ONTARIO: Brand experience is the most important aspect of the overall branding strategy of small businesses in Canada, as they seek to differentiate themselves from their rivals, new research has said.

The quarterly American Express Small Business Monitor surveyed 529 Canadian small business owners during May and found that 93% felt having a unique brand was more important than ever before.

In addition, 71% indicated that brand experience ranked top of their approach while 51% said branding was critical to attracting new business.

"Having a powerful brand is vital in today's economy, it can be the difference between a business that blends in with the crowd or stands out from the competition," said Athena Varmazis, Vice President and General Manager, Small Business Services, American Express Canada.

"It's refreshing to see business owners placing an emphasis on branding since it's their platform to tell their business' story with current and future customers," she added.

Even though small business owners were conscious of the need to distinguish themselves from rivals, most (55%) were not refining their brand every year, which, American Express noted, could mean they were neglecting a chance to analyse evolving trends and keep on top of the market.

Over one third (36%) were interested in expanding their brand but did not know where to start, and the majority (86%) declined to enlist the resources of third party experts.

Varmazis contrasted their willingness to invest in accounting, legal and payroll. "Branding plays a significant role in the overall success of their business and shouldn't be taken lightly by business owners," she observed.

Small businesses have started to embrace the digital world as part of their branding, with 52% of respondents using a company website to assist them in this respect.

But many remain reliant on the actions of employees, with 60% saying this was how they communicated their brand and 45% reporting it as being effective.

Further, 32% of small business owners utilised events to increase brand awareness.

Data sourced from PR Newswire; additional content by Warc staff