and goods and services are offered across numerous digital distribution channels, it is vital that your company have a consistent brand identity across all product lines. Consistency maximizes brand recognition, makes it easier to attract customer consideration and generates repeat sales in a world with tons of competition screaming for attention.

Dunkin' Donuts demonstrates the art of consistency. With over 11,300 quick-service locations worldwide, Dunkin' Donuts is famous for serving coffee and baked goods, and also sells a line of coffee beans, K-cups and creamers in grocery stores and other home goods outlets, with a line of bottled iced coffees soon to hit the market.

Dunkin' Donuts' branding is consistent across the board with its brand identity and in all of its marketing -- including packaging, promotion, distribution and pricing – expressing its position as an economical choice for coffee and comfort food. It's easy to spot large orange and pink Dunkin' Donuts signs on the side of the street.

Related: 3 Key Components to Standing Out as a Brand

The importance of the company's consistent branding is even more apparent when you consider how that instantly identifiable logo makes its products jump off of the shelves in a grocery store when they are surrounded by numerous competitors. Shoppers who have good associations with picking up a coffee and a doughnut at their local Dunkin' Donuts are much more likely to buy the company's products to consume at home, because the solid branding evokes that same good feeling and sense of confidence in the products sold through other channels.

The takeaway for small business owners: Keep your branding consistent. Keep your logos and other aspects of your brand within a deliberate identity convention for logos, packaging, marketing and messaging, for different products or in various channels for the same products. Customers make new purchasing decisions based on their past experiences and they must be able to remember your brand to go back to it. Without consistent, clearly connected brand images and experiences, it is hard to build a reputation as you produce new products and services, which results in losing out on repeat business and potential new business as well.

Product differentiation: CVS

There are many businesses where products or services are virtually indistinguishable from the competition. What can you do to make your offering jump out from the rest? There are many branding and marketing strategies to consider to differentiate -- whether it's pricing, availability, partnerships or wacky ad campaigns. In almost all sectors, success is tied to differentiating your brand and giving customers a reason for choosing your company over the others. CVS has a lock on this strategy.

Today, CVS considers itself a "pharmacy innovation company" and states its purpose as "helping people on their path to better health." While much like other major pharmacy retailers CVS sells prescription drugs and a wide assortment of general merchandise and convenience foods, it has changed the game and positioned the company as an active player in positively influencing health behavior and shaping the future of health care for people, businesses and communities.

Related: 5 Strategies For How to Make Customers Trust Your Brand

CVS executives determined that simply saying the company supports healthy living wasn't enough. In order to truly differentiate CVS from the competition they decided to chart a path from being a pharmacy to being an active, fundamental part of a patient's health journey. This started with the introduction of walk-in MinuteClinics in 2004. In 2007, CVS bought Caremark, a prescription benefit management subsidiary, which made it easier to order prescription refills, get drug cost estimates and find ways to save on medications. In 2010, CVS/caremark entered into an agreement with Aetna to support 9.7 million Aetna PBM members in improving care management and reducing drug costs.

Then, in 2014 CVS made the BIG announcement: that it would no longer sell cigarettes. CVS also created a portal to help people find insurance through the Healthcare Marketplace, Medicare and Medicaid.

CVS became CVSHealth, which cemented its position as not just a pharmacy, but as a company that is intrinsically involved in helping people lead healthier lives.

Small business owners can take a cue from CVS. Study the big picture of your industry to find ways to differentiate your business. What is the higher purpose or bigger need on which you can build your brand? Answer this question, then explore opportunities for your company to fully embed itself in the conversations and moments that lead up to customers buying your product as a way of differentiating your company from the competition.

Ivy Cohen

President and CEO of Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications

Ivy has spent 20 years advising companies and executives on how to build their reputations across the U.S. and around the globe. A visionary leader who helps clients problem-solve, she creates big ideas and gets outsize results. She is an accomplished executive and small business owner, a results-oriented civic leader and a consummate juggler of professional and philanthropic projects.

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