A brand refers to the unique, intangible, and often indiscernible, association prospects and customers have regarding your products and services. That’s why it’s important for internal stakeholders to understand what your brand stands for, because there must be alignment between how customers perceive the brand and what the organization overall is working to convey in the marketplace.

“Understanding how customers view your brand is critical because it’s the customers who ultimately determine the value of your brand,” says NYU brand expert Scott Galloway. “It’s not about what you say about your brand; it’s about what your customers say and feel about it. That’s why understanding their perspective is so important.”

One of the most important steps for any small business is gaining clarity and alignment on their perceived value.

How to determine your brand’s reason for being.

If someone were to ask you what your brand stands for, could you tell them? If so, what would you say?

“Quality products for the cost-conscious?” That’s a slogan, actually, and not a very good one, mind you. “Quality” or “value” or “sustainability” are words I hear often, and though they do get us closer to the goal, what they lack in blandness, they make up for with vagueness.

For most small business owners, thinking about their brand is about as exciting as being poked in the eye with a pencil. But before you dismiss it outright, consider this: What your brand stands for is an amalgam of the entire experience your brand evokes in the mind’s of the folks who encounter it, whether visually or verbally.

Get inside the heads of your ideal customers.

A simple way to think about this is to envision a co-worker asking you what you think of someone you both know. Typically, in those situations, you say the first thing that comes to mind, right? “Annoying,” “trustworthy,” “lazy,” “brown noser,” “poor planner.” In that person’s mind, this is—based on all of his or her experiences with you—what you stand for. It’s irrelevant whether or not they actually are that person; It’s what that person stands for to them.

Your product or service is thought of the same way by consumers and potential consumers.

I challenge you to spend some time thinking about this topic, attempting to gain as clear an understanding as possible of what your brand stands for in the marketplace. Why is such an exercise necessary?

Understanding what your brand stands for helps shape your overall messaging.

Many brands’ messaging is all over the place. Their slogan says one thing, their packaging another, and there is no clear communication from the company’s website, printed materials or blog. Brands who really understand the space they occupy in the minds of consumers have alignment among these elements.

You gain a clear understanding of how your product or service is viewed.

If you care anything at all about your brand, you’d better know what people are saying about it. I’m not referring to what they say to you about your product; I mean what they are saying to one another. Many times, companies drink the KoolAid in thinking their product is so great they don’t need to conduct research to discern how consumers really feel about their brand.

This thinking is flat-out dumb. You need to spend some time on the phone, Web and email, talking and listening to folks, figuring out (a) who your core audience really is and (b) how they view your brand.

You can accurately mold your brand’s image.

A lack of adequate information means no accurate information, in my book. Attempting to create marketing, sales and media materials without first having a clear idea of what “space” your brand occupies in the market is an exercise in futility. With the information gleaned from research, however, you can start to fashion the brand in the likeness you envision for it.

I hope you get the point that defining your brand such that you have a very clear vision of what it stands for is no small, insignificant task. It’s not only important; it can be richly rewarding as well.