According to Nielson’s Global New Product Innovation Survey, 59% of consumers prefer to buy new products from brands familiar to them. As a small business, you may be competing against big brands with devoted customers and unlimited marketing budgets.You have to find ways to differentiate–with a solid brand building process of your own. It is just as important for small businesses as it is for big names. Indeed, many corporate brands try to look more like small firms in order to appeal to consumers that prefer to support independent brands.
Many small business owners understand that branding is essential to their business, but a surprisingly high number of them do not really know why. They recognize the link between successful businesses and strong branding, and aspire to build a brand that emulates similar success for themselves.
Small business owners understand that branding is not just a logo or how their business is perceived externally. But too few realize that successful brands have this branding at the heart of the business. So much so that in many ways you could almost substitute the word brand for business.
“Your brand is how people perceive you wherever they interact with your business—both the impressions you can control and the ones you can not.”
Branding is a way of defining your business to yourself, your team and your external audiences. It could be called the business’ “identity”, but only on the understanding that it embodies the core of what the business is and its values, not just what it looks and sounds like.
Customers of all sorts of businesses are so savvy today that they can see through most attempts by companies to gloss, spin or charm their way to sales.
The benefits that a strategically defined brand can bring are the same as when people fall in love with each other. When customers connect emotively – because they share the same values and beliefs of a brand.
It leads to :
- Higher sales and better brand differentiation. It also leads to
- Loyalty, advocacy and
- Can even protect your price in times when competitors rely on promotional discounts to drive sales.
- It can also give you the ideal platform from which to extend your offering or range.
A successful brand has to be consistent in communication and experience, across many applications:
- Environment (storefront or office)
- Print, signage, packaging
- Website & online advertising
- Content marketing & social media
- Sales & customer service
Now, brand building being simple? The truth is: it does not happen overnight nor even in a few months. Building a brand is definitely a process. However, the ongoing effort will result in establishing long-term relationships with your customers.
Here are ten tips on how to successfully implement branding for your business.
1. Determine your brand’s target audience.
There are many ways to do this:
- Google your product or service category and analyze direct and indirect competitors that come up.
- Check subreddits that relate to your customers and eavesdrop on their conversations and product recommendations.
- Talk to people who are part of your target market and ask them what brands they buy from in your space.
- Look at the relevant social media accounts or pages your target audience follows and are receptive to.
- Go shopping online or offline and get a feel for how your customers would browse and buy products.
As you go about your research, make a note of:
- Who your “lowest hanging fruit” customers are—the ones you could most easily sell to.
- Who your top of mind competitors are—the brands that are established and known in the market.
- How your customers speak and what they talk about—the interests they have and the language they express them in.
It is important to have a handle on this before moving forward as it will inform what your brand should focus on and how it can position itself apart from competitors.
2. Define Your Brand’s Focus and Personality.
Your brand can not be everything to everyone, especially in the beginning. It is important to find your focus and let that inform all the other parts of your brand as you build it. So, here are some questions and branding exercises to get you thinking about the focus and tone of your brand.
What is your positioning statement?
A positioning statement is one or two lines that stake your claim in the market. This is not necessarily something you put on your website or business card—it is just to help you answer the right questions about your brand.
Your unique selling proposition is the one thing you are competing on. Find it, go in on it, and make it a part of your brand’s messaging.
Alternatively, if the company you want to start has a cause at its core (e.g. if you’re starting a social enterprise), you can also write this out as a mission statement that makes a clear promise to your customers or to the world.
What words would you associate with your brand?
One way to look at your brand is as if it was a person. What would he or she be like? What kind of personality would your customers be attracted to? This will help inform your voice on social media and the tone of all your creative, both visual and written.
A fun and useful branding exercise is to pitch 3-5 adjectives that describe the type of brand that might resonate with your audience. I compiled this list of traits to help you get started.
3. Research Brands Within Your Industry Niche.
You should never imitate exactly what the big brands are doing in your industry. But, you should be aware of what they do well (or where they fail). The goal is to differentiate from the competition. Convince a customer to purchase from you over them! We are always thinking about how to make a brand stand out. Do not skip this step in the brand building process.
Research your main competitors or benchmark brands. Study how they have effectively, and ineffectively gone about building a brand name.
Creating a brand competitor research spreadsheet
Start by creating a brand competitor spreadsheet for comparison. You can use Google sheets, Excel, or even just a notebook. Then, answer these fundamental questions.
- Is the competitor consistent with messaging and visual identity across channels?
- What is the quality of the competitor’s products or services?
- Does the competitor have customer reviews you can read, or social mentions about them?
- In what ways does the competitor market their business, both online and offline?
Choose a few competitors, two to four (2-4) is a good number for your comparison chart. You might want to take a look at other local businesses, or even aim to benchmark against name brands.
4. Choose a Business Name.
Depending on the kind of business you want to start, you can make the case that your name matters very little or it matters a lot. A brand is so more than a name. The personality, actions, and reputation of your brand are really what give the name meaning in the market.
But as a business owner, your company’s name is probably one of the first big commitments you have to make. It will impact your logo, your domain, your marketing, and trademark registration, if you decide to go that route (it is harder to trademark generic brand names that literally describe what you sell).
Ideally, you want a business name that is hard to imitate and even harder to confuse with existing players in the market. If you have any plans to expand the product lines you offer down the road, consider keeping your business name broad so that it is easier to pivot than if you choose a brand name based on your product name.
You can try one (or a combination) of the following approaches:
- Make up a word like Pepsi.
- Reframe an unrelated word like Apple for computers.
- Use a suggestive word or metaphor like Buffer.
- Describe it literally (caution: easy to imitate) like The Shoe Company
- Alter a word by removing letters, adding letters or using Latin endings like Tumblr (Tumbler) or Activia.
- Use the initials of a longer name like HBO (Home Box Office)
- Combine two words: Pinterest (pin interest) or Facebook (Face + Book)
- Turn a string of words into an acronym: BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke)
Since your brand name will also affect the domain/URL of your website, be sure to shop around to see what is available before you decide. It is also a good idea to run your name by a focus group of close people, if for no other reason than to make sure it does not have an unintended meaning or is too similar to something else that you might have missed.
5. Pick Your Brand’s Colors and Fonts.
Once you have got a name down, you will need to think about how you will visually represent your brand, namely your colors and typography. This will come in handy when you start to build your website
Choosing Your Colors
Colors do not just define the look of your brand; they also convey the feeling you want to communicate and help you make it consistent across your entire brand. You will want to choose colors that differentiate you from direct competitors to avoid confusing consumers.
Color psychology is not an exact science, but it does help to inform the choices you make, especially when it comes to the color you choose for your logo.
It is important to consider how legible white and black text will be over your colour palette, and how colored text might look over white and black backgrounds. Try using a tool like Colors to brainstorm colors that work together, grab the hex codes to keep handy, and sift through different shades to find the ones you like.
Choosing Your Fonts
At this point, it is also good to look at fonts you might want to use on your website. Pick two fonts at most to avoid unnecessarily confusing visitors: one for headings and one for body text (this does not include the font you might use in your logo).
You can use Font Pair to browse from a wide selection of fonts that go well together and download them if necessary. For inspiration, use Stylify.me on your favorite websites to see their visual style at a glance.
6. Write a Slogan or a Tagline.
A catchy slogan is a nice-to-have asset—something brief and descriptive that you can put in your Twitter bio, website headline, business card, and anywhere else where you have got very few words to make a big impact.
Keep in mind that you can always change your slogan as you find new angles for marketing—Pepsi has gone through over 30 slogans in the past few decades. A good slogan is short, catchy, and makes a strong impression.
Here are some ways to approach writing a slogan of your own:
- Stake your claim: Death Wish Coffee—”The World’s Strongest Coffee”
- Make it a Metaphor: Redbull—“Redbull gives you wings.”
- Adopt your customers’ attitude: Nike—”Just do it.”
- Leverage labels: Cards Against Humanity—”A party game for horrible people”.
- Write a rhyme: Folgers Coffee: “The best part of wakin’ up is Folgers in your cup.”
- Describe it literally: Aritzia—”Women’s fashion boutique”
7. Design Your Logo.
A logo is probably one of the first things that come to mind when you think about building a brand. It is the face of your company after all, and could potentially be everywhere that your brand exists.
Consider all the places where your brand’s logo needs to exist, from your website to your Facebook Page’s profile picture. If you have a text logo as your Instagram avatar, for example, it will be almost impossible to read.
To make your life easier, get a square version of your logo that has an icon element that remains recognizable even at smaller sizes. Notice how the Walmart logo has both the “sparks” icon and the wordmark, which can be used separately.
Ideally, you will want a logo that is :
- That is scalable to work at all sizes (which is often overlooked).
Because of the limitations that exist for each logo type, many logos are a combination of styles. As a new business, and you do not need to choose an icon over a wordmark when you can get the best of both. This makes it easier to satisfy the condition of creating a scalable logo while still putting your brand name front and center.
McDonalds, for example, can use their iconic golden arches wherever the full wordmark does not fit. Unless you have got design chops of your own, you will probably be delegating the creation of your logo.
8. Build a brand message and elevator pitch.
Building a brand does not stop with creating a logo or slogan. Your brand needs to exist and remain consistent wherever your customers interact with you, from the theme you choose for your website to the marketing you do to customer service to the way you package and ship your products.
You will continue to shape and evolve your brand as you expose more customers to it and learn more about who they are are and how to speak to them.
A brand message is an opportunity to communicate on a human level, making a direct emotional connection with your consumers. What this means, is that the language you use should be understood immediately while striking an emotional chord. Make it simple and clear.
Most importantly: when creating a brand message, address not what your product can do but why it is important to your customer.
9. Integrate your brand into every aspect of your business.
The brand building process never stops. Your brand should be visible and reflected in everything that your customer can see, read, and hear.
If a client walks into your office, or a customer walks into your store your brand image should be on display both in the environment and with personal interactions. Anything tangible from business cards to advertisements, to packaging and product–needs the stamp of your logo.
On any digital platform, ensure that your brand looks the same everywhere. Use your brand style guide to create consistency with visuals such as color and logo use, fonts, photography etc. When you design your website: incorporate your voice, message, and personality into the content.
Profile pages for social media networks should be branded visually, and also with your chosen voice for engagement. And don’t forget about video! YouTube, Facebook Video and Facebook Live, Snapchat and Instagram Stories are all platforms that need to have content executed with your unique brand voice and personality.
For those venturing into podcast audio, adhere to a theme that supports your brand message, value and voice.
10. Be your brand’s biggest advocate.
Once you build a brand that works for your small business, you (and your employees) are the best advocates to market your brand. No one knows your brand better than you, so it is up to you to spread the word.
Here are a few ways you can do so :
- When hiring employees, ensure that they are a culture fit–aligning with the mission, vision, and values of your brand.
- Encourage employees to establish a personal brand that aligns with your company branding, further strengthening reach.
- Give your loyal customers a voice.
- Encourage them to post reviews, or share your content.
To sum it up :
Brand building can be one of the most significant things you can do for your new or existing business. A solid brand building process can transform your business from a small player into a successful competitor. You will discover that your customers will develop a deeper level of trust for your brand, and be more likely to purchase what you are selling.
Develop a consistent message and visual identity to reinforce your mission.Integrate your brand into every aspect of customer experience: from your storefront to your website, to your personal interactions!
It is important to appreciate that you will never have 100% control over how people perceive your brand.
You can tug customers in the right direction, make a great first impression, and manage your reputation. But you can not control the individual perceptions that exists in each person’s mind (say, if they had a bad customer service experience).
All you can do is put your best foot forward at every turn and try to resonate with your core audience. But hopefully at this point, you have the tools, knowledge, and resources to start.
To know more about how to develop your business, checkout our blog “HOW TO DESIGN A BUSINESS PROPOSAL?“