Today, I Spoke to Barbara Findlay Schenck, who is a marketing strategist and small business advocate, author of Small Business Marketing for Dummies and Selling Your Business for Dummies, and co-author of Branding for Dummies and Business Plans Kit for Dummies, Second Edition. In this interview, Barbara talks about branding, the brands that have stood out in 2010 so far, if a small business owner should be the voice of their company, discusses if everyone needs to be a marketer now, and what she’s learned from book publishing.

What is the one essential thing that everyone has to know about branding?

People need to know that branding isn’t a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. No matter who you are or what you do, you have a brand – whether you’ve consciously built one or not. When people see or hear your name, they automatically unlock a stored-up set of impressions and beliefs that comprise your brand in their minds, which is where brands live. The only variable is whether or not the brand you have is the brand you want, which comes down to whether you’ve carefully and consistently built your brand by projecting the right messages into the market, or whether you’ve allowed random, unplanned impressions build your brand for you. Branding is the route to making sure the brand image people link to your name is the brand image you want them to have and hold in their minds.

What corporate and product brands have really stood out in 2010 and why?

For very different reasons, two brands have dominated 2010 news: Apple and Tiger Woods. I’m hard-pressed to find two more different brand stories, or two stories that better prove that brands are powerful and valuable assets in good times and bad.

Apple stands out for announcing a new product capable of propelling the brand’s long-standing promise of cool innovation to all-new heights.

Tiger Woods stands out for announcing a personal lifestyle completely counter to his well-etched brand promise of discipline, integrity and dedication.

While Apple’s announcement deepened market commitment to its brand promise and Tiger Wood’s announcement shattered market beliefs and trust, both proved that in good times and bad, strong brands are powerful assets. Consider: Would the arrival of the iPad have been anywhere near as newsworthy, anticipated, or enthusiastically greeted if it hadn’t ridden into the market on the magic carpet of the Apple brand? And would any other personal brand have received the media coverage, market interest, and second-chance opportunity that Tiger Woods experienced over the past months? These major 2010 brand stories both prove that powerful brands benefit from a wealth of awareness and emotional connection in both the best and worst of times.

Does a small business owner have to be the voice of the business? Can he or she stay out of the media?

So long as a small business owner is the leader of the business and not an absentee owner, and unless part of the owner’s personal brand is to be a media recluse, he or she needs to be an audible and visible representative of the business both internally and externally. But that doesn’t mean the leader should be the only face of the business. If an owner is trying to build an organization bigger than his or her own identity – either to seize market opportunities or to prepare for an eventual sale – then the last thing the owner wants is the be the company’s one and only credible representative. That’s why smart small business owners build two complementary brands – a strong personal brand and an even stronger business brand that’s represented by the owner and also by a team of experienced, reliable, well-branded individuals who together represent the expertise behind the business brand, with each being the voice of the business depending on the issue and talking point.

True or false: does everyone have to be a marketer now?

True. Only a few years ago marketing messages were controlled by a few. Calls to businesses went through switchboards that offered a uniform greeting. Letters were typed, proofed, and sent out on business letterhead. Marketing communications were produced by a single department and placed through approved media channels. Today, none of the same rules apply. Today, everyone is and needs to be a brand builder and marketer. Whether they work independently or for employers, people answer their own phones, send their own emails, and post their own marketing messages online, representing themselves and the businesses they work for. That’s why it’s important for every single person to understand why and how to market and brand. It’s also why it’s necessary for every business to share the company’s marketing message and brand promise with all employees, because – unlike ever before – every single communication is now capable of contributing to or detracting from business and personal success.

What have you learned from publishing multiple books?

A lot! I’ve learned that there’s a sea of difference between knowing about a topic and figuring out how to explain that topic in a way that others can grasp and learn it, too. I’ve learned more about research, and editing, and condensing, and deleting than I ever thought possible. I’ve learned that editors are worth their weight in gold. And mostly, I’ve learned that if you can publish a book you have reason to be very grateful, because books give thoughts a life of their own and give authors the amazing opportunity to reach people they’d likely never meet otherwise. Books lead to opportunities like this interview. And for that I’m both amazed and grateful. Thank you!

Barbara Findlay Schenck is a marketing strategist and small business advocate. She is the author of Small Business Marketing for Dummies and Selling Your Business for Dummies, and co-author of Branding for Dummies and Business Plans Kit for Dummies, Second Edition. A graduate of Oregon State University, she began her career in Honolulu, where she was admissions director and writing instructor at Hawaii Loa College (now part of Hawaii Pacific University) before joining the staff of Hawaii’s largest public relations firm. Seven years later she moved with her husband, Peter, to Southeast Asia to manage a community development program for the Peace Corps in Malaysia.. In 1980 they founded a marketing agency in Oregon which was one of the Northwest’s Top 15 at the time of its sale in 1995. Following the sale, they packed up writing projects and moved with their son to Italy for nearly two years.