If you're not defining how your customers feel about your small business, who is?

Mention "branding" and successful marketing campaigns from the world of Big Business things like Nike's ubiquitous Swoosh symbol or Coca Cola's catchy "Have a Coke and a smile" slogan almost immediately spring to mind. And though few small businesses will ever find the need for a jingle that gets customers to "sing in perfect harmony," more and more of them are finding out just how critical branding can be to their survival and to their bottom line. But without extensive expertise, many small business owners embrace the concept of brand building only to find themselves confused about how to actually go about it.



In his book, Emotional Intelligence: How Successful Brands Gains the Irrational Edge, Daryl Travis argues that many businesses mistakenly focus their energy on the tools of branding, rather than on the more essential branding task of understanding their customer's feelings and purchasing experiences. Companies that tap into these feelings have an edge over competitors who simply appeal to a customer's pocketbook, he believes, because "we develop an emotional response to the brands in our lives that is deeper than our rational minds can fathom."

At the small business level, this emotional connection is usually tied directly to the small business owner. "Small business branding is not a good logo, a rhyming name, or special font," agrees Yaro Stark, an Australian entrepreneur who also runs the blog smallbusinessbranding.com. "It's the wayrelationships are built and maintained, the way a person does business and treats other people."

David Waxman, co-founder of Spot Runner, a southern California based TV advertising firm that caters primarily to small businesses, says that once you've identified these feelings and experiences, it's imperative to start actively conveying them to your customers through marketing and advertising. As an example, Waxman points to one of Spot Runner's clients, the threeman law firm of Lapidus & Lapidus. "This small firm competes against a lot of larger, well established law firms in Beverly Hills," he says. Consequently, the company wanted to instill concepts like trust, authority, and permanence as part of their brand. By choosing to develop a more traditional, serious television ad, Waxman explains that Lapidus & Lapidus furthered their branding goals because, "TV lends an enormous air of credibility to a small company, and it allowed them to look bigger than they are."

Indeed, recognizing how different advertising media work is critical to making a branding campaign effective. "TV, magazines, and radio what we call ‘push' media are typically about discovery; they're where companies introduce customers to something new," notes Waxman. "In ‘pull' media, like the Internet and the Yellow Pages, customers often already know what products or services they want and are turning to these media to compare prices." A well balanced brand campaign, then, might feature a dramatic photo of a product in a magazine ad complemented by a detailed list of that same product's technical specifications on the company website.

In the end, branding comes down to making and fulfilling a promise to your customers. And though it might seem like a daunting task to do this on your own, Waxman says small business owners actually have one major advantage over the Cokes and Nikes of the world. "Big businesses use big ad agencies to do their marketing, but those people don't have their feet on the ground, they don't see who the customers are, where they come from, and why," he notes. "But small, local business owners interact with their customers every day." And armed with all that invaluable market insight, small business owners should take heart when it comes to branding and "just do it."