I had a frustrating phone call with a vendor this morning, one that put a raincloud over my head for most of the afternoon. So much so that I text-yelled at my husband for a dumb reason (YES, HUGE, ALL CAPS, SCREAMING TEXTS) and got an “Are you okay?” reaction to my tone of voice during a client phone call.

Why? Simple. The vendor messed up and gave me faulty information, and then she didn’t take accountability. People make mistakes—me more than most. I completely get mistakes. But instead of admitting it, apologizing, and moving forward, this particular individual first tried to convince me that I was wrong, confused, even a little foolish.

And now I’m looking for another printer.

But this is more than a rant about poor customer experience. It’s a rant about the importance of controlling your brand everywhere it intersects with your audience. It’s a rant about the fact that marketing is about so much more than brochures and websites and tweets. It’s about perception. And in the end, person-to-person interactions have a huge impact on how you’re perceived. Especially for small businesses like us.

I used to work with a great CMO who constantly reminded me—and the entire company—that marketing starts from within. It’s an adage that many of us have heard before. But how do you plant the right seed? How do you get your people to represent your brand correctly?

For starters, you align your company around a unified message. No team member can appropriately personify your brand if he doesn’t know what your brand is all about in the first place.

So if you haven’t done so already, start by defining who you are in the market, who you’re talking to, and why those people care about the value you’re offering. Write it down.

Then, use this information to outline your offering and core messages. Again, write it down.

And finally, share it—all of it—with the whole company. Show them who you all are. Show them how you hope customers and prospects will perceive you. Show them what they’re a part of.

All your other marketing efforts will become better investments if you start with this foundation. If you start from within.

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