Personal branding, brand marketing, brand awareness; we hear an awful lot of the ‘b’ word in the digital age, but what does it mean, exactly?

The answer might surprise you, because if you’re running a small business, there’s a good chance you’ve been swept up in the importance of branding and believe it’s something you need to work on.

In reality, the opposite is true. Branding isn’t something most small businesses need to worry about. In fact, if they do invest time in it, branding can become something that takes up oodles of time that is far better spent on marketing, search engine optimisation and creating great products and services.

The definition of branding

Let’s first consider what branding actually is.

At its core, branding is the process of making something recognisable, instantly. It relates to logos, tone of voice, market positioning and the target audience. But it goes far deeper than that.

Branding, if we’re honest, is more about creating something that becomes recognisable by millions – not just a small portion of a saturated market. There’s nothing wrong with aiming for the latter, but if you expect to create a recognisable brand within it, you’ll waste an awful lot of time.

Branding extends far beyond a nice logo, consistent colour scheme and an attractive website, even though those things remain vital for small businesses.

Here’s five reasons your small business isn’t and is 99.9% guaranteed not to become a brand.

1. You’re running a small business

And that’s totally cool!

For whatever reason, you chose to run a small business, and it’s a choice you should be proud of. Small businesses make the world go around and contribute significantly to the economy. But they’re highly unlikely to scale to the heady heights of WhatsApp or Apple.

Small businesses and brands are two entirely different things. The former are lithe, quick on their feet and have low overheads. The latter are absolutely huge, packed with employees and are forever in the public spotlight.

That might sound like something you want for your small business, but consider the amount of scrutiny that is placed on the likes of Facebook. They’re always under the microscope and have become so big that their employees are nothing more than numbers on a spreadsheet – no matter how vehemently they might suggest otherwise.

Unless you can quickly grow to the scale of a business like WhatsApp, your small business won’t become a brand during your lifetime.

But that’s ok!

2. Successful branding is often a fluke

The Facebook we see now almost definitely isn’t the Facebook Mark Zuckerberg had in mind when he started the company in February 2004. The way in which its brand has evolved is in part thanks to smart innovation and forward thinking, but there’s an awful lot of luck involved, too.

Sometimes, it’s about being in the right place at the right time or coming up with an idea that becomes more important to people than you ever thought possible, but it’s incredibly hard to plan that kind of brand evolution. It usually just happens to a very small, select number of people.

You won’t turn your small business into a brand by talking about it or buying impressions for your boosted posts on Facebook’s pay-per-click platform. Brands like WhatsApp and Apple are so successful because their fame is a byproduct of one (or several) awesome ideas that have been expertly executed.

3. You don’t have the budget

Small businesses don’t have the benefits of deep pockets. In order to build a successful brand in the digital age, you need an awful lot of money.

Scrap that – you need millions of either your own money or that of investors.

Take the John Lewis Christmas adverts we see and sob to each year. They appear as if out of nowhere, but think about how many years of consistent investment and ingenious product development went into the brand behind the adverts.

No matter which way you swing it, that level of spend isn’t something your small business will ever be able to compete with, but everything is relative; you can compete in your own market, albeit on a level playing field with similarly-sized businesses.

4. You don’t have the time

Coca-Cola was formed on 29th January 1892. And it took years (some might argue decades) for it to truly become a household name.

The drinks giant is a perfect example, in fact, because just like Google, its name is now used as a verb to describe the product bracket to which it belongs. “I’ll have a coke” might result in a Pepsi, just as ‘Googling’ something might be linked to someone conducting a search in an address bar which is actually powered by Bing.

It takes so long to get to that stage of branding. Do you have that time to hand?

There are of course exceptions, but for every WhatsApp there are countless startups that tried and failed to disrupt industries (even though they may indeed have had significant investor backing).

5. Not being a brand is a differentiator

And so we land right back at the start. 

You’re running a small business, and that’s to be applauded. Get it right, and that business will lead a long, successful, profitable life and you’ll do very well out of it.

Big brands are great, but for every Starbucks, there’s a brilliant little independent coffee shop that produces better coffee, has a more relaxed atmosphere and which will tempt you back for more.

If you decide to stay small, make it a differentiator; you’re not so big as to be above everyone (including your customers). That means you can offer brilliant products at great prices and customer service that big brands could only dream of offering.

There’s an awful lot to be said for being small in an age of big brands.

Wrap up

We hope we’ve convinced you not to start falling into the deep, dark hole that is branding. You don’t need to as a small business. Invest your time instead in being the best small business you can possible be.