Brand Building Tips (On A Budget)

Coke Bottles

It's all very well for Coca-Cola.

Everyone already knows who they are. They have an established, iconic presence. They have mega-bucks to spend. They hire very expensive people to make very expensive noises in every market-place in the world.

But what do you do if you're a web entrepreneur trying to build a brand, from scratch, from your couch?

I've put together a list of brand building ideas, strategies and resources that can help you enhance and establish your brand on a limited budget.

1. Own Your Keyword Name

An obvious example of this strategy is

I recall Aaron describing how there was no search volume for "seo book" when he started, although there was a market for books on SEO. By building up that brand name, Aaron sparked brand searches, and forever owns the search term.

SEOs will be aware of the power of incorporating keywords into your brand name itself. The trick is not to be too generic, else you'll forever compete with everyone else who targets generic keyword terms.

2. Tell A Consistent Story

You walk into a luxury hotel. The street frontage and reception and first class, but as you explore, you notice the hallways are shabby. The rooms are top notch, but the bathrooms are dated and there are cracks in the bath.

The brand is not telling a consistent story - well, not a story that says "luxury" - and will suffer as a result.

Everything you do on your site must tell a consistent story. Everything you do is your brand. Great design is of little use if the copy writing is sub-standard, and vice-versa. Get all those little, but important, details right. Broken links, 404s, slow load times, confusing navigation, unexpected surprises - they all part of your brand experience.

3. Tell A Great Story

You'll hear this a lot in modern marketing. Businesses often say "we have a great story to tell".

Stories can be very powerful brand building exercises because people like being told stories. Stories are easy to remember, they capture the imagination, and they engage people.

Learn how stories are constructed. In a nutshell, stories move from a point of equilibrium, into chaos. The central character faces a series of challenges, which s/he overcomes. A new status quo is established.

How could this be used for a brand?

Apple started in a garage. Two misfit teens overcame the might of the corporate world to produce one of the worlds most successful, technology brands.

That's a David vs Goliath story.

But what if you don't have such a glorious story yet?

Tell a series of small stories.

"I was always getting frustrated because I often had to yell over a crowd when there was no PA available. So I started using and selling cheap, mobile PA systems. Now everyone can hear me, whether they like it or not!"

Not a great story, but it illustrates a benefit.

What is your story?

4. User Experience Is Your Brand

Site structure and usability are as much part of branding as site design. Learn the lessons of Google. The user experience is the brand i.e. fast, simple, uncluttered. Brand recognition is largely created by the accumulation of experiences and associations the user makes with your company.

There is often no need to hit people over the head with convoluted mission statements. People don't care about you. They care about them. If you make their experience a good one, they'll reward you.

5. Brand Partnership

Partner with someone who has an existing brand.

An example of this strategy was mentioned on recently. Approach authors of well-known how-to books and provide an online learning resource. The author puts his/her name to it, and receives a share of the revenue. You run the online learning resource. You have the benefit of starting with a pre-established brand and audience.

Also consider licensing brands and product marks.

6. Let Your Customers Tell You What Your Brand Is

In the 4-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferris outlined a strategy using Adwords to decide the title of his book. He placed Adwords text ads, varied the titles, and chose the title with the highest click-thru rate. His potential audience decided his title, which is also his brand: "The Four Hour Work Week".

This strategy is useful in that it can help identify untapped niches in markets.

7. Clarity

Why is your product better than the others?

Answer that question, and you have a brand.

8. Reputation

Without it, you don't have a brand.

Move heaven and earth to maintain your good standing.

9. Become The Brand

Be your brand. Live your brand. Tell everyone, and tell them often.

It seems obvious, but I've seen many a presentation where I couldn't recall the names of most of the companies by the end of the day, mostly because people didn't do the simple thing of repeating their brand name often enough. Chances are that you need to repeat this information five times before most people will remember it.

As an aside, Jason Calacanis had a piece of advice in one of his recent newsletters. "If you don't *really* believe in your product on a deep, intrinsic level, it's going to come across *immediately* to the bloggers and press you're pitching".

The simple, most powerful thing you can do is to believe in your brand. Everything else flows from there.

10. Viral Baby

If you're reading this site, chances are you're already ahead of the curve when it comes to the huge potential the Internet offers the little guy. Multi-national businesses can now be run from a bedroom.

Look at Digg. YouTube. Facebook. Flickr. They all started from relatively humble beginnings, then went supernova very quickly. Why? There are many reasons, but they all have one thing in common.

They built viral into the brand.

They rely on one person telling another person. They facilitate it. They encourage it. They make it almost impossible not to do it.
Can your brand be made viral? Can you twist it so that people will engage with it and pass it on to their friends?

11. Time To Advertise

Once you've got your messages down, then it is time to advertise. You'd be surprised how many people do this the other way around!

Some corporates are especially bad at this, possibly because the marketing department isn't talking to the sales department, but therein lies the opportunity for the nimble entrepreneur.

One tip is to use banner ads, where you pay per click. Click-thru rates on banner ads are notoriously low, whereas they do generate brand awareness. Also seek out sites that aren't in direct competition with you, but have a similar, established audience. You can leverage off their brand by association.

Whatever channels you choose, the key is to repeat a single, simple, compelling message, over-and-over again.

Further Reading:

Published: September 11, 2008 by A Reader in marketing


September 11, 2008 - 2:41am

Excellent post, Peter. If this is the kind of writing and thinking we can expect from moving forward, this blog just moved from my top 5 to a category all its own. Just phenomenal advice, cleverly written.

As someone aiming to start a web marketing agency in the coming months, brand building is on my mind all day - so your post is timely and absolutely appreciated.

I'll be making my way through the "Further Reading" section over the next few days.

September 11, 2008 - 2:58am

The bit about partnering with someone who has an established audience makes a lot of sense to me, especially as I looked into some potential sites to advertise on today. Fascinating stuff, and another really solid post Peter. Some rehash, but that point in particular made it alright. I can't wait for when you really bust your ass for 100% original stuff, because I know it'll be awesome :D

- Cheerfully pushing you further :)
Gab Goldenberg

September 11, 2008 - 4:29am

How did you know I needed to read something like this right now?!

September 11, 2008 - 5:14am


Great post. Original and actionable suggestions are helpful. My only constructive criticism has is that the end of your second point basically ended with telling us to take care of the details. Everybody already know that is a good thing to do. I thought you were going to end the paragraph by pointing out that the hotel would have been better off spending less on the street frontage, reception and room and investing it in the areas it lacked luxury because a consistently above average (but not luxurious) experience is worth more to consumers than a sometimes luxorius sometimes crummy one.

One the whole this is a great post and I particularly enjoy the further reading suggestions.

Looking forward to more,


September 11, 2008 - 5:38am

Thanks chaps :)

I'm glad you're finding these posts useful. If you've got any suggestions for future topic areas, I'd be glad to hear them.


The hotel example was intended to illustrate the problem a lack of unity can cause.

The hotel might well have been a luxury hotel in 9/10 respects, but the brand is compromised by the small things that are wrong. The story isn't consistent.

Imagine a guy wearing gym clothing, matched with shiny, black work shoes. There's a dischord. His image (brand) doesn't ring true.

Now apply this same idea to websites.

September 11, 2008 - 10:07am

Great little article - just enough info for the SME business

[trackback - ]

yet another ben
September 11, 2008 - 10:19am

Great post - a reminder to webmasters to be clear in what they are trying to achieve.

I especially like points about asking your customers what your brand is, clarity and becoming your brand. I think in clarity comes efficient working on a day-to-day basis, by always asking yourself if I do X, how will that effect my brand-building, and of course your overall goals.

The point about partnering brands worked very well on a few occasions for me in more 'traditional' marketing roles, and I must say there is definitely a trickle-down affect of one big-brand down to a growing brand. On a larger scale it's why sponsors of the Olympics pay millions. It really works wonders.

Which raises another point, brand-building for meeting the two relate...a new post idea?

September 11, 2008 - 11:31am

Yeah, great post man. You gave me some reassurance that my new website was built the right way, and will hopefully be successful.

September 11, 2008 - 11:46am

Awesome stuff!

I'll be certainly having a deeper look at this site.

September 12, 2008 - 3:04am

Also putting your name behind something big like a charity can do well.

September 12, 2008 - 3:07am

And a catchy slogan. Doesn't have to be genius, but has to stick.

September 14, 2008 - 7:14am

You know its always great when you think you know everything about something and then you read a really awesome article that shuts you up.... thank you for shutting me up. great points. This article will add great value to a previous article I wrote on branding. thank you for writing this.

September 16, 2008 - 3:44pm

"They have an established, iconic presence. They have mega-bucks to spend. They hire very expensive people to make very expensive noises in every market-place in the world."

BUT remember...they didn't begin that way.

October 8, 2008 - 5:53pm

Branding is quickly becoming the new search engine marketing. With all of the tools that google has been releasing, especially google suggest, branding is the best way to make sure that you are seen by customers for the terms you need to be.

I also really like the user experience being your brand. If you combine this with reputation you allow for the users to build your reputation for you. This is a great way to convince new customers or clients that you are the best at what you do.

Thanks again for another great article. This is another branding article I found useful. Building a Brand

Thanks again!

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