5 Ways a Strong Brand Can Ignite your Small Business

Over the 5 years I worked for Virgin in the U.S. development office, I met some amazing entrepreneurs and small business owners.

These folks, I’m convinced, have a different genetic code than the average business person. They have an amazing ability not just to identify gaps in the marketplace, and new ideas…but to act on them.

Being a successful entrepreneur is not easy. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. And most of all it takes a kind of blind faith, to believe in yourself and your product or service and to get up every morning and keep it moving forward despite (many) obstacles and better resourced market incumbents.

But here’s one thing that I think a lot of start up ventures are missing…a smarter approach to branding.

For many new companies, “brand development” consists of thinking up a name and a logo and focusing on getting a website up and running.

While these are important elements, they miss the more fundamental role and purpose  of branding: to help connect with your consumers on a deeper level, build preference and loyalty and set you apart from your competition. If done right, a well-developed brand should influence every single business decision you make.

If you are a small business owner or entrepreneur and are interested in learning more practical ways to build your brand, you should consider attending the annual NYXPO at the Jacob Javits in NYC. I have spoken there before, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to network and receive great insight.  Click here to Register

In the meantime, Here are 5 thoughts on how a strong Brand can ignite your business:.

A Strong Brand Idea can help you:

1. Attract the Right Kind of Investor

2. Make Sure You Have a Well Defined Target Audience

3. Develop Products and Services Faster and with More Discipline

4. Create Brand Expressions that Cut Through (with less spending)

5. Stay On Course as the Company Grows
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1. A strong Brand can help you attract the right kind of partners and investors. “Dumb money” can be fairly easy to find. But “Smart Money” is harder. But it’s better. Because it means you’ve found  backers who are on the same page and share the same philosophy. They are more likely to give you on-going advice and be supportive of your need to build a strong business and brand.  A well thought out and presented Brand can help you attract the right people on the right terms. It can also help cut through the 1,000’s of pitches that VC’s and another investor see on a regular basis. It can make your venture more memorable and interesting.

2. Developing a strong Brand forces you to make some tough calls about your target audience and to really make sure there is a well-defined and substantial market for your venture.  Too often we fall so in love with our own ideas that we don’t stop to question if there are other people (besides our mom and college roommate) who would also be a receptive , paying audience for our product or service. Brands don’t exist if there is no one out there willing to buy them. If they are not answering an unmet need or addressing a current need in a better way. Brand Idevelopment makes you go through the process of identifying your target audience, understanding what motivates them, and making sure your idea answers their needs in a way that is relevant and different from current options. You’d be surprised at home many people short change this step…with pretty disastrous results. “If we build it, they will come” may work for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but it can be an arrogant and costly mistake for many entrepreneurs. 

3. A Strong Brand can help you develop your product and services faster and with more discipline.  One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is to stay on track. It’s hard, to know which opportunities to pursue, and which ones to pass on. Particularly when you don’t have the structure and decision making processes of a large company. A well defined Brand should be used as a continual, actionable filter to review everything: products, partnerships, people for fit to your core values. If they don’t fit, even if they have merit, then pass.

4. Well defined Brand Ideas are the cornerstone of great brand expressions that cut through. So many entrepreneurs that I have met and/or worked with spend hours of wasted (precious) time going in circles about the name, logo and marketing materials of the company. But often the reason they can’t decide or seem to get what they are looking for isn’t that they are using the wrong creative resources. It’s that they haven’t defined the Idea behind the creative. They think they will know something good when they see it. But 10 years of running Naming and Consumer Branding at Interbrand has driven home how subjective the creative process can be. Having a strong Brand promise translates into tighter, better creative briefs which translates into better creative- with fewer (time, money and energy sapping) rounds of iteration and evaluation. And once you have this strong Brand expressions developed, chances are they will cut through in the marketplace and amplify the always too limited spending of entrepreneurial brands.

5. A Strong Brand will help you navigate the growing pains as your entrepreneurial venture expands from a two to twenty to two hundred employees.  Having a tacit understanding of what the Brand stands for and where it should and shouldn’t go is often ok when you can fit all of your brand stakeholders around your kitchen table. But what happens as you grow? How do you efficiently and effectively on-board more people quickly and make sure that they have the same understanding as the original 5 members? How do you make sure you expanding workforce of brand ambassadors is putting out a consistent message to the marketplace? We encountered this same issue at Virgin as the brand began to grow particularly in the United States. We finally decided it was time to take some of the “gut” knowledge and put it down in writing. With an articulated Brand Idea,  Brand Pillars and some training tools such as identity, tone of voice and launch documents. This didn’t mean we were turning “corporate”. It just meant we were getting smarter about sharing our Brand knowledge and DNA with new members of the family.

Fundamental Brand building, particularly paying attention to defining your target audience and your Brand Idea (not just what products you offer, but the emotional benefit of engaging with your brand) can be a powerful tool for any small business. And the difference between a Google, Starbucks, Virgin and all those other failed ventures that never quite made it.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

How do you see branding as a challenge or advantage for small businesses?

Our Brand School program will give you actionable steps and strategies that you can use to grow a strong brand.  Receive more information about the next semester and receive free brand-building tools and tips when you join our mailing list.

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“Through Julie’s feedback I learned critical information about my demographic audience, what I was trying to say with my story, and what I stood for.” – Lynn Stull, Owner Arts2Thrive


Want to Get Promoted? Try to Get Fired

Stuck in an innovation rut? Here’s a technique that will help get those creative juices flowing again.

Give yourself this task: “What idea could I come up with that would get me fired?”

I’m not talking about spreading company gossip on Facebook or throwing up all over the CEO at the office summer party.

I’m talking about creating an idea for your brand that seems so patently absurd that it could get you fired.

By thinking in this way, going to the extreme opposite of what’s expected, you actually free up your thinking and might just come up with a nugget of an idea that could be refined into something more plausible, maybe even brilliant and highly marketable.

Here’s an example

Use Your Brand to Say “No”


What are the most difficult words to say? For some of you it might be the anxiety-producing 3 words “I Love You”…

But for most of us, especially entrepreneurs, it’s one simple word – “No”.

Why is this? Because we are open, passionate, like to please and love new possibility and opportunity.

But mastering “No” is one of the most important things we can do to grow our businesses.

I know this might sound like an oxymoron- turn down opportunity to grow- but it’s true.

And your Brand can be a powerful tool to help you know when to say “No” and of course, when to say “Yes”.

When you really understand what your brand is about you can use it to help filter which ideas are great (but not for you) and which Ideas are worth pursuing and investing in.

In fact, I believe you should use your brand to impact every single decision you make. Not just how you communicate, but also… Keep reading »  who you work with (and don’t), who you hire and fire, what products and services you develop, the partnerships you form, even how you dress and present your personal brand.

Entrepreneurs are constantly drawn to new opportunities because we are looking for ways to do things differently, better, etc. Which often means that we are attracted to every shiny new proposition or opportunity that comes our way. It’s what I call the Magpie effect:

“Oh look something glimmering over there, let’s swoop it up in our beaks”.

But beware, for most of us (even those working in big companies) resources and energy are a finite often limited quantity.

I had my own brand-led decision making experience just this past week.

Someone presented me with an opportunity to get involved in an exciting project with a really interesting brand challenge. A turn around of a behemoth telecomm technology brand that had great products but an out-dated brand idea and image.  It’s the kind of thing most brand consultants would jump at.

But I said  “thanks but no thanks”.


Because as Founder of a new company I am finding myself with a lot of opportunity, but a limited amount of time. So I am trying to stay true to the idea of BrandTwist and pursue opportunities to help entrepreneurs grow their brands and help large organizations think and act more entrepreneurial.

This opportunity, while it seemed great (shiny) on the surface was for a very large Agency and a very large Client  and while it may have paid the bills for a few months (or more) just instinctively felt like it would be a classic re-branding situation, that while I knew I could do it, didn’t feel like it hit the sweet spot of my brand.

I could have gone down the road of finding out more, convincing myself it was kinda of on brand for what I was trying to build, let myself been seduced by the money etc.

But I know from experience this investigation process would have taken a lot of time and energy that I can’t afford to waste.

So I said “No” quickly and decisively and it felt great.

And instead of spending the time over the next few weeks chasing an opportunity that wasn’t quite right, I’m going to put that time to building the areas of my practice I am most passionate about and where I feel I can truly shine.

Brand is your secret weapon. Use it to grow your business. Use it to say “Yes” to what moves you in the right direction and “No” to what gets you off track.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

How do you use brand to say “No” (or “Yes”)?

Our online Brand School course will give you the insight and tools you need to keep your brand in the forefront as a strong, innovative secret weapon. Receive more information about the next semester and free tools and tips when you join our mailing list.

Please also check us out on Twitter and Facebook for more insight and discussion on branding.

I highly recommend tis class to anybody, to both those who have been in business for a long time, and those just starting out because it will put your business on a different level. – Dr. Marina Kostina, Distance Learning Specialist, CEO of wired@heart

Branding Lessons from the Royal Wedding

Depending on your penchant for romance and spectacle, Friday’s “wedding of the century” may have moved you or bored you… to tears.

But regardless of whether you were in the “set my alarm to 5am camp” or the camp of “please, aren’t there other things in the world to focus on?”, there’s one thing everyone can agree on…the whole event was a masterpiece of branding.

Taxi Cab Confessions

Remember the old days before mobile phones, smart phones and  iPads when while riding in a taxi basically meant you had two choices: 1) look out the window and enjoy the scenery or 2) have a conversation with your driver.

It seems hard to imagine now that we are so busy filling our transit time with “urgent” cell phone calls or compulsive play on BrickBraker, Solitaire on whatever game we have handy.

I am guilty of this behavior, but I am starting to rethink it.

A few weeks ago after returning from a London Trip late at night I got into my XYZ limousine and after a few perfunctory sentences to my driver I began to play Solitaire. To be honest, it was the impending doom of the low battery message on my iPad that caused me to close the machine and strike up a conversation with my the gentleman behind the wheel.

And boy am I glad I did.