Small businesses often don’t have substantial resources on hand, but they still need to spend on marketing and protecting the brands they have worked so hard to build. But what are the most cost-effective ways to do this?

During the recent CO— Roadmap for Rebuilding event, small business experts spoke about the best ways to define your audience, build effective marketing plans and the right steps to take to protect a brand you are marketing to the public.

Host Jeanette Mulvey, Editor-in-Chief at CO—, spoke with a panel of experts and small business owners. They included Brant Caraberis, Director of Media for Staples U.S. Retail; Dionna Dorsey, Owner and Designer of District of Clothing; Melissa Boloña, Founder and CEO of The Beauty & the Broth; and Michelle Murphy, Owner of Wilson Murphy Law and The CEO Legal Loft.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the conversation.

Focus on your customers who will get the most out of you

Caraberis noted that businesses who want to market most effectively would be the ones that pursue customers that can hugely benefit from your product or service. You can’t assume your business is for everyone and need to market to those who can unlock value from you.

“All great marketing puts the customer front and center,” Caraberis said. “It’s critical to understand the key customer groups that are going to benefit most from your business and to ensure you speak directly to them. By understanding their needs, mindset and behavior, you can more directly establish a connection and communicate how your business will make their lives better.”

How to define your audience

When it comes to defining and finding customers that will get the most value from you, Caraberis says there are three ways to do this:

  1. Reflect deeply on your business and what value propositions you offer to customers.
  2. Sketch out your ideal customer that will benefit from you and later be a strong advocate for your business.
  3. Collect data and observations to see how customers are behaving and make strategic changes that are informed.

It’s critical to understand the key customer groups that are going to benefit most from your business and to ensure you speak directly to them.

Brant Caraberis, Director of Media, Staples U.S. Retail

Adopt social channels that connect you with the right customers

Boloña said your company must be connecting with people on the social media platforms that make the most sense for your audience. Her brand The Beauty & the Broth has had the most impact on apps such as Pinterest and Instagram.

“I happen to love Instagram, and I think it's great for my product. One, you can get great data on where the customer is, the ratio between male and female, the age range, and it can be really specific. I also love the new feature of Instagram Reels," which can really help your company take off, she said. "But I feel TikTok personally is a very young demographic for my product. My customers start to focus on my product in their mid-to-late 20s."

Protect your brand early in the process with a trademark

One of the top ways to protect your brand, whether new or established, is filing for a trademark. Dorsey, for example, said she wishes she had worked on the trademark process earlier because it ultimately cost her more later by not investing early.

“I waited too long to trademark District of Clothing,” Dorsey said. “I have our logo and brand trademarked, but I have had some challenges with trademarking other parts of the brand. I recommend you seek help from whoever you can. You can go to LegalZoom, members of your local community and teams of lawyers who want to help. If you don’t spend the money on the front end, you will definitely spend it on the back end.”

How to start with trademarking

Murphy, who works as a trademark attorney, said that you should begin your trademark process by simply searching for any other entity with a similar name as yours. Using search engines, social media and the USPTO website, you can search for existing trademarks. Once you believe you are in the clear, you can begin filing the required paperwork with the USPTO.

“All of the information is on the USPTO website, and they will guide you on how to do it, but it is a lot of reading,” Murphy said. “I know me and a lot of my peers now offer courses on walking people through the process at an affordable price.”

The panel ultimately agreed that you would likely be best off by hiring or receiving guidance from an attorney specialized in this space and committed to your business. They also suggested finalizing your company’s logo before submitting it to the USPTO.

Keep close tabs on your website URLs

Another critical aspect of protecting your business and personal brand is to ensure any important URLs that you own or use never expire. Boloña found this out the hard way when her personal website under her own name expired.

“My personal website expired, the name was taken, and someone put a blog up there,” Boloña said. “It’s very hard to get back, and I don’t have access to my own website anymore. So make sure when you have a website, renew everything on time. There are bots out there that scan expiration dates and snap it up the minute it expires.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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