Have you ever looked at small business branding from a farmer's perspective?

That's how Tom Varjan, a business marketing consultant in Vancouver, Canada, looks at it. Although a brand may include a logo, shapes and colors, he believes a brand is about a process that connects with the target market in a way that increases the brand’s chances of getting the customer to buy its products or services again and again. Branding’s goal, then, is to create customer loyalty.

“A cattle farmer has two options. He can work with an expensive designer to develop the world’s fanciest branding iron with fancy shapes, gold-plated titanium handle and ergonomic hand grip, which takes his attention away from growing top-notch cattle and producing top-notch beef,” he explains. “Or he can go to the local blacksmith and have a branding iron made with a simple emblem that differentiates his cattle from others’ cattle.”

A fancy brand doesn’t guarantee any one will buy mediocre beef. No mater how much time and effort the farmer invests to tout his fancy brand, customer admiration of a cute branding scheme won’t itself impact the farmer’s bottom line, especially if it’s followed up with a negative comment about the beef quality. The farmer’s main focus should be on improving his farming practices, hiring enthusiastic employees and enhancing slaughtering practices to improve the quality of the beef, Varjan says.

“The farmer wants people to spread the message that his beef is the best beef money can buy. People don’t care about the fanciness of the logo,” he argues. “They just enjoy the beef and spread the word about it.”

This example can be translated to any industry. The take away is that the primary focus should be on providing distinguishing and memorable service. Clients, he says, will create the brand perception and loyalty through the stories they tell each other. All the rebranding efforts in the world won’t pay dirt if a small business doesn’t offer a service about which customers speak favorably. A brand is an experience. You can go to a McDonald’s in any city in the world and know what to expect.

Shel Horowitz, author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, also views branding as customer experience. “Branding is not about the logo, the store colors, or the uniforms. It's about the customer experience, of which those surface things are one small part. It's about building trust as well as consistency, about being there for your customers,” he argues. “Those more superficial aspects of branding may help create an initial purchase, but after that, a second transaction will only happen if the customer feels that the product and the service met or surpassed expectations.”