When you think of soda, what are the first couple of brands that come to mind? Odds are Coke or Pepsi are on your list. Why? After spending millions of dollars in advertising over the years they’ve managed to be at or near the top of your mind for their category. And, customers purchase from companies they favorably recall.

As small businesses, we also want to be at the top of our prospects’ minds. The challenge is to create Top of Mind Awareness (sometimes referred to as TOMA), without investing an arm and a leg! So here are some tips you can use to help create TOMA:

Be unique: If we want to stand out in a prospect’s mind, we need to be a standout. So what is it that makes you or your business special? Is it your size, location, quality, speed, availability, or price (to name a few)? If you’re an also-ran, you’ll get run over. Yet most businesses cannot articulate what makes them different. Do yourself a favor and spend some time focused on this one item. If you’re in doubt, ask your best customers. They’ll know!

Invent a New Category:  Perhaps you’re having difficulty finding something unique because you’re swimming in a sea of competitors. So what do you do? Jump out of that sea and into a new by creating a new category that you can own. Take my company for example. I can’t compete for top of mind awareness with all of the marketing companies and agencies out there. So I narrowed my focus. Thus, my tagline is “smart marketing for small business.” Another classic example from years ago is the 7-Up brand. For years they competed head-to-head with colas, always falling short. So they created a new category – the UnCola. Now they could command the top spot in customers’ minds when they were in the mood for something other than cola. Is there a way for you to focus on a more specific niche that you could own?

Be memorable: Sometimes we get so creative and obtuse with our company name that it’s difficult for people to remember what we do. As small business owners or entrepreneurs, one way to stand out is to also create a label for ourselves. For example, I can remember back to the old days when businesspeople were referred to by their occupation. I remember there was the Window Washing man, the Plant lady, or the Firewood guy. Those labels made sense to me. What nickname or label could you give yourself that’s simple and descriptive?

Repeat, repeat, repeat: Design your marketing message to reflect your unique position. Then repeat your message over and over and over. Repetition breeds familiarity and familiarity builds credibility. And that, we know, increases sales. Where else can you add your positioning message – on your signature line for your email, on your voicemail message?

Consistency: Along those same lines, once you’ve got solid positioning language, don’t change it. Sometimes we get tired or bored from using it all the time. But think about my favorite classic example, Empire Today. You’ve probably heard their jingle and phone number, 588-2300, what seems like a million times. And yet, that’s exactly why they’re successful. People remember it. How can you infuse more consistency in your communications?

Just remember, if you want to capture more marketshare, you’ve first got to capture more mindshare.