It’s National Small Business Week, May 1-7

According to the US Small Business Administration (SBA), there are 28 million small businesses in the United States, which were responsible for 67% of all job growth between 2009 and 2015. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are resourceful and creative, and these job creation statistics prove they provide critical contributions to the backbone of America.

It can be a challenge for small businesses and entrepreneurs to stand out, given they are working with modest budgets in crowded, competitive marketplaces. Standing out from the “big guys” requires smart, unique marketing and branding solutions that reflect the values of the small business – there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Whether it’s social media, advertising, public relations, or any of the other marketing strategies that small businesses have to juggle – the most basic and fundamental element of a strong brand is the logo. However, the logo is just the beginning.

The American Express OPEN Forum recently spoke with marketing expert Seth Godin about marketing for small-business owners. In the interview, Godin says:

“A brand is nothing but a story. You can’t eat a brand or put money in a brand or drive a brand. But the story the brand tells can remind you of something. It can create an association, just as the bell did for Pavlov’s dogs.

The marketer’s job, then, is to tell a true story, one that resonates, one that matters to people, and to repeat it often enough that it creates value.”

Godin sums it up perfectly - it’s the business’s responsibility to turn its logo into a brand, into a story. What do you want customers to think of when they see your logo? Of quality, expertise, and craftsmanship?

Last year Godin wrote on his blog:

“Spend 10,000 times as much time and money on your brand as you spend on your logo.

Your logo is a referent, a symbol, a reminder of your brand.

But your brand is a story, a set of emotions and expectations and a stand-in for how we think and feel about what you do.

Nike spent $250 to buy a swoosh. Probably a little more than they needed to. But the Nike brand, the sum total of what we think and believe and feel about what this company makes--it's now worth billions.”

The swoosh is instantly recognized around the globe. However, it was nothing but a mark on a page until Nike invested in R&D, technology, consumer research, partnerships, and advertising. Nike made careful choices about what it wanted its brand associated with, and just as importantly, NOT associated with. When making all of these decisions, Nike kept a major consideration at the forefront: what [features / benefits / messaging] matters to our consumers?

When asked by Inc. Magazine which “companies get marketing right”, Godin said:

“Start by understanding that no one cares about them. People care about themselves. Anyone who tweets about a brand or favorites a brand is doing it because it is a symbol of who they are--it is a token, it is a badge. It's about them, it's not about the brand.

It costs something to give companies attention and people are not going to give their attention just because a company bought a full-page ad in the newspaper. Commitment is what is required to change minds. We change our minds because we have made a commitment because something moves us.”

Whether it’s construction, manufacturing, healthcare, retail, or another industry – the logo is the first and most important element of the story. How you care for displaying this logo says everything about the value or quality positioning you wish to secure. One of the ways just about every company displays their logo? On “swag”, whether that's pens, t-shirts, jackets, water bottles, or hats. It’s important to use these items as a branding opportunity for your logo and your company. This is your opportunity to “co-brand” with another brand. Who do you want to associate yourself with?

Here’s what the Starz Channel recently said about the importance of buying retail brands when purchasing customizable swag for their company:

"A generic item will certainly get the job done, but when you get the best brand for someone you're really showing that you think they deserve the best.  Image-wise, having your team's name or logo on an item from a brand that is known for being the best is subtle a way of saying that your team is the best."
- Dean Otsuka from Starz Channel, on why branded apparel and gifts matter

Therefore, when marketing-minded small businesses are able to display a logo on apparel that’s stylish and higher quality, they do so. It’s a better story for your brand.

In the past, small businesses were stuck with two approaches in apparel and gifts: one, it was cheap and low quality, or two, had to be willing to pay big dollars and have long lead times for quality customized options. There is no longer this tradeoff – now, the top retail brands are co-branding in this space, and lead times are only 10-12 business days, tops. And, you can do it all online. At least that’s the case if you work with Merchology

The “Merchology difference” in co-branded swag is something its customers rave about:

“I think what really makes Merchology different is that they really worked with us, which made the entire process feel for personal. I needed answers fast and was able to get what I needed to make sure our event ran smoothly. I also knew what to expect (i.e., cost, material, when the items would arrive). This was crucial because we were pulling together a summit in a very short amount of time.  We want to give away good quality gifts that people will really enjoy. Our efforts are not to simply give a gift, just to give a gift. We want them to be meaningful to our employees and customers.”

- Stacey Hottinger, W.R. Grace

Merchology knows and understands the need for businesses and entrepreneurs to have choices just like the big companies do and don’t think these companies should have to pay more to have them. Even the small guys should be able to co-brand with the likes of Under Armour, Nike, Ogio, Patagonia, and Marmot (to only name a few!).

So think big, for your small business. Merchology does.

Let us know what YOUR best small business branding advice is via Tweet, Facebook message, or Email, and we’ll share it with our customers.

If you’re looking for ways to get involved with the 2016 Small Business Week, check out this events guide from the SBA.