A must-read before you engage in social media, design a logo, create collateral - or anything!

I must admit I’ve often been confused about the difference between branding, marketing and advertising.  And with nearly 15 years of public relations experience and my current profession of social media advisor, that’s a bit embarrassing.

But thanks to branding whiz Maria Ross’ new book “Branding Basics for Small Business-How To Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget”, I finally get it!  The owner of Red Slice, a branding and marketing consultancy, Ross has done a convincing job of explaining why having a “brand strategy” is important, attainable and affordable for a small business.

My tendency is to write a too-long blog post, telling you all the fantastic things Ross teaches in the book, but instead, I am going to limit myself to 4 key reasons to run out and buy her book, pronto!

  1. There is a fantastic 10-question process to help you build your  brand strategy.  While it will take some time and brain power to formulate your answers, isn’t your business worth it?  I wish I had taken the time to work through these key points when starting up my business, instead of just figuring it out as I went.  Can you say “flying by the seat of your pants?”  Giving significant thought to answer the queries about pricing, target audience, benefits, competition, metrics, etc. as you begin to build your empire is a much more fruitful process, trust me!
  2. The “brand at work” examples of real-life companies that are scattered throughout the book.  Ross does an amazing job of bringing her principles to life by telling us success stories from companies that have implemented these concepts.  They are inspiring and show us what can be accomplished by having a strategy – and actually following it!   My favorite “Brand at Work” example was Bestfriends General Store, an online dog toyland that communicates from the dogs’ point of view!  This brand approach, with the “humans” playing second fiddle, is unique and incredibly effective for distinguishing Bestfriends from their multitude of competition in the pet services world.
  3. The section on “Who and where is your audience? How can you find them?” is worth the price of the book. In my work with BNI (Business Network International), I work with many entrepreneurs and small businesses that are scared to death to narrow down what they do, or to establish a target audience.  They typically prefer to “help anyone with anything” which unfortunately often means no one hires them at all. Ross claims this ability to define your ideal client is the single most important aspect to a brand strategy – and I wholeheartedly agree.  Knowing your ideal client/target audience intimately helps you focus on a specific strategy that brings you the clients you want to work with, that are the most fun and the most profitable.  I dare you to try it!
  4. And last but not least, I love that the book is logical and builds from one process to the next!  It is written in just three parts and each flows perfectly into the next, giving you a complete solution by the end.  Part 1 on “What is Brand and Why Does it Matter” deals with the question of why brand matters and how your customer actually dictates what your brand is.  Part 2 deals with the 10-questions I mentioned above and really gets to the heart of what you have to offer.  And Part 3 gives you a road map to apply the brand strategy you’ve just created, with specific steps to accomplish your goals.

This book has helped me truly appreciate the important work of branding, and created a new appreciation of its role in company strategy and communications.  When people approach me now for help with their social media strategy, I will spend much more time asking about their brand strategy before we decide what tactics to take on.  And if they don’t have a strategy, they will be sent directly to Maria Ross at Red Slice – do not pass GO, do not collect $200!

NOTE: Ross is hosting a book launch party Tuesday, June 15 at Little Red Bistro in Fremont (WA) from 6:00-8:30 pm.