When I started my etiquette business 20 years ago, I hired a college student named Ed to design my logo and website. It was a quick, easy and inexpensive way to get my name out into the world.
However, when it came time to update my materials, Ed was nowhere to be found. He left town and did not provide me with his new contact information. I ended up hiring a more expensive and reputable company to design all of my marketing materials and it made all the difference in the world. Even today, my website is my number one marketing tool. It establishes me as “The Etiquette Expert.” It’s my brand.
Your brand is equally important. It is the first symbol people see, it is the last thing they remember, and it is the theme that runs throughout your entire marketing strategy. Big corporations like Coca-Cola, Google, and Apple spend large sums of money and time determining and establishing their brand. So why shouldn’t it be that important to a smaller, more entrepreneurial company? It should be.
If you are just starting out on a shoestring budget or if you have created a business in random chunks, without a formal brand strategy determination, it’s never too late to put a brand in place.
But before you do, you must first be aware of the most common branding mistakes many entrepreneurs make.
1. Amateur logo.
Nothing screams “inexperienced” more than a homemade-looking logo. Even if you are proud of what your teenager came up with, take the time and spend the money to hire a professional graphic designer specializing in branding and logo development. Your designer will also create graphic standards defining the color palette, visual style, font size and style, and usage requirements for your logo. Use these standards to set the tone throughout your entire marketing campaign.
2. You have no consistency.
If you started getting inquiries before establishing your brand, you probably had to rush to get basic marketing materials in place. Your business card, letterhead, social media banners, website, marketing brochure, handouts, labels, invoices, and more should all carry a themed and branded look. Use the same font and colors throughout.
3. No motto.
Big companies create a tagline or motto that encapsulates the message they want to convey. “Think different” is Apple’s, “Let’s Make Today Great” is Kellogg’s, and “Go Further” is Ford’s. Products also carry slogans: remember Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz” and Burger King’s “Have it Your Way”? Develop a catchy tag line that represents the benefits your clients and customers will receive. Can’t afford to hire a marketing company? Hire a freelancer by the hour.
4. Not monitoring the competition.
Before you brand, check out your competitors. They have a similar—or the same—audiences as you do. Research similar businesses in other markets as well. Look at their logo, tagline, overall look and feel, and any marketing materials you can access. Review their websites to see how their services stack up to yours. Note any good ideas and revise them into your own unique brand.
5. Not knowing who your customers are.
Not everyone is your customer. In fact, knowing the data on exactly who your customer really is can result in an incremental 241% return on investment, reports a Clickz study. Hone in on and “own” a niche. For example, my niche is business etiquette. That means that I target my marketing efforts to corporations, colleges and universities.
Specializing in a niche requires less investment than mass marketing, and comes with the bonus of free word of mouth advertising and brand loyalty. Niche market members are passionate about their interests, values and hobbies and are more likely to talk about those interests and your brand with others in their network. They also are more apt to keep coming back for more.
Spend some time reviewing your current brand, and if it needs work, make it your top priority. After all, it is the lasting impression that defines your business and will keep you in business for many years to come.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. A version of this article originally appeared on Entrepreneur. Copyright © 2017 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.