One of the most common complaints businesses have is that they don’t have enough customers, and business suffers unless the organization is a mega corporation with a huge advertising budget. At least, that’s a common misconception.

Actually, with a savvy message and a few well-placed media spots, including social sites, print and other channels, almost any business can get the word out to the buying public about who they are and what they do. The key is branding — presenting an image that sticks and makes buyers recognize you and your product. Some examples are the Aflac duck, the Geico gecko, the Mile High City of Denver, and any other easily recognizable image you know, love, and trust.

Where companies make a mistake is to change branding that everyone already knows in order to be more hip to a different customer demographic, or to bring in merchandise or spokespeople that turn customers off — JC Penney and Sara Lee are a couple of recent examples. Also, consumers expect brand loyalty. They trust you with their money, so don’t disappoint them by changing horses mid-stream. They’ll get confused and will often take their cash somewhere else.

Here’s a huge tip: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There are fundamental reasons that people buy your brand. They know it and like it. Kellogg’s has sold its Corn Flakes cereal since 1906, and the recipe hasn’t changed. If you think about corn flakes, you think Kellogg’s. When you think you can make more money by changing what works, you risk not only losing your identity, but also your customers and your money.

Corporations usually have more money to work with when it comes to creating an image and a brand, and to keep that idea in front of the public to continue to build brand awareness. However, if you are a small business, professional or sole proprietor, your cash and credit may be stretched thin until you get your own personal brand known to your target market.

According to the American Institute of CPAs, until recently, you have been taught that a firm handshake, professional attire, and sound credentials are the makings for a good first impression. Today, that’s no longer enough. The advent of blogs and social media have enabled anyone and everyone to become known; to connect in almost real time directly with clients, colleagues and friends; and to build relationships across the globe. Now, making an unforgettable first impression in-person is no longer the only way to establish your brand. 

While you may not be Nike or Disney, who you are and how you come across are critical to your success. Personal brands are in the spotlight everyday for everyone to see online. Are you putting your best foot forward? If you don’t brand yourself, someone else will, and the outcome might not be so favorable. Branding keeps you current in your field, opens doors for you and creates a lasting impression on potential and existing clients.

By developing your own brand, you’ll have control over the initial perception people have of you. A successful brand can go a long way with self-promotion, conveying loyalty, and offering consistency in the quality of the services you provide. The AICPA offers the following five tips on branding.

brand1. Define your brand and become an expert.

Take the time to do some soul searching and determine exactly who you are and what makes up your brand. Use words such as collaborative, resourceful, flexible, forward-thinking, connected, visionary, diplomatic, intuitive, precise, enterprising, ethical, genuine and/or accessible to describe your persona, culture and outlook. Whether you’re looking to garner media attention, attract new clients or build your business, you should focus on becoming an expert in your field. Avoid establishing an expertise that’s irrelevant to your mission, goals and vision. You’ll just be wasting your time.

SEO

2. Establish a presence. 

You’re being Googled by friends, colleagues, and potential customers, so make sure your branded content is what people find when they Google your name. One way to do this is to build a basic online presence through your own website or blog. For example, you can purchase your full name as a domain name (yourfullname.com). By developing either a static website or a blog under your domain name, you will own the first result for your name in Google and other search engines. This should be a separate site than your company’s website.

After purchasing your domain name, add your picture, a bio, your email address, and links to the rest of your presence (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter). This way, people can get in touch with you in their medium of choice. Claim your name before someone else does. While search engines will pick up on your social media pages, having your own domain will produce a more finite result.

tablet

3. Generate brand awareness through networking. 

You should be connecting with other young professionals by using social networks and commenting on their blogs. Networking is one of the best ways to become known in the industry. By forming relationships with people in your audience, you can grow your business and your brand long-term.

visible

4. Remember the 3 Cs of brandingclarity, consistency, constancy. 

Be clear in who you are and are not. Don’t sugar-coat your qualifications. Express your brand across all communications mediums. Determine where you want to fit in (industry and niche area of expertise) and then remain visible to your target audience.

thought bubble

5. Get feedback from those who know you best — at work, at home, anywhere.

The true measure of your brand is the reputation others hold of you in their hearts and minds. Notice how they introduce you to others. Ask them what your top brand attributes and core strengths are. If they can easily tell you, then you’ve succeeded in your branding mission.

These days, branding the company you work for isn’t enough. The world wants to hear what you have to say as a professional within a company. The work involved in uncovering your brand may seem daunting, but your efforts can benefit you immeasurably. Your unique brand message differentiates the best you have to offer, gives a good indication of what you’re like to work with, and shows how you make things happen.

Branding is a good thing. It stands for protection and identity. In the days when livestock meant real money, ranchers and farmers branded their cattle and horses with their mark. Anyone who saw that brand recognized it as distinct and belonging to a specific owner. If you stole that animal, you would be subject to arrest if you were lucky enough to be caught by an honest sheriff or marshal, or be shot and killed, or hanged on the spot for rustling. Today, the penalty is not as severe — you just get sued.

Get your name in the spotlight, and make it your brand. If you’re proud of it, everyone else should be, too.

For more from Mark Roberts, see: