San Diego Business Journal Question: How does branding apply to a small business, and what does it mean for me?

Answer:

Branding isn't just for the big guys, but that's what most of us think of when we hear the word. We can all name our favorite brands , maybe it's Doctor D. Schwab skin care, anything Ferragamo or a boutique chardonnay.

But can you say that your own business has a brand? Taking the same principles that apply to marketing products and applying them to your products or services will help you achieve the recognition you deserve and the success you desire.

Brands are the way that current and potential customers identify you. Your brand puts a concrete image and promise behind what you have to offer and sets the expectation for your customers that time after time they will have the same quality of experience. It evokes an emotion for your clientele when they see your literature or hear your name.

What does a brand mean to your bottom line? For the average Fortune 500 company, it is 69 percent of the company's worth. Not only does the brand identity allow you to charge more for your services, but it also increases the number of customers who want to have the experience. A good brand develops an image for today and for the future. It provides a basis for longevity and succession for business owners.

All good branding starts with a plan. It's a plan for the development, internal introduction, and for all of the ways that the brand is communicated. You want your business to continue to be successful, to grow and to have the choice to do the kind of business you want at the prices you want.

Evolution takes time, and you'll need to allow it to happen. Make a one- and a five-year plan for all of your external communications. Branding will touch all of your advertising and public relations.

It will include reaching out to people who are unfamiliar with you and reinforcing the relationship you have with existing customers. Take advantage of all of your customer contact points.

It's a big order. Where do you start with the branding process?

It's often your dedication to doing it right and being successful. Some people can do it themselves, while others need professional marketing help.

Often times you can start with your own great ideas, but you need help to not be myopic. Branding is a commitment to excellence, and it shouldn't be changed often. The original cost of doing it right so that you do it once is much less than changing direction many times.

The excitement and solidarity your strong brand will bring to the entire customer experience will make up for the investment many times over. So happy branding!

Bev Oster is president of Oster & Associates, Inc., a San Diego-based advertising and public relations agency.