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Building your small business brand

Matt Morgan • Mar 28, 2013 at 3:14 PM

While names like Kleenex and Band-Aid are synonymous with tissues and torture devices respectively, how can you help your own brand of good or service approach that kind of recognition? Unfortunately it is rare to find that new thing under the sun, so many times we must rethink ways to use what already exists in order to effectively make our own mark on the market.

What you sell is important, yes, but beyond that you should focus on HOW you sell it. Coke is another synonymous name to a product, but there are many other makers of sugar water. If I mention Jones Soda does its method of branding come to mind to you as an alternate supplier of carbonated refreshments? Or what about Soda Stream? Taking a step aside from retail, there are more than one provider of (for example) State Farm Insurance. So what makes your agent's office and brand stand out that they earned your business? Perhaps you even went around a national brand provider and go through an independent agent. If so, why?

In a more "local" setting like the Firelands area, we are fortunate that we have many people who have big city desires in a more quaint environment. So there is more openness to new ideas than perhaps elsewhere. Don't be afraid to cater to those expectations even if sharing your local methods seems daunting on a broader scale! The 1992 comedy Wayne's World is a very good example of this as the movie is about two small town public-access cable show hosts (for the latest generation of readers that is what existed before YouTube) who have to get used to a new, broader market once they are discovered by a major sponsor:

Benjamin: Wayne! Listen, we need to have a talk about Vanderhoff. The fact is he's the sponsor and you signed a contract guaranteeing him certain concessions, one of them being a spot on the show.
Wayne Campbell: [holding a Pizza Hut box] Well that's where I see things just a little differently. Contract or no, I will not bow to any sponsor.
Benjamin: I'm sorry you feel that way, but basically it's the nature of the beast.
Wayne Campbell: [holding a bag of Doritos] Maybe I'm wrong on this one, but for me, the beast doesn't include selling out. Garth, you know what I'm talking about, right?
Garth Algar: [wearing Reebok wardrobe] It's like people only do these things because they can get paid. And that's just really sad.
Wayne Campbell: I can't talk about it anymore; it's giving me a headache.
Garth Algar: Here, take two of these!

[Dumps two Nuprin pills into Wayne's hand]
Wayne Campbell: Ah, Nuprin. Little. Yellow. Different.
Benjamin: Look, you can stay here in the big leagues and play by the rules, or you can go back to the farm club in Aurora. It's your choice.
Wayne Campbell: [holding a can of Pepsi] Yes, and it's the choice of a new generation.

Wayne and Garth were used to their idea that worked well in little Aurora, Illinois. But they weren't used to considering what they did as their "brand" was natural to them. You'll hopefully have to make such a consideration at some point and more than that actually market and rely on that to help you carry your business. It may seem like selling out as you are taking a natural thing to you and sharing it with others who may see it as just a marketing gimmick. But, it is necessary to make your niche. Become the identity and stick with it to define your product. It worked for these two, they got a successful sequel!

Here's a few suggestions for ways to stand out and help your brand:

1. Displays. Arrange your goods in an interesting fashion almost using them as decoration/wallpaper for your store. In most circumstances you should be able to freely decide how to do this. Some vendors may require you to display their products a certain way. There may still be a way for you to promote your Huron Horseradishes or Norwalk Nectarines creatively though. Put like-items beside it. Offer wasabi next to the horseradish or a juicer next to the nectarines. Recipes, how-to tips, seeds, or cultural notes all complement the display and engage your customer. Personally, I'd love some peanut butter and raisins next to my Sandusky Celery.

2. Presentation. Mostly of yourself if you are a small business, but in a world where everyone wears a suit to conduct finance what can you do to be a bit different and memorable? Lapel pins are one way, yes, and a tie can be a little flashy. There are now a great many wristbands you can wear, too. But what else can you do to make yourself memorably presentable without looking like Matthew Lesko (another good example of a brand, if you know what I'm talking about).

Try this with your otherwise normal suit.

Support an area business and look dapper with a hat from here.

I may be a bit biased, but neither men nor women can go wrong with a great set of suspenders. Uncommon themselves, they allow for a lot more ability to sport some "flare" even if you don't work at a restaurant.

3. Inclusion. This could reference community participation and outreach in social media, yes, but this would be something like what one of my vendors does. With every order they include a baggy with five or six Tootsie Rolls and a note that helps me remember them and includes a piece of sales information. Perhaps a reward program or other small "gimme" can be sent along with what you do?

This site makes great items themselves but their inclusion, called a Fuzzy, is both simple and highly memorable. When checking out if you type in "love fuzzy" in the note line they will send one to you. What is a fuzzy? A small fuzzy scrap of cloth with two googly eyes glued to it. Doing something like this won't break your bank and make your brand more widespread and memorable.

Those are only a handful of examples and there are many more that probably come to mind if you scratch your chin on it for a minute. If considering starting a business or already a part of one, make sure you take this important step to help ensure success and a broader reach beyond the culture of your area. Find your path, your brand, and run with it no matter how you wish to implement it!


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