There was a time when I mentioned the word brand to small business and they would shrug their shoulders at the idea. We don’t have a brand, that’s big company we stuff. We have a business and we busy ourselves trying to build some name recognition, sure, but we don’t really worry much about branding.

small business culture

Image Infusionsoft via flickr

I suppose with the advent of social media small businesses have come to realize they do indeed have a brand – it’s not that anything has really changed – it’s that it has become much easier to hear it. The days when the collective perception around a brand was kept to the neighborly chat across the fence have given way to mentions that can be tracked, filtered, scored and aggregated to create a very vivid picture of the existence of a brand. Even the smallest of companies can now turn to Twitter, for instance, and turn up mentions and conversations about their brand from prospects, customers, competitors and journalists alike, all in real time.

This fact, combined with our market’s ability to freely publish and distribute content, comments, ratings and reviews, both good and bad, about any product or service they like, has given new life, meaning and importance to this word brand for businesses both large and small.

While traditionally brand attributes were confined to product features, service approaches and tangible identity elements such as logos, colors and mascots, increasingly small business brands are turning to something else entirely – purpose as brand.

In what may in fact be a simple wrinkle in time, due in part to a depressed economy, there seems to be a real yearning to do business with businesses that draw you into their reason for being, their story, their personal human touch.

I’ve always believed that one of the greatest aspects of owning a business is that it affords you the ability to create something that can serve your own unique higher purpose. That notion is something that can move to the forefront of the building of a powerful brand.

One of the most effective ways to build a brand today is to focus on, understand and communicate purpose.

Now I’m not suggesting this as a tactic that can be faked, I’m talking about taking what’s real and authentic for you and making it the centerpiece of your business. In doing so, whether you ever craft a tidy marketing message around it or not, you will be creating the most attractive brand possible.

Below are a handful of ways that this notion can manifest itself in any business.

Culture as purpose – Creating a culture where people are free to be who they are, grow, prosper and generally love to come to work is possibly the simplest way to create a brand that radiates out to the customer. I didn’t say creating this kind of internal culture was easy, but if you do it, if the creation of it is your primary purpose, a positive brand is almost guaranteed.

Simplicity as purpose – I think we’re all longing for some simplicity these days. That can be in how something works, how we find it, how we engage it, how we buy it, how we understand it, how we explain it – make your goal and purpose to create simplicity and you are on your way to creating something that attracts even the most tech savvy among us.

Story as purpose – Small business is personal, or at least it can be. Building a compelling story about why you started your business, what you overcame to get to where you are and where you’re trying to take this baby is a strong tool for connection. I write about story building often.

Difference as purpose – An essential element for any brand is the ability to stand out from perceived competition. Making this your purpose allows you to focus every ounce of your attention on getting very good and serving and communicating your unique way to doing and being. This is one of the surest ways to build a business that charges premium pricing. Warning here though, good service is not unique – this must be something that wows!

Why as purpose – Many companies spend the bulk of an annual retreat trying to craft a mission for their organizations only to frame a few sentences for something to hang in the lobby. True mission manifests itself as a single minded reason for doing and can’t be faked or framed. Find your single minded purpose for being, use it as a filter for every decision and the rest of your business will fall into place profitably. We are a customer happiness company that happens to sell plumbing supplies!

You have a brand, you know, the only question is whether or not your actively participating in its creation.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Jim Harshaw

    Yes! I relate well to the “simplicity” paragraph. I’m upgrading yet refining I see opportunities for add-ons but fear losing the simplicity.

    • Crazy how attractive simple can be isn’t it?

  • I love it! Simplicity and authenticity will always lead to a winning brand. If only everyone could follow these wise steps.

    • I’ve been writing and speaking about that a lot lately and it’s interesting how much response that theme gets – hmmm need to figure out what to do about that.

  • I agree but also wonder where the line is between “purpose” and “passion”? If your brand has some higher social purpose that’s great, but I think we are also seeing brands/people who are just passionate about solving a problem/changing the status quo etc and that’s great too in my book. Your brand may be passionate about creating the best widget.

    Love the “simplicity” stuff too btw. That’s something I’m really working on (or trying too at least).

    • Guess I don’t see those as different – I don’t always associate the word purpose with something higher or social. I think there are brands out there that derive passion and purpose from creating the greatest widget – that’s the purpose.

      • Yeah I agree with you, just didn’t do a good job of explaining it. Whether you call it purpose or passion it’s all about having an identity and standing out. The sports fan in me sees a lot of analogies here with team identities – the Steelers and tough defense, or the Royals and developing young players for other teams (jk John).

      • Looks like you just helped Jason with his goal of simplifying things. 😉

  • We love that you point out the types of branding that so many small businesses don’t realize. Thanks for the insight!

  • Ruthann

    Excellent article and very relevant to the companies out there who are moving beyond “green” to sustainability strategies that drive their business and influence employees, investors, and customers including social, environmental, and economic aspects. Thanks.

  • I think story as purpose is part of every brand, whether or not a company decides to harness their particular story. Every person who uses a company’s product or comes into contact with the company or even people who have dealt with the company have a part to play in the overall story. Using story as purpose requires a company to have a compelling opening paragraph and then provide the tools and platform for others to contribute to the story. I think story can actually be one of the most powerful forces for a brand. People are very compelled by stories and about being a part of something bigger.

  • stevewckrt

    Excellent article and very relevant to the companies out there who are moving beyond “green” to sustainability strategies that drive their business.
    Hockey is a game that is not only prominent in males but female?s hockey is also very trendy in all over the world.Different kinds of hockey are played in dissimilar states like ice hockey and street hockey. For all nature of hockey diverse forms of gear are required.

  • Marcelle Green

    These are excellent points that any business can utilize to help build its brand. I especially agree with “Difference as Purpose”. It’s necessary for businesses to understand the importance of standing out, especially against competitors. At VBP OutSourcing, a consulting firm that provides accounting and marketing solutions to DoD contractors, we pride ourselves on creating branding strategies that will put our clients in the forefront of the Government contract bidding process. Whether it’s developing a website that will set your services apart from the rest, or creating specialized visuals to bring your ideas to life, it is crucial that you present a unique brand, capable of gaining positive attention.

    Marcelle Green

  • I agree with social media changing how small businesses view themselves. Many owners are starting to see that they are a brand and as brand it is important to define what your business stands for. The small businesses that have really started to understand this have seen much more unity in their marketing message and what they wish to accomplish with individual marketing campaigns.

    Wendell Adams