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The Appalachian Small Business Series: Reputations Built Through Branding

When we hear the word "brand," we often think of a line of familiar products sold on store shelves. Brand development hasn't historically been associated with small business, but we would like to help change that perception. Marketing expert Laura Lake writes that she thinks of a brand as "the mental picture of who you as a company represents... it’s influenced by the elements, words, and creativity that surround it." She proceeds to note, "Think of branding as the expression of who you are as a company or organization and what you offer. Sound difficult? Think of it like this if a brand could speak it would say: 

  • I am  ________________. 
  • I exist because ________________. 
  • If you relate to who I am and why I exist you might like me, you can buy me and you can tell others about me."

We have noticed that Appalachian businesses tend to struggle with consistent branding. Specifically, we often see firms without a true logo, a slogan and a cohesive "image" that is presented in the digital and offline worlds. Since a firm's reputation is deeply connected to its brand, ignoring the latter is simply shameful.

Note that Forward View has integrated our slogan in the logo.

Note that Forward View has integrated our slogan in the logo.

So, how do you brand your small business? First of all, choose a unique name. Hint: A Bing search for Bob's Diner returned over 11 million results on dozens of restaurants. (A search for Forward View Consulting yields multiple links to... us. There's no other Forward View Consulting on earth that we've seen.) We don't recommend naming your business something meaningless or unnecessarily stiff, and don't hesitate to make it fun. After you have your name, develop a relevant, and brief, slogan. (We included "forward" in our slogan to reinforce our name.) Then, design (or let us design) your logo. A good logo should utilize no more than three or four colors, and these colors should be used throughout your marketing materials. Consistent use of these colors helps you avoid stamping your logo on everything, which can be tacky.

All of the branding elements above must be connected to what makes your business special and differentiated from the competition. A true brand isn't a hollow set of symbols or art. Your brand is your company personality! Since small businesses are increasingly faced with competition from national and international brands, it's important for our fellow Appalachian entrepreneurs to develop strong local reputations. A great brand should lead to a great reputation which should lead to your business becoming a treasured local institution—the kind of business people visit regularly and always associate with "home."