STUDIO CITY ( — Struggling to grow a small business?

Matti Leshem, the CEO and Founder of brand-strategy firm Protagonist, visited the KCAL9 studios to share his branding tips to help a small business succeed.

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Protagonist develops branding solutions for some of the world’s most notable companies such as Pepsi and Weight Watchers,

What is branding and why is it important for small businesses?

• Branding is the emotional connection that companies can create with their customers. We live in the age of the entrepreneur, where it is easier to start a business now than ever before.

• Many small business owners can put together the idea and resources to start their business, but many struggle to grow that business in today’s competitive economy. Much of this comes down to branding. Whether you need to attract more customers or more investors, branding can make or break a small business.

What is the number one thing a small business can do to improve its brand?

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• One of the most important things about your brand and your company, is to make it embody your location. In retail, location is everything, but this is even more true when it comes to your brand. We live in the greatest city in America — I like to think of LA as the city where the future comes to rehearse. Use it. Use the energy and uniqueness of LA and its culture to distinguish your brand from others.

Do you think it’s important for brands to use social media?

• Social media is important for brands, but as a small business, it’s more important to pick up the phone. Nowadays, we think that efficiency trumps everything, but when it comes to building your brand, human contact is critical to building a business. Stop emailing. Stop tweeting. Pick up the phone and leave a message.

• Or better yet, have a conversation. You’ll be surprised how starved people are for a good conversation. Personal contact is everything. You don’t get return customers without it.

What are some of your other branding tips for small businesses?

• Los Angeles is a town that is fascinated by celebrity lifestyles – from where they dine to where they get their nails done. Small businesses should embrace this mindset and give every customer with the star treatment. Not only will it increase customer loyalty, but it will also help with word-of-mouth and online reviews. In a digital age, every interaction with customers can be documented on Yelp, UrbanSpoon and so forth, so make sure it’s a great one.

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• Also, don’t take your brand too seriously! If you can get someone to laugh, they will notice you. Take for example the tagline of LA’s most popular dog ‘butler’ – “Number One in The Number Two Business.” It’s great, and it gets him noticed by potential customers. Brainstorm with your team about ways you can inject some personality into your brand.