Life used to be simpler. Growing up, the only brands most of us were aware of were the ones managed by huge corporations: Coca-Cola, Mattel, Mercedes Benz. And, if an entrepreneur sought to start a business, he or she would focus on numbers only — cash flow, revenue, expenses, profit, advertising costs (print, radio, and television). Branding never entered the small business person’s mind.

Everything has changed.

Today’s internet and social media driven world mandate that every company, large or small, focus on its brand. That may sound daunting, but the ability to leverage your brand to increase your sales, enhance your credibility, build a loyal following — all tools that enhance your bottom line — far surpass the “trouble” that comes from building a brand. While it was certainly easier in the old days to draw upon time-honored business plans and sales approaches, today’s focus on branding presents far greater opportunity for you to share what your company represents while engaging with thousands of strangers online.

Before you can build your brand, you first have to know what “branding” is not. Your brand is not your colors or logo (those represent your brand). Your brand isn’t what you say you are either. (You might say you’re “customer-focused” or some other warm and fuzzy marketing message, but such taglines are so overused that they don’t mean anything anymore — even if you’re friendly and try really hard to meet your customers’ needs.)

What, then, is your brand?

Your brand is your values and how you act on those values at every point of contact, with employees and with customers. That’s what most people don’t get about branding. What you say doesn’t really matter. It’s all about what you do.

If you’re “customer-focused” the way you convey that is by building positive relationships with customers, seeking their input, tailoring products and services to their needs, and so on. Your business practices should reflect your stated value that your relationship with customers matters to you. Don’t worry so much about saying the right thing. Do the right thing. Branding is all about how you make people feel.

Who intuits the emotional aspect of branding better than most? Consider Elon Musk, a man who has plenty of customers and even more followers. His Tesla vehicles and Space X rockets are far beyond the financial means of most people. Still, he’s built a brand millions admire.

Musk has successfully branded himself as a maverick and a genius entrepreneur who’s out to save the world by inventing brilliant, environmentally-friendly products. What his customers and followers admire about him are his ideology and creativity: He’s out to combat global warming and manages to do so with some very cool vehicles. Good stuff. Musk also takes personal responsibility for his brand, and that authenticity and transparency has been richly rewarded. In 2013, when the company was hit with a wave of bad publicity after several Tesla automobiles caught on fire, Musk personally authored a blog post that made a strong defense of Tesla’s product and consequently of his own brand identity. Consumers rewarded Musk for his honesty and sincerity by making the company’s Model S the world’s bestselling plug-in electric car in 2015 and 2016.

Of course, the challenge for Musk is now delivering on the incredible expectations that are part of Tesla and his other brands. He’s having some trouble with this lately, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Here are our suggestions for building a brand plan that reflects your values:

  1. Start with a vision — ideas about what your brand should represent or symbolize. This will include your mission, your specific plan-of-attack that will launch your brand.
  2. State your goals, what you want your brand to achieve, followed by strategies (your roadmap) to get there. A successful brand plan must identify the demographic it needs to target to support the brand.
  3. Lastly, devise strategies for promotion that get your targeted consumers to take action. To get consumers to buy your product, your brand must have a main message, which explains why your company and its products can do things that others cannot.

The bottom line is this: The more time, effort and resources you spend on your brand plan, the more likely you are to create a sustainable positive brand that resonates with your customer base, grows your influence, and impacts your bottom line. Get started today. We’re here to help.