COSE WebEd Series: Brand Building Basics

Building a brand is not easy, but here are a few ways you can lay a strong foundation for your brand that will keep your customers coming back for more.

If you’re not thinking about the image your small business’ brand projects to the marketplace, you’re making a big mistake. Your brand represents the image you want your customers to take away, which leads to customer engagement, which can lead to sales.

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    But how do you go about building your small business’ brand in the first place? During a recent COSE WebEd Series webinar, Amanda Altman of A3 Design provided a few pointers on where to start.

    RELATED: Listen to a replay of Altman’s full webinar on brand building.

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    Tell a story

    First things first: Your logo is not your brand. It’s more than that. It’s how you present yourself to the public, all the way down to how you answer the phone. You want your brand to be something customers want to return to, and one of the best ways to do that is to create a story.

    Start this process by narrowing down your promise to your customer. Make this as specific and niche as possible. Think about the lifestyle you want to promote, the promise you want to deliver, and the emotions you want to evoke.

    Identify the competition

    Now, think about who else is out there. What are other companies offering and how are they differentiating themselves? Relatedly, how are you different? You want your brand to be creative, authentic and something people can relate to. A good exercise to do when thinking about this is to describe your business in three words. And ensure these words are authentic.

    Create your brand playbook

    Branding is all about consistency. Think about what your design philosophy is. What colors do you want to use? For instance, some people are followers of color theory that finds that yellow indicates optimism, warmth and clarity while blue shows trust, dependability and strength.

    It’s a good idea to also have a style board as it relates to your brand. Are there any secondary logos you might want to use? Or color swatches? What about another package design? Anything you think might fit should go on this style board.

    Find your tribe

    One of the biggest benefits of having a strong brand is it creates a group that is not just intensely loyal to your business, but also become brand evangelists who spread the good word about what you’re doing to others. For more insight on this, Altman suggested checking out Seth Godin’s book “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us”.

    RELATED: Here are 11 other business books you should’ve read by now

    Learn about other COSE events that can help your business succeed by visiting our events page.

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    Next up: Council of Smaller Enterprises Encouraged by House's Amended State Budget Tax Proposals

    Council of Smaller Enterprises Encouraged by House's Amended State Budget Tax Proposals

    The Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE) welcomed changes to tax proposals previously included in House Bill 64, the state biennium budget bill. The House tax proposal would provide for a 6.3% across the board income tax cut beginning in TY’15. It would lower the top rate to below 5% and would provide over $1.2 billion in tax relief to Ohioans over the next two years. Most small businesses are pass-through entities, meaning that they pay taxes on business income at the income tax rate of their individual owners. 

    The Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE) welcomed changes to tax proposals previously included in House Bill 64, the state biennium budget bill. The House tax proposal would provide for a 6.3% across the board income tax cut beginning in TY’15. It would lower the top rate to below 5% and would provide over $1.2 billion in tax relief to Ohioans over the next two years. Most small businesses are pass-through entities, meaning that they pay taxes on business income at the income tax rate of their individual owners. 

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    “The House proposal is consistent with our belief in the value of predictable support for small business that encourages their efforts," said COSE President and Executive Director Steve Millard. “COSE has and will continue to support tax cuts for small business that allow business owners to invest more in their companies, and not at the expense of increased tax burdens for other businesses.” 


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    The personal income tax cut would be permanent and, also of importance to small business owners, the proposal would make permanent the 75% small business tax deduction on a business owner's first $250,000 of net business income which expired at the end of 2014. 


    “COSE believes in the need for consistency and predictability on tax rates and structures with a focus on making understanding and compliance easier for small businesses – the permanency of these proposals are key for small business,” added Millard. “COSE will continue to work with policymakers and partners throughout the process and we commend Speaker Rosenberger and members of the Ohio House for their efforts.” 


    Severance tax, sales tax, and commercial activity tax changes are being removed from the substitute budget bill. Those tax proposals will come out of the budget and go to a "2020 Tax Policy Study Commission" made up of lawmakers and representatives of the governor’s office. The Ohio House of Representatives will consider the budget bill over the course of the next couple weeks while the Ohio Senate is expected to complete its work in June. The Governor must sign a new budget into law by June 30, 2015. 

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    Next up: Court Rulings Impact Initiatives

    Court Rulings Impact Initiatives

    The Eighth District of the Ohio Court of Appeals recently ruled on two matters where GCP played a lead role in advocacy efforts.

    The first was a decision in support of upholding the ability of municipalities to institute local hiring laws. The court unanimously agreed with the decision of a lower court declaring a 2016 state law that sought to ban local hiring practices unconstitutional. The decision is a legal victory for the City of Cleveland and the Fannie E. Lewis Law – a city ordinance that requires 20% local hiring on city projects of $100,000 or more. The Fannie Lewis law is a foundational piece of the Community Benefits Agreement signed by the City of Cleveland, GCP, and other core partners in 2013 to boost local workforce as well as diversity and inclusion efforts in the construction field. GCP organized member companies to oppose the 2016 state law when it was first introduced. 

    Another ruling stated legislation that passed last year – outlawing unique local minimum wage rates outside of the state wage rate – could be invalid because the appeals court believed the bill violated a single-subject requirement. GCP and its partners opposed a misguided local minimum wage and advocated for state intervention because it would place the City of Cleveland at a disadvantage, hinder job creation, business growth, and the overall momentum the city is now experiencing. Petitioners subsequently suspended ballot efforts to raise the minimum wage in Cleveland. 

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    Next up: Tips For Your Business: Create a Memorable Environment for Customers

    Tips For Your Business: Create a Memorable Environment for Customers

    The half-dozen Melt Bar & Grilled locations in Ohio ooze personality. Matt Fish, co-founder of the restaurant chain, credits the company’s 350 employees and staff members for helping create a positive guest environment. The key to building that environment begins and ends with training the staff, Fish said during a recent interview with COSE. Restaurant workers are encouraged to be themselves while on the job.

    The half-dozen Melt Bar & Grilled locations in Ohio ooze personality. Matt Fish, co-founder of the restaurant chain, credits the company’s 350 employees and staff members for helping create a positive guest environment.

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    The key to building that environment begins and ends with training the staff, Fish said during a recent interview with COSE. Restaurant workers are encouraged to be themselves while on the job.

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    “We want our guests to know who you are,” he said, describing what new hires are told. “I want their personalities to shine. We don’t tell them how to dress, how to act. We don’t tell them to go to the table and have canned responses or you need to up-sell this or up-sell that.”

    The personalities of the restaurants become what they are because of the staff, he said. For example, the flagship Lakewood location, which opened in 2006, has continued to improve during the course of the past decade in large part because of the staff and their interaction with customers setting the stage for the dining experience.

    “You enjoy the restaurant, you enjoy the food. Explain these things to the guest. Give them the inner secrets of the menu. Tell then what you order as a member of the Melt team.”

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    Next up: Create a Stand-Out Digital Marketing Campaign

    Create a Stand-Out Digital Marketing Campaign

    Adcom’s Marisa Pisani made a return trip recently to the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s offices to continue her deep dive into how to optimize digital marketing campaigns.

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    As you might recall, during “Business Growth Boot Camp Part 1: Understanding Digital Marketing & Creating Measurable Results for Your Brand,” Pisani laid out the many channels that are available to marketers today, how they can best be leveraged and the pros and cons of each.

    RELATED: Check out a recap of Pisani’s Boot Camp presentation by clicking here.

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    In the second part of this series, Pisani built on the lessons she delivered in Part 1 by explaining how to create a marketing campaign that will catch a customer’s attention and what she sees as the future of digital marketing.

    How to stand out
    Pisani said one of the best ways to make your marketing campaign unique is to offer something of value to your customers, as opposed to hitting them over the head with repeated attempts to sell. Customers, Pisani said, are seeing through the staged, glossy pictures and sales pitches. They want more value than that.

    One of the primary ways to provide this value is by becoming an information source for your customers. Write blogs. Post videos. Share your customers’ values. Become a thought leader.

    For small businesses especially, the idea of creating unique content on a daily basis can seem daunting. The good news is, there are ways to be valuable to your customers and not have it suck up a lot of your time. For instance, consider seeking out content that your audience would find useful and sharing it (with proper attribution, of course). Also, update or even reuse some of your old content that new customers might not have seen (or that previous customers might have forgotten about).

    And a quick tip on the content you share: Make sure you include a clear, direct call to action so your audience knows exactly what it is you want them to do (e.g., download this white paper; read this article.), and take away optional paths that could distract your audience from reaching this intended endpoint. Make it as easy as possible for them to get to the finish line.

    Another thing to remember is that this value-added content doesn’t necessarily have to come from you. User-generated content (where your customers post content, such as videos, of them interacting with your product) and reviews are just as valuable. In fact, this kind of content can be valuable from a search engine optimization perspective as well, as search engines are more likely to rank higher the pages where people are seen commenting on, reviewing and interacting with your product or service.

    The future of marketing
    Looking ahead, Pisani said the future of digital marketing will heavily involve a mix of traditional database marketing and machine learning. That is, marketers will be leveraging automation and will be targeting specific content to users who have demonstrated specific behaviors (i.e., clicked on a similar article, visited a similar landing page, etc.).

    While this will help free up additional time for marketers to use on other mission-critical endeavors, artificial intelligence hasn’t yet reached the stage where it can reason. So, it will still be incumbent on human minds to determine what data (or combinations of data points) are important for automation programs to consider before targeting customers with personalized content.

    This Boot Camp series is just one example of the many educational and networking events COSE hosts each year. Click here to view a list of more upcoming events you can use to help grow your business.

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    Next up: Crowdfunding Legislation Supported by GCP Clears One More Hurdle

    Crowdfunding Legislation Supported by GCP Clears One More Hurdle

    House Bill 10 (HB 10)—a bill that would permit intrastate equity crowdfunding under certain circumstances—has moved one step further along in the state legislative process. GCP and our partners have long been in favor of expanding access to early stage capital and our members are appreciative of the legislature’s desire to implement creative financing and programming in Ohio. 

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    The GCP presented formal, written testimony in support of HB 10. The bill passed the Ohio House of Representatives last summer. On April 18, it was unanimously approved by the Ohio Senate Transportation, Commerce, and Workforce Committee.

    Crowdfunding is meant to assist projects or ventures by raising money, typically via the Internet.  A project initiator introduces a project or venture to be funded, individuals or groups may support the idea, and a platform is used to bring the parties together. 

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    HB 10 is similarly structured with federal regulations and established standards that were recently implemented, permitting crowdfunding under federal securities laws.  The legislation would allow for Ohio crowdfunding through an “OhioInvests Portal,” a website regulated by the Ohio Division of Securities.

    The goal of this legislation is a step in the right direction and GCP welcomes the opportunity to continue working with the Ohio General Assembly to foster a strong, vibrant business community in Ohio.


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