Branding: The Key to Success for Your Small Business

In today’s competitive business landscape, it is more important than ever for small businesses to create and develop their brand. A brand is the personality of a business. Done correctly, it can make a big difference in how you attract and retain customers. 

In this article, we’ll explore brand creation. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to revamp your existing brand, taking a little time to think through the process will be an invaluable investment in your business.

What is Branding?

Branding is the action you take to create a unique and distinguishable identity for your business. It’s being mindful about how you wish to be perceived in the world. You are crafting a business persona that will set you apart from your competitors. 

Branding isn’t just about putting a logo on everything or designing a beautiful website, it’s also about every single touch point the public has with you.  It’s how you’re perceived in full—not just when interacting for a sale.  

The overall aesthetic includes everything from your company’s name, logo, and slogan to its voice, values, and mission statement. A strong brand is more than just a visual representation of your business; it encompasses all aspects of your company’s culture and values.

In other words, how would a customer describe your business to someone who knew nothing about your company. What feeling does a person get when they hear your company’s name, visit your website, or talk with a customer service representative? 

Are you a profit-driven company that takes no prisoners or a company that is committed to sharing a part of their profits for those in need? What sort of vibe does your company generate? Playful? Formal? Green? Traditional? 

Brands are as unique as people.  Just as each person has their own look and personality, so do brands. Effective branding sets your company apart from the competition and helps to build customer loyalty, both are important to the success of your small business.

What Are Branding Elements?

Branding encompasses all of the elements used to create the identity and image of a company. This includes visual elements such as the name, logo, color palette, typography, imagery, and even the packaging used to present products. Everything should be cohesive and complementary.

It also includes touchpoints with customers such as the company website, social media accounts, email marketing, physical stores, events, public relations, partnerships and collaborations, and sponsorships. 

Whether the elements are tangible or intangible, it’s important they all be aligned with the brand’s values and identity.

When Southwest Airlines first started operating, they wanted to do things differently and positioned themselves as a refreshing alternative to the norm that had gone before. They wanted to shake things up, and they did.

Their logo was colorful and playful. They reinforced this image with their pre-flight presentation. It was the same information that had been communicated in the same way for decades by every airline that was flying. Frequent flyers had heard it dozens of times. So, Southwest added in a sprinkling of humor. Flight attendants were encouraged to share the fun side of their personalities, and the overall effect was the feeling that this, indeed, was a different kind of airline.

They were a no-frills airline, but Southwest tried to counter that fact with being a “hip” airline. It wasn’t going to appeal to the business executive with a fat expense account, but it appealed to a more youthful target audience that wanted more affordable fares. And suddenly, it made flying affordable a cool option.

For branding to be effective, it must be consistent. So, once you’ve decided on your brand elements, don’t go “off the ranch.” Perhaps you see a color you love in someone else’s social media post, and you decide you want to use it too. No! Resist the urge to stray and stick to your brand colors. Buy yourself a shirt in that color if you must, but don’t muck up your branding practices.

Why is Branding Important to Your Small Business?

Branding is especially important to small businesses because it can help them carve out a space of their own and be seen.  

  • Differentiation. A strong brand helps you stand out in a crowded market. By clearly communicating what makes your business different, you can attract potential customers intrigued by what you offer.
  • Trust and credibility. People tend to automatically trust companies they’ve heard of, whether they have first-hand experience with them or not. This can put small businesses at a disadvantage when up against huge corporations with generous advertising budgets. Therefore, it’s very important for a small business to invest time and money into developing a strong, professional brand of their own and reinforcing it at every turn. 
  • Customer loyalty: A strong brand breeds customer loyalty. If a customer has a positive experience with your business (brand), they’re not only likely to return, but to also recommend you to others. 
  • Increased value: Why do people pay more for a shirt with a Ralph Lauren pony on it? Because the company is perceived as having high quality items—whether they actually are or not. They trust the company is giving them something more, and they’re willing to pay more for it. A strong brand can help instill trust in your company too, elevating your product or business. 

Developing a strong brand helps businesses set the stage for success.

How to Get Started Branding a Small Business.

Small businesses don’t tend to have big marketing budgets or marketing teams with branding expertise. Instead, it’s often the business owner or a team member tasked with the branding effort.  Typically, neither person has expertise in creating a brand. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s worth the effort to educate yourself a little before diving in.

Articles on branding strategies abound online, so it’s quite easy to get tutorials in areas where you feel you are lacking such as how to write a mission statement, how to choose colors, and what makes an effective logo.  

Even if you’re able to hire a professional, it’s good to have some basic knowledge so you can make informed decisions. For instance, an inexperienced designer might create a beautiful logo, but if it doesn’t follow the rules for an effective logo, it won’t work well for you.

1. Determine your brand story or identity.

Whether you’re just starting out or looking to revamp your existing brand, the first, and most important step, is to decide how you want to be seen by the world. Do not rush this step because everything that comes after this, will be based on what you choose. 

What is your company’s vision? Mission? Core values? What is your unique value proposition? What attributes are true to the founding of the company and give you a competitive edge in the market? This is your Brand Story.

Once you have clarity on that score, you can move forward making decisions based on how well they fit in with the brand story. 

2. Develop a brand strategy. 

Create a plan for how you will communicate your brand to your target audience. What are the criteria you will use for choosing the channels you’ll use to reach your audience, such as social media, email marketing, and your website?

For example, if you’re a financial planning institution that caters to seniors, you may use little to no social media and opt for direct mail, website, and email marketing instead.

3. Create a brand guide. 

The next step is to create your brand identity with a Brand Guide (similar in concept to a Style Guide for written copy). A guide will include specifications for visual elements such as your logo, brand colors, typeface and font choices, images, and overall visual aesthetic. 

These elements should all be cohesive and reflect the personality and values of your brand.  If you can afford it, you should work closely with an experienced designer at this stage. They can walk you through choosing colors that best fit your business persona, the typefaces that work best for form and function, as well as designing an effective logo.

A note about logos: Don’t allow yourself to get too hung up on a logo, which is a common problem for many businesses starting the branding process. 

The logo is the face of your company, so understandably, you want to get it right.  But it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole trying to get the perfect design. Logos are more important for some types of businesses than others, but don’t give it outsized power in your process.  

If you find the logo quest, has you stuck in the muck, one solution might be to use your company name for now. Use one of the typefaces you’ve chosen for your branding or a decorative typeface that reflects the brand personality. Add the logo later, but for now, get started!

4. Pick a voice. 

In addition to your visual identity, the brand guide helps to establish a consistent voice and tone for your brand. If your business was a person, how would they talk? What kind of language would they use? 

Are there certain words you would always use to describe your products or terms you always avoid? This is the language and approach you will use in the interactions you have with the public and with your marketing materials, as well as in social media posts and emails.  

For example, if you are a coffee shop that only sells fair trade coffee and sustainable products, maybe you want to give off a counterculture feel. So, you play fast and loose with grammar rules and your copy reads like a person speaks. 

On the other hand, if you own a highly technical business that caters to an educated crowd, you’ll want to use a more formal tone and terminology that underscores your authority in the field. 

Whatever the voice and tone of your business, it should be described in your guide. It should also include a list of words you want to have pop up regularly and those you want to avoid.

Following Your Brand Guide.

Once you’ve created your brand guide, you have a roadmap to follow. It’s time to start implementing your new brand.  You may need to update your company policies to align with your new brand values.

Also look at things such as how you run your helpdesk and train team members. Do you need to rework any of that to comply with your new company values and get everyone on the same page?

How many times have you heard, “It’s my pleasure,” at Chick-Fil-A? 

Begin updating your marketing materials, such as your website, social media profiles, advertisements, and business cards, to reflect your new branding. If you sell packaged products, the packaging should be updated.  All of these should adhere to the standards in your brand guide.

The next phase is to make sure the team is consistently adhering to the new branding guidelines.  Is everyone answering the phone in alignment with the brand? If you guarantee same day shipments, is this happening? Are customer interactions consistent with the branding?  Don’t worry if things don’t go smoothly at first, it may take a while for everyone to get up to speed.

However, it is important to track your results to see if your branding efforts are resonating with your target audience. If not, you can make adjustments as needed, keeping in mind it will take time for customers to recognize the brand. But if you’re consistent, they will eventually. 

Build It and They Will Come.

Branding is the way a business expresses its personality and stands out among its competitors. 

It’s worth the investment of time to educate yourself about the various elements and give serious thought to how you want your business to “be” in the world. 

Also, consider allocating financial resources to produce professional materials. This will help underscore that you are a serious business to be respected in the marketplace, even if your brand is “fun.” 

Branding is a proven way to gain customers and win their loyalty. Put it to use in your business.