Deciding to start a business is like the decision to start a family. Are you in good financial standing to make that kind of decision? Are you willing to commit your foreseeable future and forsake your personal interest for however long it takes your business to grow into maturity? Can you accept the fact you will be pouring blood, sweat and tears into this endeavor is not a glossy euphemism?

You started off clear-eyed and full of purpose. You knew what you were doing, why, and had great ideas of how you were going to accomplish your vision. You opened your doors or launched your website and real, tangible people were trading you money for the thing you wanted to do and put so much effort into creating. Real, tangible people with expectations and deadlines and quirks. Not to mention your employees with their own ideas, when you were finally able to hire them.

Your purpose is still there, but is it transparent? You have a logo, but does it still represent who you are and what you stand for? In this day and age, branding is the cheapest way to differentiate and communicate why your customers believe in you. Maybe it’s time to reconsider what those are, and to remember why you believe in you.

Start with Why

I’ve written about how “Why” is the most important tool you have, especially when it comes to branding. Simon Sinek, who is much smarter and more debonair than I could ever hope to be, thinks that word is so important he wrote a book about it. (If you’re more into TED Talks, he also did one of those on the topic.)

What and how are certainly important, but they’re easy. Take Roundpeg as a case study. Our what is building websites and executing social strategy. How? We use WordPress, tweets, facebook posts, blogs and all the other platforms associated with social marketing.

The why is a little trickier. It’s also the most important for attracting clients. Why should someone come to us when there are plenty of other WordPress shops in the area, let alone available through the Internet?

People work with Roundpeg because we’re curious, no-nonsense creatures who like helping our clients solve marketing problems through responsive communication and a friendly, Cheers-like atmosphere. Why do we do what we do? Cause we’re smart, nice to work with and we like to help people solve their marketing problems using a collaborative approach.

Every business has to figure this out for themselves. Most owners know their why from the get-go, otherwise they wouldn’t have started. But time passes, people come and go, and the “why” can get muddled. When building your brand, it’s essential that not only your owners and employees know why you do what you do, but your customers as well.

Differentiate or Die

Once you’ve worked out the why, or otherwise stated brand values, take a step back. Are those points essential to how you function as a business? Do they convey the feeling you want your customers to have?

Branding is an amorphous thing, but I have a few favorite definitions: “Branding is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” One that resonated with me recently is: “branding is what customers feel in their gut about you.” It’s the reason customers pick you off the shelf, even if when questioned they can’t explicitly say why. On the one hand, it’s a subconscious reaction, and on the other an intentional statement about who you are. Regardless, as a brand, you have to clearly define who you are before someone can decide whether they like you or not.

If you can determine why your business functions the way it does, take a look around and see how unique that perspective is. “Quality” and “service” don’t really cut it any more; when you walk into an establishment it’s assumed the customer will receive a quality product and good service in exchange for their money. What’s actually unique to you and your business? Figure that out and amplify it.

One of the easiest ways to differentiate is to figure out who your customer isn’t. Shutting down potential customers is really hard to swallow but necessary for survival, or to avoid the race to the bottom of bargain prices. You can’t please everyone, so there are genuinely some people who wouldn’t enjoy or benefit from what you have to offer. Figuring out who those people are often really helps clarify who your target audience is.

Unlike raising a child, you have control over who your business and brand grow to be. Nailing down your brand strategy and positioning, even before getting to logos and graphics, is essential for crafting how your customers perceive you and whether they’ll pick you off the shelf.

Build Your Brand Kit