Branding is a big word. Say it and most people think of the logos and ad campaigns of global giants like Nike, Starbucks, and Apple. So for some small businesses, contemplating branding (and brand strategy) can feel like wishful thinking. Surely it’s too costly, complex, and sophisticated an endeavour for a small business right?
The truth is, your small business is already branded, whether you know it or not. Far from being just your company logo, your brand is made up of the whole business eco-system. It’s your business values, story and how you answer the phone. The cleanliness of your premises and your company vehicles. Your invoices and sales documents and of course, the quality of your products, services and customer interactions.
That’s not to say your visual presence — logo, website, marketing materials — don’t matter. They absolutely do and go a long way toward elevating your brand to the next level. However, branding your business doesn’t have to seem like a giant hill to climb and chances are, you’re already partway up it.
START WITH THE BASICS
Whether you’re a start-up thinking about the creation of your first logo and business card or an established business who wants a fresh approach for your website and wider marketing campaigns, these three core principles can help take your communications from mediocre to marvellous, without eating up your budget.
1. Value proposition
Ultimately, the purpose of a brand is to communicate a consistent, memorable value proposition across all of your customer touch points. So bringing that value proposition front and centre is key. Don’t assume people already know what sets you apart. Be sure to articulate it. Determine what your core USPs are and use those as an anchor for all of your communications.
Nothing builds a solid presence like consistency. Consistency says ‘reliable’. It says ‘polished’. But it also says ‘memorable’. Every touch point a consumer has with your business should build upon the last, creating a seamless impression. Here are a few things to keep an eye on.
Distinctive and memorable, your logo is an essential part of your brand. Well implemented, it will prompt recognition and even drive brand loyalty. Crafted to convey your individual style and character, it's worth remembering that your logo should differentiate you from your competitors, not from yourself. Avoid the temptation to use multiple alternate or previous versions on your collateral if you want to avoid confusion.
Aim to have a strong, (limited) colour palette that’s immediately identifiable with your business. Far from being confined to your logo, your colours can be a critical component of your brand, prompting recall and even influencing buyer behaviour. Research suggests that up to 90% of snap judgements about products can be based on colour alone, so don't underestimate its value.
The kind of imagery you use says a great deal about who you are and can have a direct impact on how your customers feel about your brand. People are instinctively drawn to brands they relate to and your visual language plays a crucial role in triggering an emotive reaction. If a picture is worth a thousand words, you need to make yours count. If your business prides itself on quality, then clip art or amateur design will undermine you. Similarly, if you’re a tech-savvy enterprise, low-res images communicate the opposite. Is it your personal touch that sets you apart? Using no images at all makes it harder to demonstrate that emotional connection to your target base.
Do you have a typeface (or two), you consistently use throughout your materials, or do you regularly switch it up? While you may think that constant change is a sign of innovation, when it comes to your typography, the opposite is true. Far from adding to the overall impact, the use of too many fonts (and styles) suggests you're not quite sure who you are as a brand - and if you don't know who you are, then how will your customers?
Does your business have a distinct tone of voice and language that gets used across all of your channels, or does it vary? Whether you want to be perceived as friendly, approachable, technical or experienced, using a consistent tone in your materials is crucial if you want your customers to connect with you. From your brochures to your website, talk to them in a voice they understand.
Hand-in-hand with consistency is simplicity. You know that catchy tune that always gets stuck in your head? Chances are, it’s a pretty basic one. Similarly, a strong brand is pared back and to the point. Too much complexity and you’ve lost your chance of becoming an ‘earworm’.
Start with your logo. Is it a streamlined mark, or does it try to ‘say it all’? How about your homepage? Is it crammed with information and imagery, or is it calm, restrained and easy to navigate? Don't underestimate the impact that 'white space' can have - you don't want your customers to feel that they can't see the wood for the trees.
Look at your ads, flyers, or brochures. Are you focusing on the most crucial information (for your customers) or have you shared everything and the kitchen sink? You should always try to be concise and give your customers clarity. Think about what action you want people to take as a result of your communication and tailor it accordingly. Don’t be shy about reminding potential customers on how to engage with you.
Look at your marketing collateral. Can readers scan for the key takeaway within five seconds? Does your website make it easy for users to find exactly what they’re looking for in a click or two? If they feel they have a minefield to navigate, then you'll lose them.
A FEW TRICKS TO GET STARTED...
So how do you weave consistency, simplicity, and your value proposition throughout your business’ materials? Try the following exercise to see where you stand and begin making adjustments where necessary.
1. Define your brand
Do a mind-map of brand characteristics and take notes on your USPs, values, story, character, and position in the market.
2. Formalise it
From your mind-map, type up a brief document outlining USPs, preferred voice, and visual guidelines (fonts, colours, imagery style). These are the fundamentals of your Brand Guidelines.
3. Audit it
Make a list of all your existing communication materials and consumer touch-points. Check how each aligns with your newly articulated Brand Guidelines. (Remember consistency, simplicity, and value proposition.)
4. Double-check it
Get an objective view of your communications. Have some outsiders you trust review your materials as well. (These can be customers, people in your community, or a design/marketing professional.)
WHEN TO HIRE A PROFESSIONAL
As we’ve outlined, there are a number of steps you can take to start to refine your brand presence. With some discipline and elbow grease, you can conduct a simple audit like the one above and start improving the way you broadcast your business to the world.
Of course, working with a branding expert is a good way to up-level your brand presence quickly and effectively. We can help you hone in on what sets you apart, build consistency in your communications, and bring your brand’s potential to life. If you want help developing your brand, then get in touch.
Call us on 01827 768286 or email [email protected]