Please enjoy this guest post from our friend, Marc Stoiber!

Small business branding can feel like drinking from a firehose. There are simply too many tools to create and express your brand. It’s bewildering, and nearly impossible to separate the essential from the optional

In my experience as a brand consultant, small business owners try to do too much. Their brand ends up diluted (How many social channels do you really need? Are logo’d hats and shirts necessary?) and their wallet ends up considerably lighter. 

What’s worse, they walk away from the experience discouraged. So their brand doesn’t get better.

Here’s how to avoid that scenario.

(A brand audit helps you separate the essential from the optional. This story digs into what’s involved in conducting an effective audit.)

Your Small Business Brand Needs Five Things

What are the essentials of a small business brand? Logo? Tagline? Nope – much simpler than that.

  • A name – Your name doesn’t need to be ‘creative’ to work well. What it needs to do is capture your unique selling proposition, or in simple english, what you do better than anybody else. (Read below to get started.)
  • A name modifier – If your name is ‘blind’ or non-descriptive, you can modify it with a few words that describe what you do best. Think Boeing 747 (blind name) Jumbo Jet (modifier). A modifier lets people know if your product is right for them, immediately. 
  • A key visual – A key visual shows what you do best. It’s not a logo, or even a huge creative leap. Think of the Krazy Glue man, hanging from a girder he glued his hard hat to. Think of the Ginsu Knife guy, cutting a tin can with the blade. When you demonstrate your product, where do people’s eyes light up? That’s your key visual. 
  • Your story – Your consumer needs to be able to relate to you. Chances are, you invented your business because you felt a pain point just like your consumer is feeling. Tell the story of your pain, and how you built the business to solve it. 
  • Your customer experience – Arguably the most important element of a great brand. Anyone can talk – but can you deliver an experience (from first hello to after-sales service) that reinforces your unique selling proposition?  

Your Eyes and Ears are the Best Marketing Tool

Today, it’s far too easy to flip on the computer for answers. But all you get is rehashed information, not inspiration that works specifically for your brand. 

You can be far more productive if you turn off the computer, and ask people who love your business a few questions.

  • What’s bugging them, that a business like yours can fix? 
  • What have they used to fix the problem so far? Why hasn’t it worked? 
  • If they could design something to solve their problem, what would that be? 
  • What would be unique about their solution? 
  • What would they call it? 
  • What would it cost? 
  • How would they tell people about it? 
  • Is there a brilliant solution that they’d copy? 

What most small business owners don’t recognize is that this interview research doesn’t slow down the branding process – it accelerates it – because your customers tell you what they want. They may even give you ideas that add sparkle and uniqueness to your offering. And most of the time, they’re keen to help. 

Now go back to your desk and start writing down insights you heard. 

Your Name

I’m not going to go through the five essentials in this story. Reach out to me, and we can discuss them in-depth. 

I am, however, going to get you off to a good start. Let’s brainstorm some ideas for your name. 

Start by asking yourself these questions: 

  • What do I really do? 
  • How do I want my small business to be perceived?
  • By whom

What do I really do?

Say you’re a plumber. If you don’t want to blend in with all the other plumbers, you need to choose a niche you’d really like to focus on. Yes, you can still do all the other stuff, but if you had your way, the only thing you’d do is luxury condo plumbing. Or aircraft hangar plumbing. Or hotel plumbing. 

How do I want my small business to be perceived?  

Saying you’re the hotel plumber isn’t enough. What kind of hotel plumber do you want to be? The fastest? The most thorough? The most reliable? 

By whom? 

If you’re the most reliable hotel plumber, that’s terrific. But who needs to know? The hotel developer? The concierge who gets complaint calls at night? Two very different audiences. 

Now put them all together, and start bashing out mediocre names

I really want to be the most reliable plumber for hotels. I want to be on the speed dial of every concierge who has an irate guest with a backed-up sink. Hmmmm, what sort of average, ho-hum names come to mind?

  • Happy guest plumbing? 
  • Flo-tel plumbing?
  • Concierge plumbing? 
  • Resort plumbing? 
  • Happy hotel plumbing? 

Underwhelming, right? But a good start. 

Now, let’s get a little lateral in our thinking. Google Resort Plumbing. I just did. On page 4, I saw a company named Wentworth Plumbing. Which leads me to Stayworth Hotel Plumbing. Or Stay More Hotel Plumbing. Or Repeat Guest Hotel Plumbing. Or Premium Stay Hotel Plumbing. The list goes on. 

Now, before you rush out and pay a lawyer for the name change, ask 10 concierges what they’d call your business. Show them your names. Ask them for more. You’ll find your list of viable names grows quickly. 

Stay on Track with a Brand Audit

Alright, you now have a few ideas for your name. No modifier, key visual, story or customer experience. And, chances are, quite a few brand odds and ends – social channels, promotional ideas, a website, shopping bags and hats, etc. 

If you’d like to sort out the essential from the optional, I’d recommend a brand audit. Not an in-depth exercise, but a quick snapshot of what you have, and what you should have. 

It will help you fast track to your brand essentials. More important, it will get you excited about the prospect of building a brand. 

Marc Stoiber is a creative director and brand strategy consultant who loves working with entrepreneurs. He’s helped build brands like Mr. Clean, Budweiser and McDonalds, but prefers the frenetic world of startups. Marc has worked at five global ad agencies, has led the creative departments at two of those agencies, run his own startup agency, and today consults full time. He’s always happy to chat with entrepreneurs about their business. You can reach him at marc@marcstoiber.com