I’ll admit it—social media has me torn. As a father of teenage children, I resent the time suck and distraction of Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and so on. On the other hand, as a brand strategist, community builder and most importantly, as a tamer of wild elephants, I recognize and appreciate the value of these tools as essential equipment when gearing up for your next great safari expedition, product launch or recruitment drive. It’s simple math, where teens + smart phones = reduced family time, while business + online communities = + / – the bottom line. Ok, maybe it’s not so simple after all…

Use Your Brand Tools Wisely

First, let me be clear here. This is not yet another article about social media tools and how to use them. As an entrepreneur or small business owner, your success is not so dependent upon the tools needed for the job as it is about properly identifying the job itself: building a better, stronger and more loyal audience for your small business through heartfelt brand connections.

The marketing landscape is so chock-full of bright-eyed Twitter Tweeners (yes, I just made that up) who post and video blog with incessant urgency that it seems all you really need these days to be successful in business is a strong, obsessively-frequent social media presence, and someone young, cheap and savvy enough to properly work all of the critical, emerging social media apps. But this is not the case (at least not all of it) and I am not one of those torchbearers. When used improperly, social media can in fact be detrimental to your business and breed mistrust and contempt. Be there, sure… but be useful and relevant. Also, be parental, fraternal, therapeutic and a lover of all creatures great and small.

Discover Your Brand Purpose

Understand that your job is not to provide a product or service. You are not designing wedding plans, painting houses or selling paper. Your job is to provide the perfect day in which two hearts can begin their journey as one; to provide the perfect backdrop against which lasting family memories will be made; and to provide the perfect setting upon which words can be written with the power and potential to change the world. Simply put, your job is to expose the beating heart of your brand—stirring affection, desire and trust—for brands are no longer bought or bought into. Brands are joined, supported and protected by members eager to exchange tangible wealth and action for intangible gains such as hope and guidance, safety and a sense of belonging. Think of it as (almost) free love for free enterprise.

Uncover Your Why Statement

Right now you might be asking, “Why? Why isn’t it enough to just provide a quality product or service?” or, as a small business owner with a limited budget or a consultant servicing other businesses, “Why should I be focusing my time, energy and resources on thoughts and feelings?”

Also, “Did he really refer to himself as a wild elephant tamer to start this piece? Why did he say that!?”

These are all valid questions. In fact, “Why?” is THE most valid, most important and often most difficult question you can ask of yourself or your company. Why do you matter? And why should anyone care? Unfortunately, it’s simply not good enough to say, “We do great things—come see and experience them.” Regardless of industry, audiences yearn to belong to something bigger than themselves. They want to belong to an ideal, and to a simple truth that resonates and defines—answering the nebulous questions, “Who will I be if I go there and advocate for this?” And even more importantly, “How on Earth did I ever survive without doing that?”

Attract a Loyal Audience

Think of these important questions as the “big elephant in the room.” These are the questions that are so obvious and imposing, yet so large and uncomfortable that no one wants to talk about them. Why should anyone care more about your plans, paint or paper than those of the competition next door? The key to answering any elephant question is of course solvable with more elephants. And brand. Elephants are big and strong and loyal. They may never forget, but they will forgive any stumbles you might make along the way. They also travel safely and confidently in herds. This herd is your ideal audience—and your brand could use more of them.

Make Emotional Brand Connections

Knowing that brand is a term for the intangible collection of thoughts and feelings a person has toward your company, and that brand exists everywhere and everywhen an emotional connection is made, we can begin to understand the power of branding as both the art of differentiation, and the critical importance of knowing, understanding and living up to your “Why”. Let’s face it: the competition is all around you. And they’re fierce.

Great game-changing, earth-shattering words have been written down on anything from the finest, smoothest stock to the roughest napkin. With all things being equal (in this case paper selection, availability, service and price) what additional value can you offer to your audience that no one else can? Why is your paper somehow more special, more majestic or more conducive to original thought? Here’s a hint to all of you number crunchers out there: price reduction to compete on cost is never the answer.

Make Strategic Brand Choices

The answer again is more elephants. If given a sense of importance, a safe watering hole to quench their thirst for imagination, room to roam and the opportunities to express their individual thoughts within the safety of a herd of like-minded creatures, and if their trumpet cries are listened to and their trunks are lovingly patted, and most crucially, if they are empowered to power your brand, you’ll find them quite willing to share the heavy lifting with you. Your herd will often share new ideas and trends relevant to your industry, help to steer your business down more profitable and more rewarding paths, and of course they’ll also attract even more elephants (in the form of external audiences and internal recruits) to help shield you from the stampede of competing herds.

By properly wielding such tools as social media, advertising, marketing and events to not just build online and offline social communities, but a participation economy of shared emotional wealth in the form of knowledge, leadership, information and realized potential, and by not just being there but being there at the right time with the right offerings, your business will be sure to feed from the sweet fruits of brand loyalty. And this is the simplest equation of all: with a series of smart, yet often low-cost investments in your brand, your small business will be sure to grow strong upon the backs of your loyal herd of mighty elephants.

Remember that mattering matters. And so does the importance of the herd. So the next time your teen reaches for their phone during family movie night, be sure to insist they save their tweets and snaps and posts for the next commercial break (unless of course they’re chatting about math equations involving elephants, because then it’s obviously of great importance).

And if anyone asks you “Why?”, just tell them that you’re a tamer of wild elephants and your business is simply majestic.