• When I’m talking to small business owners about marketing and branding, I try to re-frame the whole concept of “marketing” as simply “communicating.”  That’s because many bright, enthusiastic entrepreneurs often suffer from what I call “expert syndrome”- they know their business so well, they forget that others don’t. Let me give you an example from a recent meeting:


  • “Ken” is a whip-smart entrepreneur with a great product. He’s done a lot of the hard work already, hammered out a business plan, built supplier relationships, and is in the midst of some meaningful market research. Even better is his actual product- it is not yet widespread in his intended market, and it has several major points of customer value- it can improve your  health,  decrease your carbon footprint, help you save money, and it even has hipster appeal! Impressed, I ask to see his marketing materials. A well functioning website, a start on social media, presentable business cards. Sufficient for a small business in its early launch stage, right? Except, not.


  • A great start, I tell him.  But there is so much more you need to do- how about a tagline that summarizes all those fantastic ways your customer is going to benefit from your product? How about content that connects your product to their lifestyle? 


  • And then there’s his branding– the business name, logo, colour palette etc. I explain that nothing I see conveys one iota of the excitement in Ken’s voice when he talks about all the reasons he knows his product has value (Sustainability! Healthy lifestyle! Economical yet stylish!).  I confirm that Ken has paid an online graphic designer who has come up with an inoffensive but meaningless logo (that has no relation to the product or the values of the business). And now Ken has dutifully put the logo on his website landing page. And on his business card.  That’s it. No other message. Just the product shots on the site.


  • I rave on about the possibilities here- his product has so many  compelling aspects his target market would be attracted to! These need to be front and centre- communicated in every image,  every phrase and every font choice.  And what about his own story? The reason he came up with the idea in the first place-  pure marketing gold!  His story is authentic, relatable, appealing and interesting. Tell your customers!  I urge. Share your passion!


  • Ken is looking at  me sideways now. He doesn’t get it. I spell it out for him. “All that great stuff you told me about your product- the benefits- you need to COMMUNICATE that to your potential customers.”


  • Ken responds, “But isn’t it obvious?”


  • Ken is by no means alone. I see this time and again- people who are so immersed in their business that they forget that their customers are not.  It’s not only critical to reach potential customers though promotional channels, but to grab and hold their attention with meaningful branding that communicates why this product or service is such a perfect fit for them. The challenge is to figure out how to get this across.


  • And if you’re a small business owner, there likely isn’t an entire marketing department at your disposal who can solve it all for you. Budgets are limited. Time even more so. If all you can do is hire a graphic designer- get more  meaningful results by  first asking yourself these 3 crucial questions:


1) What does my target market need to know about my business/ product/ service?


  • Does it make their business more efficient? Does it reduce stress? Will it bring pleasure or delight? Somewhere in your brand, the essential value of your offering needs to come across. You can spread this communication task across all your brand contact points- your business name, your logo, your colours and tagline. Each component of your visual brand can carry part of the message.


2) How is my business different than my competitors?


  • What are your “points of difference?”  Is it that can they trust you?  Or will they be supporting a company that in turn supports their community? Do you specialize in a certain area that your competitors pass over? With the right word or image  you can make your brand stand out.
  • You can also tell your story to differentiate your business from the rest. Authentic storytelling that reveals the passion behind the product can help your customers connect with your brand.


3) What do you have in common with your customers?


  • Are you earthy nature lovers? Or chic, discerning connoisseurs? Maybe you and your customers are all about fun and whimsy. This common style language is key – it may be the first thing that gets your target market to turn around and notice you, before they even know what it is you are offering. If you can express that common ground in your brand essence, your target market will easily recognize that you have something that truly relates to them.


Remember: Close the Gap!


  • Think through these three questions and you will be on your way to creating a brand identity that is unique and effective. Remember- the reason that your business is awesome may be obvious to YOU- but you’ve got to COMMUNICATE this to your potential customers, or risk being overlooked.


  • Still stumped? Maybe I can help! I love creating authentic and engaging brand concepts for small businesses with heart. Find me on Facebook and we can chat, or send me an email at erica@ericajane.ca