Profitable Branding for the Small Business: The Dagwood Guide

The Dagwood Brand Sandwich, by Moria Stephens for Aquilino Arts
The Brand-Sandwich

How can a small business brand profitably? The simple answer: Be smart. Be creative. This guide provides 15 ingredients to building a profitable, successful small-business brand.

Branding is like a high-stacked, Dagwood sandwich and just as difficult to imagine exactly where to start. Sink your teeth into this guide and you’ll be branding for success. Each ingredient works together to create a brand: meats, cheeses, vegetables, bread and condiments. You need all the ingredients to have successful brand-sandwich.

When I was a kid, I didn’t prefer chocolate, anything salty or bread. Aside from these curious dislikes, my ideal sandwich might have contained marshmallow peeps, pixie sticks, and tuna. Not only do these ingredients make me a little nauseated and dizzy, but you really can’t make a sandwich without bread; that’s what we call a tossed salad. Let’s build a better brand-sandwich beginning with the meat and cheese, incorporating some veggies for health and life, some bread to keep it all together –and, don’t forget the condiments for a little personality. Each ingredient in the brand-sandwich works together to create a brand. You need all the ingredients to have successful brand-sandwich.

Meat & Cheese: Connection

This is the connection between the brand (you/your organization) and the client/customer. How do you make a connection? You need to identify what a brand is, who you are, and what your client/customer needs. What is a brand? We buy a feeling. That’s right, we buy a feeling. How many times have you heard someone say, “I love (favorite food/restaurant, like BurgerQueen or Wilder Sandwich Co.)” or “I like shopping at (favorite store/clothier, like Revolution or Old Army)” In normal conversation when we are sold on a company, product, or brand, we do not usually say, “I buy this, because of that.” We express our likes and loves. This is the job of branding: to elicit a feeling. Why? Because a feeling or emotion is a stronger motivation to buy and be loyal. If your brand creates an emotion, you make the strongest connection. How do I elicit a feeling? Connect! Draw a line between the two points. Point #1 is you/your business and Point #2 is the client/customer and their needs. Here are some steps towards finding the meat and cheese of your brand-sandwich:

1 Know yourself: Depth & Meaning Give people something to bite into; they need to know that you are real. Buying from mega-store gets you cheap, buying from a small business gets you personality. You must know yourself. Express what you/your organization’s vision, mission, values and passions are. Small business relies more on this than big business. Here are some questions you need to answer before you begin any marketing materials:

What are my/our passions?
What is our Vision?
What is our Mission?
What are our values?
What makes you so special?

2 Image vs. Identity Think of image as a sandwich all together, stacked high, toasty buns, tied together at the top with a toothpicked olive, sitting in a basket ready to be picked up and delivered to your table. Think of identity as the unique, locally-sourced, freshly-grilled, quality ingredients, slathered in special sauce, and sandwiched between slices of homemade bread. This is the difference between, “I think it looks good.” and “I know it IS good.” Take who you are and convert them into things that people can taste, hear, see, feel and smell. Image is the tangible representation of your identity (passions, values, vision, mission, etc.)

3 Know your Client/ Customer: Needs & Wants Okay, so you have an awesome, unique product or service to offer from a company/team/owner who has depth and meaning, but is it something that is needed? You must identitfy how your product/service provides a potential client/customer with…


4 Creating the Connection There are thousands upon thousands of ways to draw that connecting line between you and the client/customer who needs you. Examples of channels of communication are: logo, website, classes/workshops, decor/ambiance, staff training, sampling, personal letters, and cross-/joint-promotions. First, make a list and ask yourself what ways are you already connecting? Which of these ways are successful? What new ways can I explore?

Veggies: Keep It Fresh

Keeping it fresh is key to gaining new AND retaining current clients/customers. Why? Have you ever received a sandwich with wilted or browned lettuce? Yeah, not appealing. This section is about creating fresh approaches in your branding which renews and piques interest, and takes a look at thoughtful selection of the communication channel(s).

5 Humor Warning: There are organizations/businesses for which humor is inappropriate. Use discretion. Humor disarms us; we take down our guard and are more open to buying in.

6 Ask Questions People like to share about themselves —and this is good! Think of this as an opportunity to turn the tables around; you’ve hopefully told be people how human and real you are. Now, you are giving your client/customer the opportunity to make themselves real and human to you. And that is valuable because a relationship, a connection, is stronger when there is exchange.

7 Relationship Builders Approach your customers/clients with another intent aside from a sale. Why? It says you want a relationship; it’s the difference between a one-night stand and a long-term relationship. Here’s a few ways you can build your relationship: teach, educate, be a resource, treat them special (tell them to pick any earrings off the rack. What’s $15 of free advertising/gossip?), or tell a loyal client you’re not going to charge them for fixing their flat (they’ll be back for more important stuff!). And, offer little “extras” —things that may have NOTHING to do with your service(s) or product(s), like coffee, tea, candy, a balloon for a kid, etc.

8 Get the Word Out In step 4, you explored the communication channels you presently used and what channels you haven’t tried. How you can support the main channel(s) of communication with other channel(s) of communication? For example, you’ve created a humourous cross-promotion video; what channels of communication will get the word out to YOUR client/customer? Social Media? E-newsletter? Ad in the newspaper? Revisit your list of possible communication channels everytime you use a marketing channel and look for ways to support it.

Bread: Consistency

This is the ingredient which, in a Dagwood sandwich, tops it, sits under it, and punctuates the middle at least once —the bread. It’s all about consistency. Keep it all together through consistent branding. Message delivery should consistenty communicate your identity, whether in a newspaper ad, business card, video, or customer interaction. This means you need to use the same language (what the client reads or hears), the same visual cues, and the same feeling (what the client feels, tastes, smells –experiences with or without human interaction). You can only communicate your brand through the senses; by staying consistent, you enter the client/customer’s mind via multiple senses and this strengthens the message. Review the following areas to insure that the your branding has consistency:

9 Design Consistency Check logo variations (black-n-white vs color, horizontal vs. vertical, etc.), how your business’s name appears (i.e. all caps, small caps, lower case, mix, bolded), fonts and colors.

10 Language Consistency Define a set vocabulary which supports your brand, e.g. organic, fair trade, nutritious, exotic, professional, etc. Keywords is a term which refers to the words potential customers use to find your website. Speaking about consistency, we mean both keywords and key words. Keywords are typically used when speaking about your industry, specific product, and/or service. Key words are unique to what you offer. Keywords help people find you and creates a sense of familiarity and key words signify that you offer something new, special and unique.

11 Client Interaction Consistency Strive to create a consistent experience when you and/or any employees interact with customers. Take some time to define expectations and give examples of the type of experience you desire your customers to have. Return to the steps above where you determine who you are and what your customers needs/wants are. Ask yourself, “How do I need to act if I want my customer to feel secure, loved, happy, wealthy, worthy, etc.? How can the vision/mission/values be expressed when interacting with our client/customer?


A little mustard? Ketchup? Mayo? Perhaps some Sriracha Sauce? Mustard, ketchup and mayo are good; they’re familiar and you can depend upon them. However, you are unique and the best tool you can wield as a small business is personality and genuine gratitude. That’s right; break out the Grey Poupon or “Mom’s recipe” You’re unique and you need to express it. How can you express uniqueness and show gratitude?

12 Volunteer time, money or resources to community events

13 Volunteer with or donate to a charity

14 Create a cross-promotion with another organization/business

15 Partner with another business or businesses to create a new event

Remember, creativity and knowledge will take your dollars and dimes further, so invest wisely in your marketing and you’ll be making a great brand-sandwich and making small business cents. Enjoy!

Hungry for more? Download The Dagwood Guide at the top of the sidebar —more fun anecdotes, checklists and lengthier explanations.

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