Building a Brand … A How-to Guide for Small Business

 As marketing types, we confess to having a visual bias when it comes to an expression of creative branding. We tend to experience a brand primarily through our eyes, by watching how it draws us into its world. And when we’re working with clients on building a brand projects, one of our first steps is to create a book of selected pictures and graphics that create a feeling of the brand’s character.

Check out our thoughts on creative marketing.


Do you express feelings and emotion often with your customers? Are you aware of the ways you are can influence brand attention?  Well, remember this: the more feelings and emotion you express, the more attention to your brand. And the more influence it can create. Not rocket science is it? But without it, you will be losing attention to your brand.

Related post: Walmart E-commerce Strategy … 6 Reasons Why It Won’t Beat Amazon


As long as it’s positive, there is no such thing as too much brand attention. If you play your cards right, you can roll all of that great attention into growth for your company.


The front line of any brand in the marketplace is not the advertising, packaging, or product design. It is the interaction that the customer experiences that determines the brand’s reputation to a large degree. It is human and emotion, and at that critical time when a customer engages with one of your employees or someone in your channel or even one of your products, your brand will either be enhanced or diminished.


Let’s dig further into this important marketing topic.

building a brand
Building a brand.


Importance of branding

One of the truths of modern business is that there is almost nothing that your competitors can’t duplicate in a matter of weeks or months. If you have a great idea, you can be certain that somebody will copy it before long.


And not only will they follow your lead, but they may also be able to do a better job or sell the product or service at a lower price. The question then becomes, “What competitive edge do I have to offer that cannot be copied by anyone else?


The answer? Your business brand identity.


No branding, no long term differentiation. No differentiation, no long-term profitability. Brands can activate a passionate group of people to do something like embrace an important community issue. Products or services can’t do that.


Most brands sell products or services. GM sells cars. Amazon sells books. Real estate brokerages sell homes. Killer brands, however, satisfy the desire to get at the emotional heart of the matter.


Let’s review five killer brands and what they stand for. This is the best way to appreciate the importance of branding, emotion and most importantly, brand identity.

Check out these examples: My Favorite Brands and Why I Like Them So Much



JetBlue’s brand success centers on the achievable – the simple things – they knew would make a difference for their guests. This set the stage for direct TV and XM radio, the provision of first-class seats to everyone, more legroom, great snacks and high-end service at lower end pricing. No other airline others these value propositions. They are different, and their brand stands out because it represents those differences.


Simple. Attainable. Targeted. They deliver.



Ask anyone who works in marketing what Nike stands for, and you’re likely to hear the same three words: “authentic athletic performance.” Their goal is to be associated with customers that desire to be high performance, high notch athletes, achievers, and winners. Nike is the name of the winged Greek goddess of victory, and the logo represents the spirit of this goddess. It is wrapped in emotional appeal.



They don’t sell shoes. They deliver that extra dose of love we all need from time to time. There is no secret here. Zappos became Zappos because of the fanatical customer support it offered. That is the company’s brand. As Tony Hsieh, the Zappos CEO, puts it, back in 2003, we thought of ourselves as a shoe company that offered great service. Today, we think of the Zappos brand as about great service, and we just happen to sell shoes.


Ritz Carlton

Ritz Carlton’s desire is to create guests for life. The brand desires to represent stories of extraordinary service and random acts of kindness. Ritz Carlton focuses their attention on impeccable service standards to separate themselves from other hotels.  What Ritz-Carlton has done so well is operationalize it so that culture and brand are one. Much like what Zappos has done.



Simply put, the FedEx brand is synonymous with “reliability.” Define your benefit to customers in the most straightforward terms possible. If your promise is reliability, then you need to offer reliability in everything you do — from your products and services to your website and communications.  Peace of mind.  FedEx famously built its brand around a singular idea:  by coming through when something

“absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” 


So is this what killer branding is all about for companies?

We think so. Not just about business … make it personal for customers. A great way to stand out.


how to build a brand identity
How to build a brand identity.


How Creative Branding Helps Marketing


So what are some of the best ways different businesses use their creative branding to market their products and services? Let’s take a close look at some the best uses of branding forces:



There is no more powerful component of a brand’s force than its differentiation. JetBlue’s brand screams out how it is different. And better. Free Direct TV and XM satellite radio on board their aircraft. Leather seats. Unlimited snacks. Great legroom. Think of these discriminators, and you’ll think of the JetBlue brand.


Unique positioning

Businesses should always be looking to reinforce their unique positioning. Like Best Buy and its employee expertise in home electronics. They have continued to strengthen this unique positioning with their Geek Squad and Tweep Force.


Positive experience

The Starbuck’s experience. Certainly, defines a positive brand feeling for its target customers. Unique products. Unique store atmosphere. Experiences to stimulate all the senses … visual, hearing, aroma, taste, and touch.



Have you ever been in a Whole Foods store? Not your average presentation style of culinary products. Helping customer visualize the full store and product experience.  And taking grocery shopping to an interactive and collaborative new level. Unique and unforgettable. No wonder more top of the line grocery chains has been quickly following Whole Food’s lead.


 Positive image

Create positive mental images? Our opinion no one is better at this than Zappos, the on-line shoe and clothing retailer. Focused on delivering happiness and being the best in the business in customer service. Lots of use of surprising customers with random acts of kindness and special service.



A brand communicates every time it touches the customer … the moment of truth. It communicates with words, stories, emotions and its personality. Yes, it’s personality. Marketing needs to manage all of these communications, making marketing responsible for each ˜moment of truth”. We include everyone in the marketing realm. No one does more of this communication management or does it better than Google. They live and breathe their personality.



Customer immersion in the products and services. Disney World is certainly very good at customer immersion in its entertainment themes. Bass Pro Shop is very good at immersion in its products by setting up areas around its stores where customers can go and try their skills with these Bass Pro Shop products. A unique branding style.


 Giving back

As Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream brand puts it: “There is a spiritual aspect to our lives, when we give we receive. When a business does something good for somebody, that somebody feels good about them.” And that emotion reflects positively on the brand.



how to build a brand strategy
How to build a brand strategy.

Building a brand … making your brand stand out

Be useful or entertaining … or be ignored.


We focus on five areas to make a brand stand out … just 5. Think about these areas for your brand.


Distinctive voice

When we’re working with clients on a creative branding project, one of our first steps is to create a   book of selected pictures and graphics that create a feeling of the brand’s character.


The next step though is the expression of the brand through words. The message, we feel, is just as crucial and maybe more so.


Taco Bell isn’t a luxurious brand, and it doesn’t pretend to be. Instead, the brand’s voice is one of a trusted friend that will never fail to make you laugh. Just look at their sauce packets, which feature unique messages that have diners staring at their condiments for far longer than normal. Fun phrases such as, “Pick me!” and “Will you marry me?” manage to bring humor into the fast food experience, and their Twitter account carries that same fun-loving attitude — even when their customers complain.


The account doesn’t feign pretentiousness, and by having a genuine brand voice, Taco Bell adds a human side to their marketing.


When you tell your creative branding story, create a distinctive voice with unique images … dare to create different feelings and emotion with your communities.


Reflect Your Culture

The front line of any brand in the marketplace is not the advertising, packaging, or product design. It is the interaction that the customer experiences that determines the brand’s reputation. It is human and emotion, and at that critical time when a customer engages with one of your employees or someone in your channel, your brand (your product and reputation) will either be enhanced or diminished. Who does it the best? We would say Zappos.


Here a great example … of how Zappos uses the element of surprise so effectively.  Note this story is told by the customer:


When I came home this last time, I had an email from Zappos asking about the (returned) shoes, since they hadn’t received them. I was just back and not ready to deal with that, so I replied that my mom had died but that I’d send the shoes as soon as I could. They emailed back that they had arranged with UPS to pick up the shoes, so I wouldn’t have to take the time to do it myself. I was so touched. That’s not the company practice.


Yesterday, when I came home from town, a florist delivery man was just leaving. It was a beautiful arrangement in a basket with white lilies and roses and carnations. Big and lush and fragrant, I opened the card, and it was from Zappos. I burst into tears. I’m a sucker for kindness, and if that isn’t one of the nicest things I’ve ever had to happen to me, I don’t know what is.


Those kinds of examples are justified by almost any cost, and the cost hit Zappos takes by doing this is paid back multiple times over by the customer loyalty they generate from making people happy.


Customers crave a consistent brand experience

Much like the user-friendly and intuitive interface enjoyed on Apple devices, the clean Apple Store design makes the space easy for consumers to navigate and find what they need. From the employee enthusiasm that welcomes you into a store to innovations like geek chic gadgetry, the first of its kind Genius Bar for technical support, and even a cash register-less checkout—all of these factors work in unison to deliver an on-brand consumer experience.


The ultimate lesson:  Invest in quality internal communications and inspired brand training for your teams. Your employees are the advocates who keep the brand promises you make and deliver the consumer experience a brand needs to thrive. Take advantage of what your competition forgets. Repeat after me: “culture and brand go hand in hand.”

Customer personalization

Explore the use of customer personalization to create WOW from your customers to create a stronger market branding.


Have you ever used customer personalization to improve the experiences your customers receive from your business? If so, have you noticed its impact on your market branding? The process of personalization is amazingly powerful:


In a study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers tested the effects that mints had a control group (where no mints were given) to measure their effectiveness in increasing tips (think of tips as a measure of great customer experience).


The results were surprising, to say the least:


  • The first group studied had waiters giving mints along with the check, making no mention of the mints themselves. This increased tips by around 3% against the control group.


  • The second group had waiters bring out two mints by hand (separate from the check), and they mentioned them to the table (i.e., ‘Would anyone like some mints before they leave?’). This saw tips increase by about 14% against the control group.


  • The last group had waiters bring out the check first along with a few mints. A short time afterward, the waiters came back with another set of mints and let customers know they had brought out more mints, in case they wanted another.


That last group is where waiters saw a 21% increase in tips.  They still were bringing out only two mints.


The researchers found that it was the perceived personalization of bringing out the second set of mints and mentioning it to customers (Hey, I thought I might see if all of you are satisfied or if someone could use an extra mint.) that made the difference.


Our takeaway:

It wasn’t the mints; it was the personalized experience that they created. It made it clear to customers that the waiter was thinking of them.


Be sure to incorporate this into your offering: How can you follow up with customers in a personalized manner with free support, training, or reward for trying out your product or service?


Brand personality

A brand personality is set of human characteristics that are attributed to a brand name. A brand personality is something to which the consumer can relate, and an effective brand will increase its brand equity by having a consistent set of traits. This is the added value that a brand gains, aside from its functional benefits.

The truth is many companies fail to recognize the importance of creating brand experiences through brand personality. They bog down their online persona with boring corporate speak and industry jargon. Or, they blow it by not keeping the experience consistent, ultimately confusing customers or making them feel as if something is amiss with the company.


Branding with visuals

Like creating music, creating a visual brand is subjective, highly dependent on personal aesthetics and goals. Just as I am not a music producer, but I know good music when I hear it. I am not a visual artist, but I know good design when I see it.

As a long-time professional corporate marketer, unfortunately, I know all-too-well the importance of a well-executed, consistent visual brand. I was spoiled. In the past, I worked with agencies and their “creatives” on logos, colors and overall visual branding. We focused our visual branding on the tagline and visual logo which would represent the product in the box and printed marketing materials and giveaway product-related merchandise such as T-shirts, pens, and golf balls.

For any business, a brand is much more than just visuals. The visual elements are so important in marketing. Why?

  • Human beings are highly visual, and neuroscience tells us an image is more quickly recognizable than text.
  • Now more than ever, in this age of social media, visual content is king.It’s a critical element of any brand’s online presence.
  • An image expresses much about your genre and what you want to convey.


Building a branding strategy

Stop interrupting what people are interested in, and be what people are interested in.


Your marketing plan must include a branding strategy. This is how you’ll apply your brand strategically throughout marketing over time. At its core, a good branding strategy lists the one or two most important elements of your product or service, describes your company’s ultimate purpose in the world and defines your target customer. The result is a blueprint for what’s most important to your customer.


Don’t worry. Creating a branding strategy isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds. It builds on what we have described so far. Here’s how:


Know your target customer

As in every marketing process, you must be in the know about your target customer. You’ve probably already gathered demographic information about the market you’re entering, but think about the actual customers who will walk through your door. Who is this person, and what is the one thing he or she ultimately wants from your product or service? After all, the customer is buying it for a reason. What will your customer need from you?


What will you stand for?

How will you show customers every day what you’re all about? A lot of small companies write mission statements that say the company will “value” customers and strive for “excellent customer service.” Unfortunately, these words are all talk and no action. Dig deeper and think about how you’ll fulfill your brand’s promise and provide value and service to the people you serve.

If you promise quick service, for example, what will “quick” mean inside your company? And how will you make sure service stays speedy? Along the way, you’re laying the foundation of your hiring strategy and how future employees will be expected to interact with customers.


Differentiate and position your brand

Before embarking on brand building, you have to take the time to differentiate it so that you can attract attention and stand out from competitors.  To differentiate your brand, you have to create a unique advantage in the mind of consumers not merely getting attention by brand building colors or logos or other superficial elements.


Think about the intangible qualities of your product or service, using adjectives from “friendly” to “fast” and every word in between. Your goal is to own a position in the customer’s mind, so they think of you differently from the competition. Which word will your company own?


Once you come up with a unique value proposition, you should use a good branding strategy to position your brand in a way that will help consumers see and appreciate the greater value of your brand over competing ones in the market.


A new hair salon might focus on the adjective “convenient” and stay open a few hours later in the evening for customers who work late — something no other local salons might do. How will you be different from the competition? The answers are valuable assets that constitute the basis of your brand.


Personalize your brand

If you want your brand building campaign or brand to be successful, then you have to personalize it. Let consumers see and experience the personality of your brand in its entirety. Look at your brand as something that a consumer wants to identify with pretty much as they would with their favorite cars, cell phones, or computers.


As you engage in brand building, you should also invite customers to be co-creators of brand values so that they can feel that they also own it and relate to it. When you personalize your brand, you give consumers a reason to participate and engage with your brand for a lifetime.

Be consistent

Now that you have decided your key brand attributes make sure it is clear and understood through all your communications — especially inside your company. Don’t talk about things that don’t relate to or enhance your brand.


Connect Emotionally

Customers can either think rationally about your product or service, or they can think emotionally about it. How else do you explain the person who paid thousands of dollars more for a Harley rather than buying another cheaper, equally well-made bike?


There was an emotional voice in there somewhere, whispering “Buy a Harley…open road…tough.” It’s the way the brand makes you feel. You feel like you belong like you’re part of a larger group that’s more tight-knit than just a bunch of motorcycle riders. Where do you think HOG came from? Harley Owners Group.


Reward and cultivate

If you already have people that love you, your company, and your brand, don’t just sit there! Reward them for that love. These customers have gone out their way to write about you, to tell their friends about you, and to act as your brand ambassadors.


Be flexible

In this fast-changing world, marketers must remain flexible to stay relevant. On the plus side, this frees you to be creative with your campaigns. Old Spice generated quite the buzz over the last few years because it took its old brand and made it relatable to a new generation.


So if your old tactics aren’t working anymore, don’t be afraid to change them just because it worked in the past. Take the opportunity to engage your followers in fresh, new ways. Are there some out-of-the-box partnerships your brand can make?

Related post: Brand Management … 12 Ways to Humanize the Brand to Build Trust


Review your brand

Your brand is not static; it will go through a range of motions in its lifetime. Depending on your brand strategies, your brand will either grow in strength, or remain dormant, or recede with time. In the brand cycle, new events, changes, and circumstances bring challenges and opportunities to enhance the value of your brand or re-establish it.


Regular reviews will help you seize and exploit new opportunities while upholding your commitment to remain true to your vision and brand strategy. It will also help you steer your brand in the right direction and keep it relevant as you move into the future.


Key takeaways

So you see it’s not about what you think that makes the brand. It is what consumers think and feel about you. And people will form opinions about your business whether you want them to or not. So it is critical to take explicit branding actions to influence these opinions. It is an essential component of your marketing foundation.




Need some help in capturing more customers from your branding design strategies? Such as creative branding ideas to help the differentiation with potential customers?


Call today for a FREE consultation or a FREE quote. Learn about some options to scope your job.

Call Mike at 607-725-8240.


All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that fight gets better every day you learn and apply new ideas.


When things are not what you want them to be, what’s most important is your next step. Call today.


Test. Learn. Improve. Repeat.


Are you devoting enough energy to improving your continuous learning for yourself and your team?


Do you have a lesson about making your brand marketing better you can share with this community? Have any questions or comments to add in the section below?


Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+Twitter, and LinkedIn.  


Digital Spark Marketing will stretch your thinking and your ability to adapt to change.  We also provide some fun and inspiration along the way. Call us for a free quote today. You will be amazed how reasonable we will be.



More reading on brands and branding from Digital Spark Marketing’s Library:

New York Yankees … 11 Awesome Lessons From Yankees Brand

The CVS Rebranding Strategy: a Case Study

Building a Brand … A How-to Guide for Small Business

6 Favorite Brands and Why I Like Them So Much


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Building a Brand … A How-to Guide for Small Business