When starting a new business, brand establishment tends to take a back seat to hiring the right people, attracting customers and generating sales, but maybe it shouldn’t. Experts say having a solid brand identity is a small business owner's safety net, and often the key to developing a solid clientele.

Walter Dailey, executive producer and lead consultant at Dailey Sound Vector Media Group, said small business owners should view their branding strategy as an investment process:  As time goes on, and a business remains loyal to its branding, results will be evident.

"When you get your ideas and message out there, it snowballs to the point where your marketing power multiplies exponentially over time," Dailey said. "In the future, it creates compound interest for your business."

While branding may not feel as urgent for a startup as other things like establishing customers and paying bills, Dailey said, it should remain a priority.

"I think a lot of companies simply want to get people in the door, but I think they are one and the same," he said. "People may not show up today, but when it's time for Mr. and Mrs. Buyer to look for a company, you have established top-of-mind awareness. When that time comes, you are in the prime spot to compete because you have laid the ground work initially."

When determining a brand identity, small business owners should research and understand their client base to create the most effective strategy, said Lori Masciovecchio, managing director of The Red Light Project.

"Small businesses that haven't done their homework to understand the competitive landscape are headed for disaster," Masciovecchio said.

To get a clear picture of their customers, entrepreneurs should analyze their competition’s products and service to avoid common pitfalls and to find the right niche.

"Understand the business you are in, and what you are passionate about," she said. "Build your brand so the consumer can build an emotional connection. How does your business stand out? That is where the sweet spot is."

Using social and digital networks helps to decipher what consumers are saying about the competition and the industry itself.

"It’s a time investment. Those who are diligent, aggressive and put their ear to the ground will succeed at differentiating themselves and doing it at a lower cost," Masciovecchio said.

The branding message should remain the same no matter the platform, Dailey said. Businesses can not appear one way online, and then another during radio campaigns or print advertisements.

"You need to tie all ads together to create this huge impact," he said. "Sometimes people become different companies depending on what medium they are in."

Small businesses can begin branding, even on a shoestring budget. Dailey recommends bartering with other small businesses, Web sites, radio or publications for services. This helps to set off the sometimes high cost of advertising, even locally.

Social media, blogs and video sites are also cost-effective ways to establish a consistent brand with little funding. Small business owners can also sign month-to-month contracts with participating advertisers, to pay as they go for branding campaigns.

Although a fledgling business will always have its ups and downs, Dailey said owners cannot falter from the brand message in bad times. Consistency is key, as is applying common sense to branding tactics.

"It's being able to stick with it when the phone is not ringing," he said. "Sometimes businesses give up and move to something else. Having persistence, even if the message is dull, it will have more effect than a great message that is only seen one time."

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