Arruda says small businesses face two barriers to effective branding: They don't know what would make someone choose them over a competitor and they want to be all things to all people.

The antidote, says Arruda, is self-analysis and choosing a niche audience.

"Fear gets in the way," Arruda continues, for small businesses, which believe they will lose market share by focusing on a target audience. "They want to be all things to all people," he says, but, as we all know from our everyday lives, this is never possible.

Shoestring Branding

Wowing the public with that pithy and powerful message can be easy and cheap, says Woodruff.

"Going to a big ad agency doesn't exist anymore as part of small business," says Woodruff. On the Internet, one can find branding resources that fit the smallest budget.

In launching his company, Woodruff called on his graphic designer friends for logo help and he came up with his own tagline and blog, which was quite helpful in establishing his brand.

A Web domain name costs around $20, and he established a site within hours without consulting a single major-league Web programming resource.

Woodruff also recommends launching an email newsletter with an automated service. "I can get my name and brand in front of people every week for maybe $300 a year," he says.

Finally, branding has changed since the dot-com era, when the credo was to make as much noise as possible, gain as many eyeballs as you can and worry about the long-term later.

Now, says Woodruff, people are realizing that the branding process is a long-term commitment: "Embed yourself, drip by drip, into people's minds," he says.

Despite the fad of the moment, companies small and large should adhere to the basic tenets of strategy, says Millman.

"Look at the classic Michael Peters, Harvard-Business-School definition of strategy," she says. "Perform activities differently, or perform distinctly different than your rivals."

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