Branding, as an art, isn’t what it used to be. For one thing, it’s no longer confined to smoky rooms deep inside major ad agencies; these days, everyone – from the biggest companies to the smallest – is getting in on the act. That’s probably the reason for the second difference: that everyone is doing it. Branding used to be something that only the biggest players in industry worried about, much less understood, now there are millions of people trying it, not to mention a tidal wave of books, articles, and seminars on the subject.

That’s not to say that all of this change is a bad thing, however. There are some great and interesting ways that thinking about branding shifted in recent years. Here are four of the most important:

Your website is your most important branding tool.
Except in very rare circumstances, your small business website is going to attract several times more eyeballs than your retail storefront, print catalog, or promotional materials ever will. That means that your online look and feel is more important than ever.

Online reputation management can make or break your company.
Just a single poor review or a bad customer impression that gets tweeted (and re-tweeted, and re-tweeted…) can cost you thousands in new sales. It used to be that a dissatisfied customer would tell 12 other people – now it could be hundreds.

Brands are interactive now.
Social media has completely changed the way people feel about the companies they buy from, and the type of relationship they expect to have with them. If you aren’t active on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, there’s a good chance you’re losing out sales to a competitor who is.

Smaller brands can compete with larger brands.
Even the size of your company affects your brand, and some people prefer to do business with established enterprises, while others like the thrill of supporting an up-and-coming venture. It’s no longer important whether you have one employee or 1 million; what matters is how you position yourself in terms of pricing, service, and personality in a crowded marketplace.