Instinctively, every small business owner understands the importance of brand equity, even if they may not be able to define the idea. Marketing-speak aside, brand equity is how your customer recognizes why you are different and better than the alternative.

Brand equity is built on that customer's direct experience with your product or service. This experience, repeated over time, creates equity or value in your brand. And it serves as a shorthand in the buyer's mind that separates you from everyone else.

Brand equity is what creates loyalty that carries beyond price or the occasional product or service bump in the road. It is the quality that motivates your customers to recommend their friends or colleagues to you.

Everyone wants brand equity. But building it, when you are more likely to qualify for the Inc. 500 rather than the Fortune 500, can be a puzzle. Particularly when the role models for brand equity are global icons like Coca Cola, Volvo, or Sony—hardly your peer set.

The good news is that the path to building brand equity is clear. Here are five simple steps you can take to get started:

1. Clarify your position

The first step to building brand equity is to define your positioning: the single thing your company stands for to your customers. Single is the operative word here. Good positioning forces hard choices.

To define your brand position, get the key leaders in your company together. Decide what makes you different and better than your competition. This might sound blindingly obvious, but most small businesses are too busy responding to customers or making payroll to do a lot of introspection.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike O'Toole is executive vice president and partner at PJA Advertising & Marketing (www.agencypja.com), BtoB's 2008 Agency of the Year.