There are over two million active businesses in Australia, according to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics survey.

As a small business owner, how do you compete in this huge scramble for the consumer dollar? You ensure you have a strong and recognisable brand.

There’s a reason why more people buy Coca Cola even though reports suggest Pepsi performs better in blind taste tests; its brand is recognised by 94 percent of the world’s population and is often associated with happiness.

Obviously the quality of your product is still crucial, but the impact of strong branding shouldn’t be underestimated.

What is branding?

Your brand is your promise to your customers. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services.

A brand is what differentiates you from your competitors. It influences your customers’ buying decisions and loyalty. It can even boost your staff’s engagement with your business and the value of your company.

In fact, you have two choices: either brand your business or let it become a commodity. And a commodity has to compete on price.

In many small businesses however, branding can develop on an ad hoc basis or be neglected and the message lost in the crowd.

Putting your brand under the microscope

So where do you start? By evaluating where your brand currently stands.

A brand is far bigger than your logo, name or corporate colours. It’s how people perceive your entire customer experience. It extends to the way you answer the phone, bill customers, deliver your products, behave at every customer touchpoint, interact with your employees and offer after-sales support.

To begin, you should conduct a brand audit to assess your brand’s strengths and weaknesses.

This goes to the finest details, but some of the most visible. Think about your domain name – this is often your most recognisable brand asset. If people remember your domain they’ll be able to find you and your products easily.

Your domain will appear on every piece of marketing collateral you create so it’s important it’s succinct and recognisable. Think about, which tells you a lot in very few characters – they sell cars in Australia. If your business is more local, try a .sydney or a .melbourne address.

A second step is to assess what your “value proposition” is: what does your business offer? What sets it apart from others? Why should a customer choose you? What do you pride yourself in?

Also clearly identify your target customers and their demographics. You can do this by examining who is most likely to buy your product or service in terms of their age, gender, income levels, buying habits, occupations, family status, geographic location, hobbies and interests.

The next step is to evaluate whether your brand reflects and communicates your value proposition to this target market.

Collect all your marketing and other materials together, such as letterhead, invoices, business cards, packaging, brochures and advertisements. Also look at your social media, public relations and any media presence. Are there gaps and inconsistencies in the language, tone and quality of these?

Also interview your customers and employees to assess what they like and don’t like about your service, signage, premises and branding materials. What message are they receiving?

To broaden your audit, you could also ask past customers that haven’t come back or prospective customers what they think of your branding.

Branding factors to consider

There are many questions you could examine during this exercise, including:

  • Is your branding consistent with your behaviours, customer experience, key messages and offerings?
  • Does your domain name work as a marketing recall device?
  • Is it authentic and memorable?
  • What emotions does it trigger?
  • Does it highlight what’s unique or special about your business?
  • Does it work in a digitised and mobile world?

If you’ve pinpointed some gaps, you will need to plug these. You will also have to devise a branding strategy to take your business forward in a consistent way. Remember that your brand will evolve as your business evolves. Perhaps getting some expert advice could be one of the best investments you ever make.

Image: Times Square, NYC by MK Feeney, Licensed under CC BY 2.0