Pair of red Converse sneakers in row of white Keds sneakers
Leonard Mc Lane—Getty Images

5 Smart Ways to Build Your Business Into a Distinctive Brand

Jun 16, 2015

When QuadJobs—a website that connects local employers with college and grad students looking for work—launched in October 2014, the founders wanted to perfect their branding right out of the starting gate.

The three co-founders were all veterans of the business world and knew that if their branding did not immediately convey their value proposition to potential users, they might not get a second chance.

“We realized early on that for people to understand the brand, you have to be hyperfocused about that,” says co-founder Betsey O’Reilly, a former managing director at Deutsche Bank, who teamed up with Andra Newman, formerly head of recruitment for J. Crew and Abercrombie & Fitch, and Bridie Loverro, founder of Blue State Coffee.

So how'd they do it? To start, the team spent a lot of time researching their market and incorporating what they learned into their brand. When they found that potential employers want their work force to be college-educated, for example, they fine-tuned their marketing to highlight that. Their official tag line: “The educated way to get things done.”

This and similar branding refinements seem to be working. In the first six months QuadJobs has attracted about 1,000 subscribers who hire help through the site and worked with 8,000 students, according to O’Reilly. Investors are also responding to the brand. QuadJobs raised $500,000 in initial funding and recently borrowed $300,000 in convertible debt.

Want to get your own branding right from the start? Here are some strategies to help you strike the right note.

1) Don’t expect to do it in one day. Building a brand is a multipart process that starts with getting clear on your mission and target audience and creating images and words that reflect that, says Donna Maria Coles Johnson, founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, a 1,200 member trade organization for makers of handmade and artisanal products (think soaps to baked goods). “It’s not just how it looks,” she says. “It’s what you bring to the table as you become the walking, talking representative of that brand.” Build enough time into the launch of your business to reflect that.

2) Talk with potential customers. Getting as clear as possible about what you'll offer and how you'll explain that in your branding will ensure that you build a strong brand from the outset. One of the best ways to do this is by talking with people in your target market to find out their needs, so you can fine-tune your offering and your brand to reflect that.

QuadJobs arranged about 10 focus group sessions with about 200 participants—including both clients and employees—to make sure the company’s value proposition was clear. “We really tried to pinpoint what the pain point was for both sides of the equation,” says O’Reilly. That enabled its team to focus the site, and its branding, on what mattered to both groups.

During the focus groups, employers often made comments like, “I am so much more comfortable bringing a college student into my house than a lot of the other options that are out there,” O’Reilly said. Getting this feedback showed QuadJobs’ founders that the education level of their talent was their core differentiator. That in turn, shaped elements of its branding such as their tag line.

Meanwhile, from the students in the focus groups, the company learned that finding gigs that they could fit into a demanding schedule of classes was very important. QuadJobs highlights the flexibility of its gigs on the site’s home page. Many of the young people also hoped to build a work history that would help them get future jobs. That led to the development of the JobGPA, a compilation of employers’ reviews and comments about a student’s performance that they can show to future employers. “We think there is real value in these jobs,” says O’Reilly. “They show work ethic, commitment, and skills.”

3) Keep it simple. If you do a marketing campaign, whether on radio or the web, it’s tempting to try to cram a ton of information into your message. That will only confuse your audience, says O’Reilly. It is better, she says, to stay clear and focus on your core offering. “You have to assume people are hearing your message for the first time—every time,” she says.

4) Connect on an emotional level. Sometimes conveying the vibe of your brand and your company is more important than trotting out a list of features you offer. “Start with an emotional connection,” recommends Jason Pomeranc, co-founder of SIXTY Hotels. His boutique-hotel chain has opened two properties in New York City—SIXTY SoHo and SIXTY LES (short for Lower East Side)—and one in California, SIXTY Beverly Hills, since the firm launched in November 2013. Another outpost is slated to open in South Beach, Fla., in October.

One way SIXTYHotels conveys its ambiance is through an online publication called alphasixty, which covers topics like art, fashion, and food. “We don’t talk about the hotel that much,” Pomeranc says. “We talk about what we love.” In a previous hotel business he sold, he found customers really connected with a print magazine that the company published. It gave them a sense of what a hotel stay would feel like, he says.

5) Stay flexible. Don’t expect the brand you launch to remain static. You may need to make some nips and tucks over time. “When your target audience responds to you, that’s when the brand begins to be created,” says Coles Johnson.

Many companies discover that their brand resonates—but with a different group of customers, or in a different way, than they originally expected. One personal-care products company run by a husband-and-wife team in the Indie Business Network focused on female customers in the beginning. When the husband got involved in talking with their clientele, the business began to attract more men, Coles Johnson says. The couple changed the brand from Simply 7 Skincare to SoapCommander.com, she says. “Whether you start off knowing who your customers are, your customers will come and tell you if you’re right or you’re wrong,” says Coles Johnson.

The trick is responding to unexpected opportunities. “In order to create a successful brand, you have to follow where your customers are telling you that you need to go,” says Coles Johnson.

Read next: 5 Creative Ways To Fund Your Small Business

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. MONEY may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.

Quotes delayed at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Interactive Data. ETF and Mutual Fund data provided by Morningstar, Inc. Dow Jones Terms & Conditions: http://www.djindexes.com/mdsidx/html/tandc/indexestandcs.html. S&P Index data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions. Powered and implemented by Interactive Data Managed Solutions