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What Does Your Brand Stand For?

Written by CMG News Contributor, Doug Carleton

If you want your brand to stand out, is it clear what your brand stands for? The notion of branding can sometimes be mysterious to small business and seen as more what big brands with big ad budgets do. But, having a solid brand strategy that will help attract and keep consumers is just as important for small businesses. That’s because people don’t just buy products and services, they buy brands of product and services, with the brand symbolizing the virtues and values of the company behind the products and services. Think about your own purchase decision-making process as a consumer. Think about walking down an aisle in a grocery store and how what you know about brand names influences your choices. It works the same way for Main Street small businesses. So, you’ll want customers to have awareness of what your brand/company ‘stands for.’ 

And usually, what your brand stands for starts with WHY you’re in business. You sell a product or service. You know what it does, how it does it etc. But have you ever thought of why you sell it? Are you selling it just to make money (obviously if you don’t make money you won’t be selling it for long)? Do you sell it because you want to be the best/number one/most recognized company in your industry? Or do you sell it because you believe in your product and have a higher purpose than just better/cheaper/bigger, whatever. You want your product to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

I recently had a conversation with my friend Earl Cox, the retired Chief Strategy Officer for the Martin Agency in Richmond to ask him how he would help a business look at their brand. He said that a good brand strategy comes down to four key considerations:

  • Position – how a brand’s customers “think and feel” about it. Marketing, driven by a brand strategy can and should shape how customers feel about it. This is the goal marketing born of insights about what the customer wants and will motivate them to buy.

  • Proposition – what the brand “says and does” to get consumers to think and feel that way. It is a means to an end. It tells the customer what it is and why they should want to own it.

  • Proof – what customers usually want as proof that will make what a brand says and does believable. This usually comes from product/services features, attributes and benefits.

  • Personality – your brand personality is something to which your customer can relate – it makes your brand more likable. It shows that you are similar to your customer so they can identify with it. Think of your brand as a “style guide” which will guide marketing in all its forms – from ads to websites. For example, some brand sites should be “fun and friendly,” others “proficient and professional,” and others “sexy and upscale.” These are words that you could use to describe a person’s personality as well.

Consumer spending, while beginning to improve, is going to remain constrained probably well into next year. A company whose brand makes it crystal clear as to what it stands for and how it relates to its customers has a better chance at getting a share of those scarce consumer dollars because it shows WHY you’re in business.


This blog entry is a slightly edited excerpt from Doug Carleton's 'The Daily Life Of A Small Business Owner' series. Doug was a mentor with SCORE, Startup Virginia, and Lighthouse Labs, and has 25+ years of experience in small business finance including 12 years in SBA lending. To contact Doug directly, please email him at


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