A brand is more than the name of a business printed on a piece of promotional material. Your brand is a constant reminder of what you stand for; therefore, for many people, it serves as a powerful emotional connection between them, and your business. Your brand is similar to a contract between you and your customers — a promise that your product or service will meet or exceed their utmost expectations.

What are the key ingredients of a successful brand?

1. Differentiation. What sets your business apart from all the others, especially your competition? Do you have a unique angle or a niche?

2. Consistency. Branding inconsistency will only confuse consumers. Also, it is much easier to have one well-developed brand as opposed to several less developed brands. Keep it simple — dispense the same message through every channel of communication.

3. Control perceptions. The look and feel of your website speaks strongly about your brand; therefore, it is important to ensure that you are sending the correct message. Additionally, align your brand with other successful brands in order to increase its strength.

In order to clarify how consumers view your brand, you must carefully develop your unique brand positioning statement. Start by filling in the following sentence: For (target customer), who needs (compelling reason to buy), the (product name) is a (product category) that provides (key benefit), unlike (alternative product) the (product name) (key differentiators). This exercise works, because it forces you to focus on your target market, as well as why they need your product, and why they should buy it from you, instead of your competition.

If you think of online branding as a bouquet, the website for your business is the centerpiece. Your homepage sets the tone for your site; this is the place where you can lead with your most important value proposition. Strengthen your reach of your website with search engine optimization (SEO), which is a significant part of online branding. With SEO, you will attract customers, who will find your website by using certain keywords, while searching on Google and other search engines.

Display advertising is a boon for small advertisers, because you can choose what websites your ads appear; therefore, you can borrow some of the brand equity from larger websites, creating the illusion that your brand is much larger. A strategically placed display ad will send a message about your business, and with whom you want it to be associated.

Utilize social media wisely, and create a Google+ page, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account to communicate with customers and potential customers. Find meaningful conversations, and join in with useful comments.

The DeLeon Realty website is an excellent example of online branding — its content constantly changes, and reinforces the fact that DeLeon Realty caters to the upper scale real estate market in Palo Alto, California with rich media content and vivid display ads. For more examples of great online branding, browse through the Vantage Local ad library.