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As we saw this week, swearing in public can get people in hot water. Just how deep depends who you are.

Celebrities, rock stars and pro sport players usually get a free pass. We almost expect foul language from them. Politicians and senior business executives, on the other hand, cannot.

We all have preconceived notions of what constitutes appropriate behaviour from certain people. If they step out of line, we take notice. It's the same reflex that makes us wince when middle-aged people dress and talk like their teenage children.

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The old rule applies – just be yourself.

It's something small businesses should take note of. Trying to be something you're clearly not, especially when all evidence points the other way, is a sure-fire way to alienate customers. It may seem fun to invest in that pricey bells-and-whistles website that is sure to wow the digerati, but is that what customers really want or expect? Do they care? And don't get me started on coffee shops that force live music on patrons who just want to relax with a book for a few minutes.

It's a problem that spills over into marketing and PR as well. Small businesses often see PR as a way to get noticed, but it's much more than that. You want to make sure people are noticing you for the right reasons.

It's easy to get caught up in big ideas, but they have to fit. Here are a couple of things to watch out for as you cultivate your brand:

Making noise versus making an impression. I hear it all the time – companies want to get people to stand up and pay attention, to get their picture on the front page, or do a big publicity stunt. Putting aside whether that's doable based on your brand or product, is it worth the substantial time and effort it requires? These things work best for established brands with instant name recognition. For smaller brands or those with limited exposure, it's best to start small and gradually build momentum.

I need to be more like... Other entrepreneurs are inspired by someone else in their industry with a following, and ask how I can cast them in the same light. That approach is bound to fail. What works for someone else may not work for you. It's far better to succeed on your own terms. Step back and think about why people respect you in the first place – maybe it's your in-depth knowledge, or your passion - then build off that.

Ultimately, it's all about striking the right tone for your audience. Doing your homework will make sure your new campaign doesn't leave customers feeling cold.

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Special to the Globe and Mail

Mia Wedgbury is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. With more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies, she is focused on fostering the overarching vision for the Canadian market. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients, some of the most innovative and well-respected companies in the country, to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies that drive measurable results. Ms. Wedgbury is known as an innovator, an advocate of career opportunities for women and a dedicated supporter of the technology industry.

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