Last week I participated in a phone conference with an online business. They are looking to invest a sizable dollar amount in their marketing efforts in the near future. The discussion veered into areas such as where to market and the potential cost for doing so. However, I wanted this advertiser to step back and look at the bigger picture. Yes, knowing where to spend your ad-dollars is important, however, there is a conversation that must be had – who are you?

Knowing who you are is paramount – especially in today’s highly-communicated society. There’s a real chance that you have scores of competitors nipping at your heels; if you’re an online business – thousands. The point is you’re going to need an edge out there given all of the marketing noise. Anything you can bring to bear that will allow for some daylight between your message and the others out there is to your advantage. In many cases, clarifying your identity, a.k.a, brand, in the marketplace will be the very thing needed to create some level of separation from the pack.

For the record, declaring your small business as the top widget provider in the Midwest is not identity-building material. In this instance, you’d only be proclaiming that you sell widgets and you think you’re pretty good at it. The problem is the business across town can likely lay hold to a similar claim.

What makes you unique? What’s cool, engaging or exhilarating about your brand or identity? Delving into such questions will be the first steps in uncovering the right answers for your strategy.

At a recent marketing meeting in New York, I peered across the table and asked a business owner to explain geckos and insurance. Based on the attendee’s face, I’d guess that he didn’t know or he thought I was totally crazy for being so zealous in asking, what appeared to be, a random question. The answer, of course, is absolutely nothing; however, Geico’s mascot has everything to do with identity and distinction. You see, they are framing themselves in a humorous, entertaining light. What would happen to this company if they were to cut out all of these “antics” and just sold insurance? My guess is they would slowly go the way of the dodo bird.

How is this national insurer any different from your small business? If you’re going to invest your hard-earned marketing dollars into growing your business, be sure your identity shines through so that you have something going for you that will cause your message to stand out.

Walter Dailey is a marketing speaker, consultant, and creative director for DSV Media, a Columbus Advertising Agency specializing in marketing help for small and mid-sized businesses.  Follow him here: @wrdailey @dsvcreative