Making your mark with brand recognition can be tough.

Making your mark with brand recognition can be tough. Credit: iStock

As a small business, getting brand recognition is challenging.

To be sure, even larger brands have their difficulties. In a recent University of California Los Angeles psychology study, for example, 84 of the 85 undergraduate students who tried to draw the iconic Apple logo from memory failed.

While most smaller brands will never be known to the masses like Apple, they can try to make a mark among their core audiences, which is where they should be focusing their efforts, experts say.

"Release that anxiety of trying to make your brand a household name," suggests Phillip Davis, president of Tungsten Branding, a Brevard, North Carolina-based brand development firm. "Understand that your small business operates in a certain market segment."

Identify your core customers and focus on how your brand can be established in front of that particular group, Davis says. Figure out specific channels "you can operate in to color their world with your brand," he says. "Trying to be this major brand to everybody is unrealistic and unnecessary."

Key elements. To boost your brand recognition, explains Charlie MacLeod, president of SMM Advertising in Smithtown, you should develop a story (i.e., you're in business because you want make the world a healthier place, a cleaner place, etc.); provide value and exceed your customer's expectations; develop a logo, good tagline and message; and be consistent in your branding companywide and in signs, uniforms, labels and website.

"Brands are built around four fundamentals: product differentiation, relevance, esteem and knowledge," explains Barbara Findlay Schenck, owner of Portland, Oregon-based Biz, a small-business resource center, and co-author of "Branding for Dummies" (Wiley; $21.99). "But the magic ingredient that converts those fundamentals into a branding success story is consistency."

To build a strong brand, use a single presentation of your brand name rather than multiple names, she suggests.

Be sure your website is mobile-friendly. This is because people increasingly search online using mobile devices and because Google, for one, gives preference to mobile-friendly sites, Schenck says. You can put your site through the free Google mobile-friendly test at /mobile-friendly, she adds.

Get your brand message out. Consider networking organizations and speaking engagements, says Arthur Germain, principal of Communication Strategy Group, a brand marketing agency in Smithtown. Also consider public relations efforts like distributing news releases, writing bylined articles, and taking corporate sponsorships.

Weigh different perspectives. Think about your visual brand awareness (i.e. logo, etc.), your corporate brand story and your personal brand awareness, which refers to individuals as brands and how well they're recognized and related to the corporate brands they represent in some cases, Germain says.

"I call myself principal and chief brandteller," as part of a personal brand story, Germain says. It gets people talking and asking questions, which opens up a dialogue.

Keep it simple. A good logo goes a long way in building brand awareness, MacLeod says. "Simple is much better than complex," he says.

But as a smaller brand, don't get too hung up on it.

"In general, the importance of logos are overinflated when it comes to small-business branding," Davis says.

It needs to be clean, simple and memorable, but it's unrealistic to think it will become a recognizable stand-alone icon like McDonald's or Nike.

"It needs to be good and effective," he notes. "It doesn't have to tap dance."