Building a strong brand is one of the most important steps you can take towards ensuring that your company succeeds. A marketing campaign without a strong brand behind it might bring in a handful of sales, but a strong brand will bring repeat customers, consumer advocates, and some extra viral marketing that will ensure long term success.

Building a brand isn’t easy, though. Many young companies assume that if they have a good logo, a clever tagline, and a box full of printed carrier bags to give out to customers, then they have a brand. This assumption can be fatal to their business, as they find themselves wondering why people don’t recognize the logo, or fail to understand what it is that their company does.

Branding on a shoestring budget

The logo, business card and stationery part of the brand package is exactly that – just one part of the package. To build a full brand, you need to get out there and explain to people who you are, what you’re doing, and why they should care. Big companies invest a lot of money in this part of their business. Small companies probably don’t have room in their budgets for big ad campaigns, huge street teams, and multi-national tours, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t succeed.

If you have a small budget, then you’ll have to pay in other ways – such as investing time and personal effort in your marketing. Low cost branding strategies include:

1. Talk to your customers

Spend at least a few minutes each day on Twitter, Facebook, and other networking sites talking to people and actually listening to what they have to say. Make sure that you follow through on your promises, and if you can’t do something, explain why. Customers love it when brands listen and communicate.

2. Reward loyalty

The customers you get in the early days should be rewarded – they’re the people that gave your business a chance when others either didn’t believe in you, or weren’t willing to gamble on a young company. Acknowledge that, and thank them. Even if all you can afford is a thank-you note and a set of printed mugs to post out to those customers, take the time to say thank you. It will be remembered.

3. Experiment while you still can

Big companies find it difficult to experiment – they have reputations to uphold, procedures to follow, and investors to answer to. Take advantage of your small size and independence, and set aside a bit of your budget to try new things. IF they fail, write them off as a learning experience. IF they succeed, keep working and iterating on the idea. Some of the best “overnight successes” came thanks to years of hard work and iteration.

Once you’ve built your brand, be sure to educate all of your employees in the ethos of your company, and stay true to that brand at all times. Building a new brand is hard work, but repairing a damaged brand is even harder.