Red blooded business owners gunning for domination in whatever category they are in can sometimes fall into marketing and brand thinking from the early 1900s – a one way ‘alert-style’ form of communication that doesn’t invite the audience to participate or join in. Marty Neumeier, one of the brand heroes of our time, in his book The Brand Gap depicts the difference between the old and new ways.

And from the same book comes one of my all time favourite brand quotes:

Your brand isn’t what you say it is.
It’s what they say it is.

This beautifully and simply describes the essence of a brand, in an instant dispelling any untrue sense of power that a brand owner perceives they have. The truth is simple – you can create a brand personality, a vision and mission, but the true test of a brand is what the people say it is.

You can’t control your brand, you can only influence it. Brands, big and small alike, need to spend less time pushing announcements and campaigns into the eyes and ears of consumers and more time engaging in a conversation with their audience. By doing this, you can reveal the truth of what the people think and more importantly what they are saying about your brand to others. Understanding this is the key to unlocking the most powerful and sought after aspect of any brand – advocacy.

Building a small business brand

So if you are a small business wanting to create strong foundations for the future and build a brand they people love, take the time to engage with the people now.

Start small, by simply asking some of your existing ideal customers these questions:

  • What words do they associate with your brand?
  • What do they feel when they arrive on your landing page?
  • How would they describe your business/brand to others?

It might be what you expect, in which case you’re on the right track and can feel encouraged. It might be completely the opposite to what you expect them to say, in which case you take this valuable insight and look at how you can implement this new perspective into your brand communication and marketing messages.

Finally, don’t be proud. Building a brand is an iterative process. It’s a living thing that evolves over time as needs change. If you are serious about growing, engaging with you customers to better understand what they need your brand to be will save wasted marketing efforts and ultimately lead to a much greater of brand advocacy.

Written by Matt Collison, Co-founder and strategy director of Sublime.

Starting out as a freelance designer, Matt has been working with small businesses for 10 years to help them look as good on the outside as they are on the inside. Today he leads the brand strategy work of Sublime, leading small business owners and their teams through a process of discovering their true identity and positioning them for success.

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