Over the years I’ve come across countless start-up micro businesses who are obsessed with getting their brandingversusmarketing“branding” right.

They’ll spend money on getting nice logos, business cards and letterhead done thinking that constitutes their brand.

Yes, a professional look is important but your logo is not your brand.

Let’s get real. Nobody is going to buy your stuff on the basis of your logo or business card design. People buy because they feel you can solve a problem for them. They want an outcome.

So what is branding and when is it useful? And how does branding differ from marketing – because they’re completely different things.

Your brand is who you are. It is built on your reputation. What you stand for. How you serve. What outcomes your clients consistently get. How you respond when things go wrong.

Like trust, it takes time (often years or even decades) to build up, but like trust can be trashed in an instant.

Your brand is defined by your values, what your clients associate you with.

You make a promise to your customers with everything you do. And to be successful, you must deliver on that promise every single time.

A logo, a name or colour may eventually become a representation or identification of your brand, but this is just on the surface. Brand recognition is a much deeper reflection of value in your clients’ minds.

Take Volvo. The immediate association is solidity, reliability and safety. Driven by old men with hats! Yes, they’ve changed their image over the years to a more sporty feel, but the original picture remains.

Contrast that with BMW – Pure Driving Pleasure. German engineering. Fast cars.

Or any of the big banks. There’s a reason they have the vast majority of deposits. People inherently trust them and believe their money will be safe.

But these brands have taken years – sometimes over a century or more to build their reputations.

They are built on solid values and provide (for the most part) excellent customer service. And they have spent (and continue to do so), huge amounts of money on marketing and advertising.

As a small business though, you simply don’t have the dollars to throw around on “brand and image” advertising.

I’d go further and say “branding” in the traditional sense doesn’t matter at all.

People will buy from you because they know you, like you and trust that you deliver.

It’s more important to deliver outcomes which your clients love – so they talk about you and refer you on.

Which is where marketing comes in.

Marketing is what you do. It encompasses the strategy and activities you undertake to bring prospects to your door.

Marketing gets your message out to your audience by articulating exactly who your clients are, the problems you can fix and the outcomes they’ll get by working with you.

As you work with more clients you’ll build up a bank of case studies and testimonials. Which will help new prospects feel comfortable with you, getting them over the line more easily.

Some will refer you on.

Your list of satisfied clients will grow and you will gain a good reputation. People will know what you stand for. They will associate your name with what they get from you.

In short, they’ll trust you to deliver. Which is ultimately the basis of your brand.

But remember. Your brand can be trashed in an instant.

Fail to deliver on your promises and you risk major reputational damage while incurring the wrath of your fan base.

Coke changing to New Coke is a classic example.

Others include well known car manufacturers who refused to admit there were major safety issues with vehicles even though people had died due to them.

These brands survived due to their sheer size and market power.

You as a small business are unlikely to be so fortunate.

And one more thing.

No matter how well known your brand, nothing will save you if you don’t innovate and sit on your laurels.

Kodak Film was the leading supplier of film, both consumer and professional for over a hundred years. Ironically they even invented the digital camera – which is now ubiquitous.

Kodak is now almost non-existent.

Nokia phones – Just about the most popular phone and well-known brand in the days before the IPhone. Where are they now?

Wrapping up.

Active marketing, not branding is where you should be spending your money and time.

Concentrate your efforts on what you can control. Bringing in new clients, providing exceptional quality and service. Grow your reputation and your “brand” will inevitably follow.

Don’t try and do it the other way round.

Rashid & Barbara.

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