Most small business owners dedicate portions of their budgets as promotional expenditures. But they often don’t understand the importance of branding their products – and their businesses – in all of their promotional efforts. They often succeed in either gaining new customers or retaining current customers, but not both. Why? Because they don’t include branding messages in their promotional messages.

Product branding is something we put in the manufacturers’ domain. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, you can distinguish your business from another that’s selling nearly the same line of products by simply engaging in an effective product or business branding campaign. Branding is simply the active process of creating an intended, positive conception of yourself and your products.

The way I see it — advertising/promotion is a short-term investment, typically created for a quick increase in sales. Branding is a long-term investment, gaining trust and building a message in your consumers’ minds. Both are extremely important when building a business, but have different results in mind. Remember the days when customers actually looked at the label to see where the product was made? Now, we all know that virtually every product is made in the same place. Likewise, nearly every service is provided by people with similar backgrounds. Knowing this, customers are just as prone to go with a “name brand” product or service, over others that look and may actually be — identical.

So why do customers behave this way? There are actually many reasons:

1. Customers have invested emotions in products based on their product or business conceptions

2. They assume that the most popular products will be supported by some level of customer service

3. They assume that a product with no brand presence will be lacking in the service department, especially if they need to return it.

Think of it this way — when someone you don’t know sells you a service and you pay the bill, what assurance do you have you’ll ever see that person again? Customers have reasonable expectations of branded products because they know you’ve invested your time and money to create those brands. And, you’ll do whatever you can to protect your investments. But, branding should not end with establishing a sense of product familiarity. Familiarity alone may separate you from the competition, but creating a positive product concept will often create a new need for new customers. From this perspective, branding is about building an ingrained sense of customer loyalty in your target market.

Branding as a means of promoting customer retention boosts small business enterprises. There is the constant struggle to find new customers and to stay active in the minds of previous customers. If you don’t engage in branding, you may have to choose between new and current customers. If you spend too much time and money on your promotional efforts for customer retention, you may not gain enough new customers to expand your business enterprise. If you spend too much on your promotional efforts for attracting new customers, you may lose the bond you’ve formed with your current customers. But, if you marry the two and focus your promotional efforts on branding, you simultaneously do two things:

1. Build an image in the minds of current customers that reminds them of their satisfaction in doing business with you

2. Build an image in the minds of potential customers of how satisfying it would be to do business with you.

The natural result is an ever-increasing number of customers – which is the fuel you need for propelling your business forward.