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Branding Is for Those Other Folks

The word brand and its counterparts, the mind-boggling (and snooty-sounding) array of words like brand architecture, brand extension, vertical branding, diagonal branding (okay, I made that last one up) are enough to make you not want to bother.

This leads small business people to think branding is only for the Martha Stewarts and Budweisers of the world. But as overused as the word brand is, it’s the only word we have to describe the totality of what a company represents to the outside world.

The benefit of the word brand is that it’s a shorthand for this totality — the verbal, visual, and textual aspects of what makes your business unique — what you communicate, the style or voice you do it in and the frequency. It also includes why you exist, who you serve, what you value, and what benefits you offer.

In light of this, you can see why every business has a brand. It doesn’t matter if you’re a store front, an artist, a therapist or a clown for rent.

No matter how small your business, and no matter how ill-conceived, executed or communicated your brand is, it’s still a brand. That’s why branding isn’t just for those other folks with multiple products that need extending and architecting.

Brands are not logos or colors or fonts. This is important, because you don’t have to be a designer to tend to that totality. Yes, your visual identity should look great and be easy to use. But you can work on the other stuff yourself — honing your purpose, clarifying the unique benefits you offer and knowing who specifically you’re trying to reach. An expert can help, but you know more than you think. It’s easy to avoid digging into this. It often requires bravery and honesty. But it’s worth it.

Many businesses underestimate what people need to see, hear and feel in order to buy what they’re selling. We, the buying public, are often confused, finicky or just lazy. We need help knowing who to steer ourselves to. Businesses often confuse their commodity (the thing—a product or service) with what they really sell (the benefit one receives when they get the thing).

These days, it’s hard to shout your message from the rooftops when so many are shouting the same message in the same way. I spent an afternoon perusing about 20 naturopathic clinics’ websites in Portland. They all said roughly the same thing to the same potential customer.

If any of this sounds like you, give yourself the gift of a little time every week to explore some of this. You’ll be surprised what emerges. It might raise questions. It might make you feel validated. It might make you shriek in horror. It will be good information no matter what.


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