What Every Small Business Owner Needs to Understand About Marketing & Branding

Many small business owners don’t realize the distinct value of both branding and marketing. But without utilizing both, a business will flop. 

“Without a strong brand, marketing will fail and without compelling marketing, few (if any) will care about the brand.” (Kelly Lucente, Brand by Kelly)

Marketing explains what a business does, and why. Marketing gives voice to a brand’s unique ethic while articulating how its services will make customers lives better. Using marketing tactics effectively puts a brand in front of its target market with one clear message—this is why you need to buy.

“Successfully defining your product, however, doesn’t always equate to business success.” (Casey Neal, Britton Marketing)

Branding is the way a company makes the customer feel. It’s the perception that customers have of a company as a whole—when they buy from this company they’re healthy, unique, trendy, or one of a thousand other adjectives. Branding is the emotional connection that keeps clients coming back—and brands like Apple, Subaru, and Nike are all masters at it.

A recent study by Princeton University concluded that first impressions—assessing traits such as likeability, competence, and trustworthiness—form within a tenth of a second. And our digital world puts new businesses in front of prospective customers more quickly than ever before—often too quickly for their own good. So small businesses (especially young ones) consistently dive into expensive branding, sexy logos, and shiny business cards—foregoing marketing. It's an easy trap. 

Because we all want to be liked.

But as customers are inundated with new opportunities for purchase every day, businesses need more than likeability—they need loyalty. In a study by the Harvard Business Review, companies that implemented an emotional-connection-based-strategy were shown to have a 15% increase in customer loyalty and over 50% increase in sales. This emotional connection has been shown to be more valuable to customers than customer satisfaction with a product.

As Donald Miller explains on the Building a StoryBrand podcast, if customers don’t know what you do, they won’t be interested in connecting with you.

“A lot of small businesses make the mistake of trying to jump to branding without marketing first.” (J.J. Peterson, Building a StoryBrand)

Some brands are so well-known, they don’t have to explain what they have to offer to the customer. But for small companies, focusing on branding alone is a fatal mistake. If your customers don’t know what your company has to offer, they won’t build an emotional connection, and they won’t keep coming back. Without a clear company identity, a lasting relationship is impossible. New companies need to start investing in their marketing infrastructure, beginning by developing a style guide. Doing so ensures a brand moves forward with consistent messaging, cohesive marketing tactics, and well-articulated values.

Once your identity is established, branding creates a connection. And by fine-tuning your company’s character through compelling branding, your customers will grow to engage with your brand beyond surface-level interactions—yielding loyalty and consistency.

Without clear marketing, customers are confused. Without compelling branding, customers are bored. By valuing and prioritizing both branding and marketing, businesses experience growth, retention, and financial success. So take the time to invest in the backbone of your brand.

Your customers are waiting.


Dave Hamilton