The term “brand” has become greatly overused in today’s business lexicon. Like anything that is overused, its true meaning has become clouded, which leads to a loss of understanding of what a “brand” or effective “branding” really is.

First, think of a cultural reference for the term “brand.” Remember the old cowboy movies from the 50’s and 60’s, where all the cattle were branded to show which ranch they belonged to? Well, business branding today doesn’t involve a hot branding iron on searing cowhide, but the principle is the same. If someone comes upon your business or practice name or promotional material, you want them to instantly see what it is that identifies who you are, just like the cows could be identified in the old Westerns.

Why Brand Your Service Business?

Branding is part of your marketing. Many small service business owners think branding belongs in the realm of the international corporations like Apple, Coca-Cola, and McDonalds. But that idea is a huge mistake. If you wouldn’t dream of not marketing your business, you shouldn’t dream of not branding it either.

Here’s the thought pattern: you must market your business or practice if you want to succeed. Successful marketing must communicate your message, and your brand solidifies and instantly identifies your message. (Think: easily identifiable mark on a big cow!) If you are spending money and energy on marketing, but you are not marketing a message, you are wasting both money and energy. Further, if you are marketing without any concept of branding your business, your marketing is going to be far less effective and probably frustrating. Most small service businesses and professional practices do no branding at all, so if you commit to doing it, you will be way ahead of the competition.

So put aside any notion that you don’t need branding just because you’re not Apple or Coca-Cola.

What Is a Brand?

Quite simply, your brand is what you stand for. It reflects the reason you get up in the morning and go to work to do whatever it is that you do. For potential customers, clients or patients to connect and identify with your business, what you stand for must be clearly evident and imprinted on people’s minds. Branding is used to differentiate you from all the others.

To develop your brand, here are some helpful questions:

–    How do you see yourself in the world?

–    Why do you do what you do?

–    How do you do what you do?

–    What is distinctive about you and your service?

Let’s look more deeply. Imagine you’re in the insurance business. An example of unsuccessful branding would be something like “Helping you not suffer catastrophic loss for over 25 years.” Weak, right? So turning it around and looking at the “why” of the insurance business results in something like this: “Insuring Peace of Mind for Decades.”

It is crucial in branding to focus on the one receiving the information, not the one (you) giving it.

This principle of branding reminds you that the whole purpose is to convey to the potential customer or client how your business can benefit them. That means that touting your awards or honors, which are important to you, is not the best way to reach the public. If you think to brand yourself “Top Sales Agent 10 Years In a Row” will be effective, think again. What are you conveying? What matters to you is being a top sales agent, but that will fall on deaf ears to the public.  They don’t care. That type of communication shows no concern for the client’s needs.

One of the most overlooked aspects of a brand is that it helps people make a choice. Consider this: if a family is considering choices of medical practices, and one brands oneself “Having The Most Patients of Any Local Practice” and the other brands itself as “Bringing Healing and Health To Our Community,” which one do you think they will choose – the one touting volume, or the one touting healing and health?

How Can I Determine What’s Distinctive About Me or My Business?

This is a question that is often asked. Most small business people are so busy they don’t take the time to reflect or think about what makes them special. Even if you do take a shot at it yourself, you may rely too much on your own perception.

So how do you find out? The best way is to talk to others! Ask current clients or customers, especially those who have given you repeated business. Find out how they see you and why they keep coming back. If you’re employed, ask your employer what it was about you that caused them to hire you over all the other applicants. Get outside perspective. Sure, your final decision about your brand must be consistent with how you see yourself, but in talking to others, you will undoubtedly discover some unique qualities about yourself that others see in you.

Find your uniqueness. It won’t come to you overnight, but by a deliberate process, you will develop your brand message, and you will reap the benefits.

Go now and develop your brand.