THE BLOG
05/13/2014 03:00 pm ET Updated Jul 13, 2014

How I Got Creative Branding My Small Biz and You Can Too

It's not easy being catchy, creative and on-target when branding yourself. Projecting our uniqueness into the loud, busy, multicultural market place is a challenge. Many of us don't see that every detail, like the words we choose, contribute to our brand, even when we think no one's paying attention. The trick is to make our choices consciously, rather than randomly, as entrepreneurs are trained to do.  Ask me how I know that and I'll share my story, as well as some tips I learned along the way.

The Story Begins!

The sign at the front door said, "If you think climbing a mountain is hard, try running your own business." It's the first thing I saw upon joining a small trading company in New York City's garment district in 1971. A newly minted college graduate whose Folklore degree had limited appeal in the job market, I was grateful to be hired. While the company sold denim to Latin American manufacturers, I made coffee and typed letters for the Jewish, Cuban, Chilean, Puerto Rican and Argentinean salesmen. I remember the colorful swearing into the phones, the goofy practical jokes and the creative one-liners about my lousy coffee. Yet, it was that sign at the front door that stuck in my head for decades.

Catchy and creative, the sign had me running up that mountain, and I started the first of many businesses. I discovered that marketing is a mountain climber's best tool. I found that folklore and stories go hand-in-hand with marketing. And I learned to focus on the sign at the front door, whether onsite or online. If you don't use creativity and your words wisely, you could end up promoting entrepreneurship instead of selling denim to Latin America. 

Time for Your Story to Take Shape!

Begin exploring your creativity by answering three Special questions. Limit your answers to only one paragraph of no more than five sentences for each one.

• What's so special about your product or service? Describe what you provide in one sentence. Use the rest of the paragraph to tell us why your brand should be our first choice over all others. But here's the hard part: get creative and avoid words that take away from being memorable, like better, best, important, very important, interesting and really interesting.   
• What's so special about how you deliver your product or service? Tell us why your customer service should make the difference in our decision to buy your product. Collect testimonials, share a success story or give us a worst-case scenario that could take place if we don't buy from you. Create urgency with your words.  
• What's so special about you? We purchase from the people we trust. What will you say to inspire that trust?  Make it personal and tell us why you're so committed to the service you provide or the products you sell. Make us feel good about buying from you. We buy your intangibles as much as your inventory: your vision, your hopes, your dreams. 

Time for Some Tips!

Read what you've written out loud. How does it sound to you? If you don't like what you're hearing, your customers probably won't either. Edit and rewrite until you like what the words say and how they sound. Then share with a few friends of diverse backgrounds. Ask half of them for honest input. Consider the harshest criticism as the most productive feedback, rather than insulting. Remember that if one person is saying something, there are at least ten other people thinking it who like you too much to tell you the truth. So just say thank you, make changes and make sure the words are all yours. 

Ask the other half of your readers to point out memorable phrases. Make friends with those phrases, begin sentences with them, repeat them and shorten other sentences so that these phrases stand out and become even more memorable and entrepreneurial.

Own it!

When you're satisfied with your answers to the three Special questions, you're good to go. Use them as your elevator speech. Post them on your website. Use a memorable phrase you've identified on a sign near your front door. Put it on a T-shirt, a mug, a bumper sticker. Sing it to yourself in the shower and as you fall asleep. 

Why go to all this trouble instead of hiring someone to do it for you? While there are people who can help you, this is your business, your passion, your mountain to climb. Refinements by others will be more helpful once you have brought the details of what makes you unique together in your own mind.  

You have now made a creative leap of faith into the future.  Putting your dream and your business into words solidifies the creative spirit, honors it, magnifies it. Belief in yourself has led you to this point. Use your creativity and your words to create a memorable business that represents the essence of the mountain you are climbing.

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