Have you ever been cornered by someone at a party who just doesn’t seem to stop talking? Your eyes search the room for some escape. You look desperately at a spouse or friend to save you. You imagine yourself telling this person to just stop talking.  But you don’t say anything. You wait politely for an opportune moment to extricate yourself gracefully. Why do you do this? Why wait for that inconspicuous moment to exit? From a marketing perspective, the answer is simple—branding.

The Tronvig Group (a marketing firm) defines branding as: “what sticks in your mind associated with a product, service, or organization — whether or not, at that particular moment, you bought or did not buy.” As the mind can be a complicated place, everything that “sticks in your mind” when it comes to particular product could be quite a collection, which is why controlling your brand image is much deeper than creating the perfect logo (or picking out that perfect outfit).

Branding is Personal

You’re already an expert on branding. You’re doing it all the time. We’re selling ourselves at every moment. And the reason you don’t just tell that overenthusiastic chatterbox at the party that you’re not interested in what they’re saying and walk away is because you’re protecting your brand, your image. You’re controlling the impression you leave and what can be said about you.

Branding is simply taking that thinking and applying it to your small business. “Branding,” according to Tronvig, “is the expression of the essential truth or value of an organization, product, or service.”

And though branding is certainly a part of marketing, branding is the thing that sticks. Going back to that party… you chose something to wear, something that you think communicated something about you. Maybe a smart suit, a form fitting dress, heels, flats, a sports coat, a clown suit—they all advertise something about you, but it’s the content of your conversation and your actions that brand you. Your actions have the real sticking power and will determine if someone wants to call you later or if they will tell their friends about how great you are.

Branding is Associative

Branding is simply that network of associations in our minds, and it’s unique for everyone. Think of any product and your associations will be different from mine. When I think of Coors, for example, I think of the dry, flat mesas that surround the brewery in Golden, Colorado… but that’s because I grew up in Golden and know that the brewery isn’t perched upon a snowy mountain peak, as depicted in the commercial. I think of my mother, because she loves Coors Light. I think of my beer-loving father, who screws up a face a little and disdainfully says, “Tasteless.”

And so the associations spread out like a web—a unique network of associations for each person. So you can see that branding is really a conglomeration of experience with a product. Therefore, it’s something that each business should be aware of with every interaction. You want your product or service to be a hit at the party. Not only to show up in the right clothes, but to also deliver a good experience and the right message that people will say positive things about. This is where customer loyalty comes from, and that’s what you want to build.

Branding is multidimensional

When you think of your brand, think of it as a person, a three-dimensional character with ideas, beliefs and values, a look, an attitude. As market research firm AYTM explains, “Who would you rather spend time with — Apple or Microsoft? These two brands have very different brand personas.” Realize the brand you’d rather spend time with at the party is the brand you’d also buy. So ask, who is your brand—not what.