By Seb Robert

Some small businesses feel that having a brand isn’t necessary to successfully marketing their products or services. Others think it’s something only large companies need, while even more believe that time spent on branding would be better invested in other aspects of the business. Yet, establishing a strong brand is perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of any business — large or small.

As a small business, you must give your customers a compelling reason to choose to work with you above other companies. Having an effective brand strategy is the foundation for developing loyalty, customer retention, and competitive advantage for your business. Failure to put any effort into defining your business’ brand is likely to impede on its very success, instead driving customers to businesses with a more established brand that they can already relate to.

So, to help you get ahead and prevent that from happening, here are five simple steps to use as a guideline when defining your small business brand.

1. Analyze Your Existing Customer Data

Before you get started, it’s best you have a look at what you already know about your existing customers. You need to identify who your current customers are — what do you know about their characteristics, behavior, and background? Use existing customer information and sales trends, survey/feedback data, or customer database information to help you better understand their interests and how you can best appeal to them.

Likewise, it’s worth profiling your customers based on things like their gender, age, where they live, the industries they work in and what they spend money on. From this, you can start to get an idea of how your products and services may best meet their needs. The more detailed the understanding you have of your existing customers, the better this is for your business. Existing customer data is especially valuable as they have already shown that they are willing to buy your products or services, making them the ideal target group to learn from.

2. Establish Your Target Audience

Knowing your target audience is an essential part of building a brand. Your small business can’t do everything. Likewise, it can’t serve everyone. The questions, “Who do you serve?” and “Where can they be found?” need to be answered clearly before you can execute any branding tactic effectively. It makes no sense to invest a lot of time, money and effort into developing your brand without fully understanding your target audience or ascertaining what will resonate with them.

Once you have identified the target audience for your brand, you’re in a better position to understand their needs, wants and values, making it easier to satisfy them with a robust and unique selling proposition.

3. Develop Your Brand Mission and Story

If you want to grab your customers’ attention, then you should be able to tell a meaningful story behind your brand’s creation. People will listen if they’re interested, and your audience is much more likely to engage with your brand if you’ve got a good story behind your business adventure, purpose and why it exists in the first place.

Once you’ve researched and defined more about your key audiences, you’re in a much better position to tailor your brand messaging and ensure that your story will be relevant for each group. Use your market-defining story to bring out whatever it is that makes your business special for your target customer. This story should be one that your employees and your customers can get behind, believe in and admire.

When you have developed a brand story, you are in a much better position to create your mission statement. A mission statement helps to tell customers a bit more about your company’s values, what it stands for and what it is working towards achieving. When writing your mission statement, always fine tune it to make sure that it’s aligned with your brand promise, brand story, and your overall brand strategy.

4. Align Brand Imagery with Brand Identity

It’s critical to ensure that your company’s brand image — how your customers perceive you — is aligned with your brand identity — how you want to be perceived. A mismatch between brand identity and brand image means a company is out of touch with the market sentiment, which can make offering services or products more challenging or even result in a company’s loss of value.

If people are regularly misinterpreting what you do, or you often find yourself talking to the wrong people (those that don’t make purchasing decisions about your services), then it’s time to re-evaluate your brand image and brand identity. Narrow the gap between these two elements so that the brand that you are promoting and how customers interpret it are as closely aligned as possible.

5. Ensure Consistency Across Platforms

Finally, ensure that every communication you send out in regards to your company is consistent and in line with the brand you have created. Integrate your brand into every aspect of customer experience, whether it’s your storefront, website or your personal interactions.

If your business has a presence on various online platforms, it’s important that you have a consistent brand voice across all of those channels. One of the most important parts of establishing a strong brand is engaging your customers with the same tone across all of these platforms.

Branding might initially seem like a daunting task, however the long-term value of having a solid brand for your small business is undeniable. The sooner you have a defined brand in place, the earlier your business can start building on this brand and benefitting from it. Use these steps as a springboard for building out an effective brand and your company will be in a much stronger position.