Top SMB branding tips from 46 business branding experts to help you create a branding strategy that will actually help you achieve your business goals
Astrong branding strategy can help you attract customers and clients that will love and rave about your business. That means more sales for less effort and a lower cost. And that results in more profits.
But developing an effective branding strategy isn’t as easy as it might at first seem. And many small and medium-sized businesses don’t have the budget to outsource the entire process.
So to help you create a branding strategy that contributes to you achieving your business goals, I consulted nearly 100 business branding experts for their best advice and then pulled out the top 46 branding tips. This is a mammoth guide that contains a huge amount of value so I recommend you bookmark it and read through the whole thing at your leisure. But there’s also a table of contents below if you’d prefer to pick and choose which parts to read.
What is a brand? Read this first.
This might seem like a strange way to start this article. After all, if someone is looking for tips and advice about how to create or improve their branding strategy, one would assume they know what a brand is. But there are so many definitions about what a brand is — if you ask 30 marketing experts what the term means you’ll get 30 rather distinct answers — so it’s important that we all start on the same page.
So, for the purposes of this article, your brand is your business’s identity. As SERP University’s branding guide says, ‘your brand is your promise to your customers’.
Business branding includes everything from your logo, colour scheme and design features to your tone of voice, mission statement and business name. It also includes the identities of all the products and/or services you offer (for sale or otherwise). Each of your offerings may have a slightly different identity, but they must all reflect and form part of your entire business’s identity.
What is a branding strategy?
So if your brand is your business’s identity, what then is your business’s branding strategy? This question is fairly simple to answer, but a branding strategy is not so simple to deliver and you’ll see why in a few seconds.
You see, your branding strategy is the approach you use to ensure your vision of your business’s identity aligns with what everyone else thinks your business’s identity is. And by ‘everyone else’ I mean, your employees, if you have them, the general public, your prospects and customers, and your competitors.
Obviously, we have no direct control over what other people think of our business. All we can do is try our best to influence their thoughts and feelings through our actions.
Everything you do, from your choice of logo to the way you serve the needs of your customers and clients, contributes to the way others perceive your business and therefore is part of your business branding. Your branding strategy is like a list of all the materials you’ll need to create a piece of art and your implementation plans are like the instructions that explain how to use those materials.
And to take that analogy further, the quality of the final artwork and how closely it matches what it’s meant to look like, depend on the quality of the materials, the care with which the instructions were produced, how carefully you follow the instructions and how skilled you are at using each of the materials and performing the tasks described in the instructions.
What can a branding strategy do for your small- or medium-sized business?
With an effective branding strategy that you correctly implement, you can create a brand that’s recognisable, trusted and which resonates with the people you want as your customers.
When this happens, a person from your target market can see your product or an ad for your offering, and they’ll immediately know:
- It’s yours
- That they can trust what you’re telling them about the offering
- That they can trust that the product or service will solve a problem they’re experiencing
That leads to more sales, especially more repeat sales, and less work and cost involved in making those sales — so increased revenue. It also means you can help more people.
Top tips for developing the perfect branding strategy for your unique business
Now, I’d love to be able to tell you exactly what you need to do to create the branding strategy of your dreams. But your business is unique, so a cookie-cutter approach isn’t going to work. You need bespoke business branding that fits your business like a tailor-made glove (not an off-the-shelf specimen that dangles from your little fingers).
I could give you a template and some advice based on my decade of professional experience. But I’m only one person, and just as there is a spectrum of views on what a brand is, so too is there a huge variation in what professionals believe are the most important aspects of branding strategy.
So instead, I talked to nearly 100 branding experts and asked them what advice they would give to anyone wanting to build a brilliant, effective brand for a small or medium business. Then I distilled that information down to the very best branding tips which I’m presenting to you here so you can learn not just from the experiences of one professional, but from the wisdom of scores of branding experts.
Start with the branding basics
Four of the branding experts I spoke to highly recommended starting with the very basics of branding strategy and I absolutely agree. If you don’t start with the basics, you may find your branding elements don’t end up accurately reflecting and reinforcing your identity. They may just cause confusion for your audience.
I love Douglas’s advice about ‘interviewing’ your brand. It’s a simple process that any marketer or business owner can go through so it’s perfect for smaller businesses that don’t have the same branding budgets that big corporates have.
“In order to power your marketing for greatest impact, it’s critical that your brand focuses on the basics — what makes you relevant and competitively differentiated from your competitors. Let’s take a page out of the reporter’s playbook and ask the basic questions that can get you on the right track:
Who? Who are you helping at the broadest level? Now’s not the time to dive into segments and customer personae. They’re important but not when you’re giving the basic elevator pitch.
What? What are you delivering to these people? What is the problem you’re solving?
When? In what situations do they find themselves in need of your help?
Where? Where are they, either literally in the world or figuratively in their heads?
Why? And, finally, perhaps more importantly, why does or should anyone care? Why do you care? As author, motivational speaker, and marketer Simon Sinek says, people don’t buy what you offer, they buy why you offer it.
Once you have the answers to those questions, be certain your marketing conveys that either subtly or overtly.”
Douglas Spencer is President & Chief Brand Strategist of Spencer Brenneman, LLC, spencerbrenneman.com.
Bernice offered a nice overview of how lots of different branding parts fit together.
“A powerful brand starts with having a relatable brand name, logo and tagline. From there, potential prospects should have a rough idea as to what your business is about. You can also have a catchy jingle for commercials.
Thereafter, it’s important to decide what kind of tone and personality your brand has. Inject that personality into all your deliverables, including website content and social media content.
The ‘about us page on your website should be utilized to talk about your brand story – include unique details like the company origin and history. This makes it more personalized and relatable to your audience.
Bernice Quek is the Branding Specialist of Fixwerks, a home appliance repair service in Singapore.
Jen recognised the importance of value-driven goals rather than just results-driven goals. I love that because value-driven goals are important in life as well as business. But I was particularly intrigued by her advice about starting with your business archetype. I hadn’t heard anyone talk about that before.
“I recommend that businesses focus first and foremost on building a brand vs. selling a product. Brands are seen as leaders. They must earn the trust of the consumer through being consistent, engaging, caring and keeping their word.
They can do this by creating ‘value-driven’ goals as opposed to the traditional ‘results-driven’ philosophy.
This means setting goals that aren’t just based on your business results, but also based on other currencies as well – your life goals, your health goals, your relationship goals, and then your financial goals.
It’s important for companies to build an internal culture that motivates teams to innovate and create from a place of values, not just outdated metrics, as it keeps the team engaged while they work toward a common outcome.
At Master Brand Institute, we help our companies create a blueprint that focuses on strengths in five pillars:
1) Archetype – The Brand Essence, Vision and Communication Style
2) Audience – Understanding the motivations and patterns of their ideal clients
3) Aesthetics – Integrating their archetypes and audience into a visual system used to advertise
4) Activation – Testing, iterating and launching products and services, and
5) Amplification – Owning the brand message and leveraging other channels to promote and share them.
We have found through over 15 years of consulting, that high performance in the areas above will yield excellent results.
Jennifer “Jen” Kem is a San Francisco Bay Area-based brand building and leadership expert who gets entrepreneurs seen, heard, and paid for being themselves. She’s the creator of the Master Brand Method: a framework to develop powerful brand archetypes that win customers’ hearts, leveraging Jennifer’s 17 years of corporate experience and her launching of multiple companies.
Nilesh’s top branding tip was to look past your business’s logo and I agree that too many businesses think branding is all about the logo. Yes, your logo is important but it should be just one component of your overall branding strategy.
“Having a recognizable brand identity is one of the top ways for businesses to generate awareness within the marketplace. A common misconception with a brand identity is that it is solely associated with just the logo. While the logo is an integral part of the brand identity system, there are additional elements that must work in harmony. This includes elements such as the: colour palette, imagery, typography, and more.
Beyond just brand recognition, a well-crafted brand identity system helps show a level of trust and professionalism – that can have a substantial impact on the success of a company’s brand and marketing goals.”
Nilesh Gohil is the Founder and CEO of BILDE, a brand identity agency located in Ontario, Canada. With over 15 years of experience in creating brand identity systems – for start-ups to enterprises – he is also certified with the Canadian Marketing Association in integrated branding.
Manny has similar advice and advises you to hold off on the tactical part of developing your business branding. And I absolutely agree that it’s vital you define, right at the beginning of the process, who your target customers are and what makes you different. These are crucial for business branding, and they’re also crucial for all your marketing efforts too.
“The first and most important thing about branding is to thoroughly define your identity. That is where most people get it wrong. Branding is more than just a logo you slap on your website.
Your branding is who you are as a company. It’s your values and mission, it’s the way you treat your customers, it’s the look and feel of your visual assets.
So, before you can move forward with the more tactical steps in your branding strategy like designing your logo and others, you need to take the time to get really clear on who you are as a company, who your target customers are, and what makes your business different. These are the basic elements that make up your brand identity and trust me once you get this right from the start, it will be easier to establish your brand as a powerful marketing asset in the long run.”
Manny Hernandez is a CEO and the co-Founder of Wealth Growth Wisdom, LLC. He is a consummate marketer and information technology professional with over ten years of experience in the fast-evolving arena of direct response marketing.
Bruce’s branding tip includes an excellent example of the challenge of matching your customer’s perception of your business with your vision. He also offers some great advice for how you might develop a solution to that challenge when you’re just starting to develop your branding strategy.
“Small and medium businesses that want to create a powerful brand should focus on answering one question – How would your customers describe your company to a friend?
One of Best Buy’s recent mottos was ‘Expert service. Unbeatable price.’ If you asked an average Best Buy customer the question above, their response might be something like ‘the place you go when you don’t want to buy on Amazon – be sure to price check.’
This question reveals the company’s true brand from the perspective of its customers. The business should compare how the question would be answered currently to their brand vision. In other words, how would customers answer this question ideally?
Once the company has an aspirational, yet achievable answer that captures their brand vision, it can be used as the foundation for their brand strategy. Then, creating the powerful brand is all about the tactics that the business can pursue to instil that target belief among its customer base.”
Bruce is CEO of SoftwarePundit, a technology research firm that provides advice, information and tools to help small businesses successfully adopt technology. He was most recently Director of Growth Marketing at Teachers Pay Teachers, an eCommerce marketplace with over 5 million customers worldwide.
Simplicity is best
Out of nearly 100 branding experts, Craig was the only one who focussed on simplicity, but I can’t emphasis this enough. A branding strategy that revolves around simplicity is more likely to be clear. And clarity is vital in all aspects of business, especially when it comes to communication.
“My top branding tip would be to keep things as simple as possible, especially when you’re a new business owner. Simplify every part of your business’s brand. A simple bold brand stands out amongst the super busy world we live in.
For example, stick to one main colour for your brand. When I think of Virgin I think of the colour red. When I think of Uber I think of the colour black. The imagery used to brand your business should be simple, bold and clean. For example, the product imagery Apple always uses large and bold images on plain backgrounds.
The same rule applies to naming your business. Create an easy to pronounce, short-as-possible name. One word is ideal. If your preferred name is unavailable, make one up. As long as it’s easy to pronounce. And ideally, you want the .com domain name for your business as it has the most authority.
When you create your marketing materials keep stripping things out, keep refining until you are left with bold, clutter-free ads, website layouts and communications. A bold, simple brand will always win out over a busy, complicated brand.”
Craig Barber has over 20 years design and branding experience working for household brands including Virgin, Sony and Apple. He is also the founder of branding startup Logobly.com.
Branding strategy needs to be firmly grounded in thorough research
I’m a firm believer in data-backed decision making. Without solid research and data, you’re basically guessing. That’s why I love this advice from Mike.
“Great brands cannot be built in a vacuum, so it is important to garner internal and external insights if you are to build something sustainable. Shortcuts are not the way to greatness. All great brands, big and small, were built on research and insights from their key constituents. Your brand mission, vision and values need to be identified and used as the foundation to craft your brand to be true to itself and be authentic to employees and customers alike. “
Mike Terry, Vice President at Anvil Media, is a marketer with 20+ years of brand building and strategic campaign building experience.
Focus on your values and mission
Following on from what Jen said, several of the experts I consulted spoke about the importance of building your branding strategy around your business’s values and mission. And I’m sure you can appreciate just how vital a strong mission statement and values are for business branding. After all, so much of our personal identity is rooted in our values and what we want to do — why should your business identity be any different?
Now, vision and mission statements are important in multiple ways. Firstly, they’re a great way for you to clearly articulate why you’re in business (or why you’re starting a business). Just the act of putting this in writing can provide much-needed clarity.
But clear vision and mission statements also act as guides for employees and contractors and are an important way your prospects and customers can connect with you and your brand.
Amber’s top branding tip offers fantastic guidance if you need help developing your vision and mission statements.
“A common branding mistake we see is the lack of properly-crafted vision and mission statements. We’re very passionate about crafting dynamic brand messages, which starts with a clear and powerful vision.
A vision statement is idealistic and holds power. It pinpoints the why and where an organization aims to go in the future and drives a team toward a common goal.
Mission statements — while still goal-oriented — represent what an organization is accomplishing now, and detail how the vision will eventually be accomplished.
Both vision and mission are at the centre of every artist, dancer, dreamer, and organization. Understanding the mission of how and what you do, with a vision of where it will take you and why, is a necessary next-step for any team or individual. Your vision and mission are powerful statements that help your audience connect to your purpose.”
Amber Henrie is the CEO and Founder of In The Lights, a boutique, New York based public relations firm that puts companies that are in dance, music, theatre, culture, entertainment, culinary arts, health and fitness industries on centre stage and in the spotlight. A seasoned PR, marketing, and arts professional, Amber leads In The Lights with strategic diligence and empowerment for its clients.
I also think Christie has some awesome, actionable advice, particularly when she suggests you start by thinking about what you consider when looking for services and products that are similar to what your business will offer. This is relevant to every business, but if you started your business because you couldn’t find a product or service that met your needs, then this is particularly apposite.
“My top piece of advice for small businesses who cannot afford to hire a marketing strategist or company, is to focus on their core brand. To ask themselves, “Who they are as a company and as an owner.” And “what is important to the owner as a consumer when searching for similar services?”
Focus on that top priority and build the entire strategy and mission around it. The company may not find itself as a fit for everyone, but it will find loyal customers who are like-minded and see value in the same proposition. This takes the shape of community involvement or charitable giving and volunteerism. Whatever the key touchpoint of the owner in starting the business may be, that is the selling aspect.”
Christie Lawler is the founder and owner of CJL CONSULTiNG, a marketing agency based in Houston, TX. She also founded the company’s philanthropic arm – The WITI Group, a 501(c)(3) organization devoted to empowering, mentoring and supporting the future female leaders in the food and beverage industry.
Lydia is also keen on starting the business branding process with a mission statement. What I love about Lydia’s advice, is that she gives some clear steps for what to do once you’ve got your mission statement and it’s advice I haven’t seen elsewhere.
“My top branding advice for small and medium businesses would be to first figure out what your mission statement is. What do you aim to do? Who do you aim to help? Who is your customer? What is your customer like? How will you benefit them? How will you make their life better/easier? Once you have a concise mission statement, create a mood board.
The mood board should have images that represent your business and 3 to 5 colours as well. After creating this mood board pick 5 adjectives to describe your company that the mood board also reflects. Next show the mood board to 5 different people who do not work for the company! Show them a list with 30 different adjectives on it, 5 of them being the ones you’ve chosen. Write down their answers. Do they match with the adjectives you selected? If not repeat the process over again until they do.
From this process, you will know if how your company wants to be perceived and how it is perceived matches. This will be the jumping-off point for creating your branding, the images, colours, and adjectives from the mood board should always be referred back to whenever branding decisions are being made.”
Lydia is the Founder and Creative Director of Le Chic Miami. Lydia started the business in March of 2018 and already has earrings in 40 stores across the US.
Deborah is another advocate of the mission statement. What’s different about this recommendation is the focus on inclusive language and a call-to-action that inspires action from all stakeholders.
“My advice would be to create a mission statement for the business. This will define your purpose in business and provide guidance moving forward.
A successful mission statement uses inclusive language that inspires all shareholders within the company and is able to clearly define your purpose and vision. You should be able to convey how your business is able to help others and establish a call to action that encourages everyone to get involved and work together.
Once you have created a mission statement, you may share this brand narrative with everyone and take comfort in knowing that this aspect of your business will never change. It will act as a comfort and motivator, inspiring everyone to give it their all and support the business and its mission.”
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation, which is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and small businesses, providing startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark and copyright filing services.
Khaleelah also advocates for a strong mission statement, but her branding tip emphasises starting with your reason for getting into business in the first place. This is often equated with a mission statement, but a mission statement is usually more effective if it grows out of your ‘why’ because your mission statement, as we’ve seen in other tips, can incorporate additional branding features. If your mission statement is the same as your ‘why’, you’re missing a huge opportunity to connect with your audience and advertise the value you provide.
“Be very clear about your ‘why’, your reason for being in business and doing what you do. Without clarity on your unique reason for being in business, you’ll blend in with the competition at best and, at worst, you’ll have so many conflicting brand messages that people will be confused about who you are and what you offer.
If you can name the pain point or challenge that you solve for your target market, and are clear about why you’re the best business to solve it, your brand voice and tone will always be clear and differentiated from the rest.”
Khaleelah Jones is the owner and founder of Careful Feet Digital Agency, the digital marketing agency that created Dime, a SaaS tool that automates social media posting and brand creation for small businesses and solopreneurs. The winner of the 2018 Next Women Pitch Competition, Khaleelah has a PhD in emerging media, an MBA and has worked in the marketing industry for over a decade.
Business branding shouldn’t be impersonal
One thing I’ve noticed, particularly with businesses that want to be viewed as deluxe, is that there’s a tendency towards more corporate or so-called ‘professional’ language. But in most cases, that’s not what customers and clients want. They want professionalism, but they also want relatable.
One very effective way to help your target market relate to your brand is to inject a personal element into your branding strategy. Carmine agrees.
“One way small and medium businesses can create a powerful brand by incorporating a personal element. Some do this directly by creating their brand from the beginning with their name, face, and personality. However, there are many brands like HubSpot, Backlinko, and others where the owners and operators are well known despite there being a company image. Being in the limelight instantly builds trust as you’re being transparent and accountable. Businesses can take advantage of this by incorporating team profiles and showing their face more in marketing material.”
Carmine Mastropierro is the founder of a marketing agency that has worked with Neil Patel, GoDaddy, Marketo, and other large businesses.
Sanjay also talked about how important it is for branding strategies to include methods of injecting personal character into the brand. I like how Sanjay focussed on building connections with customers through personal interactions that show a brand really cares about its customers. This is something really big brands just can’t reasonably do, so as smaller brands we should all be using that advantage as much as possible.
“When building your brand, think of it as a person.
Every one of us is an individual whose character is made up of beliefs, values, and purposes that define who we are and who we connect with. Our personality determines how we behave in different situations, how we dress and what we say. Of course, for people it’s intuitive and it’s rare that you even consider what your own character is. But when you’re building a brand it’s vital to have that understanding.
Your audiences are not only interested in what you offer but also you as the real person behind it. This is why the reputation of big names like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs grew and have continued to grow nearly in the same measure as the companies they lead. The same people that search and use their respective products also take an interest in those who run them.
Always seek to show your customers that your business has a human side; that there’s someone who cares about their needs and is doing everything possible to create useful products for them. Meet and interact with them on social media, respond to their emails, and send them good wishes on special days. All these, while appearing small and not-so-important deeds, will go a long way in building great relationships that enable your brand to stand out in its market.”
Sanjay Patoliya is the Founder and Director of Teclogiq. Teclogiq is a global IT company with more than 6 years of experience in offering splendid IT services to worldwide clients.
Business branding really benefits from story-telling
Many of the elements I’ve talked about so far, can be really creatively woven into a brand using story-telling. Your brand strategy absolutely must include a way to make your brand engaging for your target audience and stories are an excellent way of achieving this.
I love that Tami talked about shaping the way others see your brand through story. (I also love Tami’s bio.)
“My top branding tip for small and medium businesses is stories. Stories build brands.
Launching and running a company is only half the battle. You need to get noticed to attract, retain and entice employees and customers to buy into you. You can rise above the cacophony of noise competing for attention through the stories you share.
We are hard-wired to resonate with, respond to, remember and share stories. There is a hidden treasure trove of stories inside your organization waiting to be excavated, crafted and shared to spark conversations, build relationships and shape your brand.
You see, you don’t own your brand; it’s a perception in someone’s mind. You can, however, shape that perception through the stories you share.
Some of the most overlooked and powerful sources for stories are testimonials or word-of-mouth (people believe people, not ads) and bios. Your bio is not your resume; it is a highlight reel of your life. People do business with people they like, relate to, respect and trust.
Scott Bedbury said, “A great brand is a story that’s never completely told.’ Which stories you tell are as important as how and where you share them. Always be mindful of ensuring the message fits the medium and consistently communicates your brand’s story.”
Tami wanted to be a Rock Star when she grew up but couldn’t sing on key so she sings the praises of others through Blue Cube Marketing Solutions, a PR Agency launched in 2002. She places clients in the spotlight by equipping them with the communication tools to build relationships, spark conversations and shape their brand through stories.
The one problem with talking about story-telling in the context of branding strategy is that many people think they need to tell long, complicated stories. But here Sarah gives some really great examples of short, but very powerful brand stories. Hopefully, these will inspire you to create your own mini brand story.
I especially love Sarah’s advice about casting your target market as the hero of your story. Absolute gold!
“Best story wins! People buy goods and services when you tell them a story that creates connection. Connection happens when people can relate to the hero of the story. In marketing, that hero should be your potential customer. I learned this while working for StoryBrand in Nashville. Although I’d been in marketing for over a decade, this was the first time I was introduced to this concept.
‘StoryBrand principle 1: The customer is the hero, not your brand. When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as the guide, we will be recognized as a trusted resource to help them overcome their challenges. Positioning the customer as the hero in the story is more than just good manners; it’s also good business.’— Donal Miller, Building a StoryBrand
Because your audience is already living their life as the hero of their own story, if you position your brand as the hero, you will be in direct competition with your customers.
One way to accomplish this is by creating the most important marketing asset: your one-liner. First, identify who your customer is (Ideal Client Avatar) and what problems they face. Then explain the solution you are offering. Finally, give them the results of what their life will be like after they use your product or service. When you put these three pieces together, this will form your one-liner. Here’s the template taught by my Copywriting hero, Ray Edwards:
Client Problem + Your Solution + Results
Here are three examples from my clients:
1. Emotional, psychological, or behavioural hurdles must be addressed before learning can take place (Problem.) Our Academy provides K-12 Individualized Therapeutic Education in a safe, connected and structured environment (Solution) so our students can experience optimal learning and healthy living (Results).
2. Scaling business with a digital product, but not sure how to get started? (Problem) We design and develop strategic, custom software (Solution) that helps your business move forward and increase value every step of the way (Results.)
3. Emergency Room Surgeons can’t know everything. (Problem) Our point-of-care content platform partners with the most renowned medical societies and clinical reference products in the industry (Solution) to ensure the latest most reliable content when you need it most (Results.)
These one-liners tell clear stories that anyone in your target audience can follow, understand and find themselves! Once they connect with your brand’s story, you are well on your way to growing a business with solutions and products people want to buy.”
Sarah Braud is a writer, brand & marketing consultant, and keynote speaker who loves talking about how entrepreneurs and leaders can use storytelling devices to connect with audiences, spark interaction, and ignite their businesses. Sarah is CEO & Marketing Consultant of Brand Creative.
Include emotive elements
One of the reasons why stories can be so powerful in business branding is that they elicit emotive responses. This builds stronger connections with potential buyers, but it’s most important because the majority of our buying decisions are made based on emotion rather than logic. If you can get your prospects emotionally invested in what you offer, you’re more than halfway to convincing them to part with their hard-earned money.
Catherine’s advice reflects this, and she gives a great example of how a branding strategy can purposefully plan to incorporate emotion into a small business brand.
“The best branding tip I can give small business is to find the emotion that sells your product. If you are like us and sell a service, you need to capture the emotion on the service you send.
For us, we made each funded home a big deal. We are the first lender to really capitalize on every funded deal and emotionally chare each post. This really set a name for us and even had us be referred to as the ‘funded guys’.
We also take a lot of pride in being an informative source for our investors. We regularly share information on the newest market trend which has people check on our page.
If you combine emotion and information you can really set a unique branding platform that connects with your clients.”
Catherine Way, Marketing Manager at Prime Plus Mortgages: Hard Money Loans
Catherine Way is a content marketer for business, mortgage, and real estate industries, and she currently writes and reports for Prime Plus Mortgages. She enjoys finding new creative outlets through writing, designing, dancing, modelling and more.
Good branding strategy is all about consistency
No matter what your branding strategy covers, it must ensure your business branding is consistent across every facet. This is such a vital part of successful branding that it was the most popular topic of the branding tips that came out of my discussions. I couldn’t reasonably include all the consistency tips in this article, so I’m sharing tips across several areas of consistency.
Stacy talks about consistency in terms of consistently showing up in front of your audience. For your business, that could mean regularly showing up on a particular social media platform, blogging on a regular basis or reliably attending chamber of commerce meetings (or anything else that’s relevant).
“My top tip for creating a brand for small and medium businesses is to choose one channel you excel at and show up there consistently to gain the attention of your audience and new prospects. A brand is how others perceive you, and is a construct in the minds of those who have a relationship with your company. This means you need the attention of others to start to grow a brand, and you can get this by showing up consistently on one channel or platform that connects you to your audience.”
Stacy inspires entrepreneurs to take action and start their own businesses as well as helps people invest in websites.
Vinay emphasised the importance of consistency in terms of visual marketing assets and your business messaging.
“Be Consistent. Every piece of your puzzle – website, social media, email, customer service, print/mail – has to carry not only the same look, logos, colours, etc. but also the same messaging. If you start with a casual tone, that tone has to carry all the way across. If you start with a buttoned-down professional style, that has to be maintained. Whatever you choose, use it all the time, everywhere. Otherwise, your brand looks piecemeal and patchwork, which is not what you want at all.”
Vinay has been a small business CEO for 12 years and is currently a Health Expert and the CEO of Eu Natural.
Ruggero mentioned similar things to Vinay but I love that Ruggero’s advice also mentioned consistent punctuation (this is often overlooked) and consistency in terms of living a life that’s consistent with your business values and mission. (If you create brand mission and values statements that are consistent with your personal values and goals then all you have to do is be true to yourself.)
“Brand from the inside out by prioritizing consistency across all communications, both internal and external. From the colours and fonts, to the actual words and even the punctuation you use, the more consistent your communications are throughout your business, the better hold your brand will take in your market.
The real magic happens when you live your brand with your team members. As they see you living out the brand mission and values you put forth to them, and to which you hold them accountable, they will internalize your brand and become the best brand ambassadors you have.”
Ruggero is Founder of Running Shoes Guru — winner of Best Professional Blog two years in a row, it gets a whopping one million visitors per month.
Jose draws our attention to consistency but also cautions against being too repetitive. Repetition can improve recall but it can easily become monotonous and boring so you need to tread carefully there.
“As I help e-commerce brands inject their brand voice into their paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram, the best advice I can share is to encourage brands to understand the difference between “consistent branding” (a good thing) and “repetitive branding” (a bad thing), and why their brand messages need to adapt to the concept of the customer journey.
To do branding right you need to transmit a cohesive feeling and give your potential customers a strong understanding of the company’s ideals/concepts and the associated lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean that you will want to highlight the same aspects of your brand throughout an interaction with a potential customer.
Your marketing channels should be utilized to connect and engage with your audience over a period of time and utilize different messages and aspects of your brand to guide your audience through discovering your brand, to trusting it and making their purchase.”
Abby also raises the importance of consistency and points out that consistency is so important that it even trumps good design. Obviously, we want both but it’s good to put each aspect of branding strategy in priority order.
“Consistency is the key to building a successful brand. Believe it or not, it’s better to have a poorly designed brand that is consistent than a beautiful brand that’s all over the place. Use the same logo, tagline, fonts and colours in everything you produce. It’s not worth investing in a brand if you’re not going to stick with it. If you want to build brand recognition, you have to be consistent with your marketing materials.”
Abby MacKinnon is a content creator at a Hoot Design Company, a full-service marketing agency in Columbia, Missouri.
Be bold and innovative when developing your branding strategy
When unsure about how to do something well, we all have a natural tendency to examine what others have done, for inspiration and to guide our decision-making. That’s a great way to learn, but when you’re developing your branding strategy, I caution you to take extra care to take great ideas and make them your own. As Alexander points out, the whole point of business branding is to stand out from the crowd. If you do the same thing as your competitors, no one will remember who you are. Or worse, your target market might mistake you for your competitors.
“Few small businesses seem to figure out that the very fundamental reason for branding is to stand out among the competition. Your entire goal is to stick in the memory of your potential customers as the first choice over your competition. In this vein, many fail to recognise the need for something grounded yet unique to be their brand. Whether it is a logo, a style, or a jingle; your brand needs to fully embrace an identity that no other company has. A strong brand is often the defining point of sale when two near-equal services are compared, make yours memorable.”
Alexander M. Kehoe
Alexander M Kehoe is Operations Director, Co-founder of Caveni Digital Solutions, and author of Navigate the Digital Realm. He is a speaker, writer and consultant in the fields of digital marketing, web development, search engine marketing, artificial intelligence, influencer outreach, and social media marketing.
Christine’s branding advice neatly encapsulates the problems associated with looking to your competitors as a model for your branding strategy.
“When small and medium businesses set out to define their brands, there’s one trap that they can easily fall into — the trap of comparison. Too often, companies look to the competition for an idea of how they should be branding themselves. After all, if your competitors are getting sales, they must be doing something right with their brand..right?
But the brand that works for your competitor isn’t necessarily the one that works for you. Instead, the best place small and medium businesses can look when trying to distil their brands isn’t their competitors, but their customers. At its core, your brand is the thing that people remember about you. It’s the impression your company leaves in the minds of customers. So, who better to ask about that impression than your customers themselves? Interview them, survey them, find out what sold them on your products or services, see how you set yourself apart.
That thing that your customers remember you by, that’s the brand you need to grow.”
Christine Glossop works as a writer for Looka—an AI-powered logo maker that provides business owners with a quick and affordable way to create a beautiful brand—where she focuses on branding-related content.
Katie has an excellent point when talking about the potential for alienating people. So many businesses worry about offending people or putting people off when they’re building their brand. But the fact of the matter is, if someone would choose your competitor because of something you’re considering including in your branding strategy then that person isn’t your ideal customer so you shouldn’t waste time and energy trying to recruit them.
“Being innovative, bold and daring is by far the best way to build a strong brand that customers love and remember. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your principles and potentially alienate people who would never be your customers anyway. In the past few years especially, it’s clear that the most loved brands are those that dare to go beyond political correctness and call things as they see them.”
Katie is the lead editor of OutwitTrade and an accomplished data analyst, writer and internet marketer.
Dan is spot on when he says you need to hone in on the ‘uncopyable thing’ about your business. I highly recommend you make this a priority early on in your branding process and build your strategy around that singular point of difference.
“My biggest piece of advice is not to do what all your competitors are doing. You can certainly learn from things like competitive keyword research, but it’s also important to create your own brand voice. This (in addition to your actual product or service) is what will make you stand out from the competition. Find the uncopyable thing that makes your business unique, then hone in on it.”
Dan Gower is the owner of Buddy Gardner Advertising. He’s a digital marketer who specializes in copywriting, SEO, and web design.
Know your audience
Many businesses in the process of creating or updating their branding strategy make the mistake of thinking only about their business. It’s an understanding mistake because it is business branding. But the thing is, businesses don’t exist without their customers and clients. So much of your branding strategy actually needs to be about your intended audience.
Perhaps because of this, relating branding strategy to the intended marketing audience was another very popular topic when I talked to branding experts. Here’re just some of the branding tips they shared with me.
Gabriel talks about ensuring your branding assets appeal to your target audience.
“My best advice for branding for a small and medium business is to really understand your audience and work to connect with them. Remember, branding is not just a logo. It is the typography, the colour palette and the way your content is written. Your branding is everything so this needs to be consistent but also aligned to appeal to your target audience. Is your brand high-end, funny, lighthearted or serious? Creating a list of keywords that describe what appeals to your target market is a great first step that can really help you define your brand and your brand positioning.”
I am Gabriel Bertolo, the founder of Radiant Elephant, a New Jersey-based Digital Marketing agency that specializes in branding, web design, marketing, and SEO.
Louise suggests creating customer personas to help you align your branding assets with your ideal customers.
“The secret to branding for small and medium-sized business in a super-crowded online space lies in representing your business in a genuine way, finding your brand’s visual voice and really knowing your niche market. Create an ideal client profile (persona) and empathize with them! Give them a name, profession, age, personality and details that make them a real person. When creating your visual identity, designing an ad or writing your website copy, you should have them in mind! Communicate using the right visuals and words to highlight why you are the most knowledgeable and approachable partner to help them out.”
Louise Everarts de Velp
Previously a professional dancer and celebrity nanny in LA, Louise now lives in Boulder CO and has dedicated herself to web design. As an official Flothemes and Squarespace designer, she specializes in helping service-based female entrepreneurs create a beautiful and high converting online presence.
Vivek also advises you to create personas and added that your brand will be more powerful if you address your customers’ pain points in your branding strategy.
“In my opinion, the best advice for creating a powerful brand starts with creating a great persona. If you have a well thought out and developed persona it will be easier to understand what will appeal to your ideal customer or client. Uncover what their pain points and motivators are and other gems that you can then incorporate into your brand. This will help it stand out and strike a chord with your ideal audience.”
Vivek Chugh is the Founder and CEO of Listables. Vivek has managed world-class product, engineering, and operations teams worldwide.
Jonathan has some really actionable advice about how to take a detailed customer persona and mesh that with your own values and mission to come up with the most powerful elements that will make your branding more successful.
“Before building their brands, small and medium-sized businesses should learn as much as possible about their target audiences. Explore their values, lifestyles, purchasing behaviours and hobbies. Then, determine how your business’s identity relates to these traits. You’ll notice some strong correlations, which should serve as inspiration for the brand you build so it resonates with people you’re trying to reach and engage.
For example, if your target customer leads a fast-paced and busy lifestyle, and your business provides quick and efficient services, consider incorporating that value proposition into your branding elements. Choose colours, visuals and fonts evocative of speed to emphasize your brand’s ability to keep customers one step ahead of the game.
Many successful brands tap into their target audience’s subconscious, and by speaking to their audience’s most critical needs and desires, your business is more likely to achieve success.”
Jonathan Ochart is the founder and CEO of The Postcard Agency, an award-winning marketing and public relations firm based in San Antonio, Texas.
Meg adds a clarifying point that your branding strategy shouldn’t just take into account a superficial customer avatar. You really need to dig deep and develop a fully fleshed out persona. This might seem like a trivial difference, but I’ve had clients approach me with a customer ‘persona’ only a few lines long and expect me to be able to craft effective, high-converting copy without doing additional detailed research into who their ideal customers really are.
“The best way to stand out from the crowd is to be incredibly focused & in-tune with the needs & goals of your specific audience. It’s about more than having an “ideal client avatar“ — it’s deeply understanding the problems your audience faces (which I typically discover through keyword research), then positioning yourself as the solution.”
Meg Casebolt is founder of Love at First Search, an agency singularly devoted to helping womxn-owned businesses get found in search results.
She helps female entrepreneurs succeed online by helping them get found on Google then turning readers into customers, all by using custom strategies that fit them better than Catwoman’s suit (without the wedgie).
An effective brand is about more than just resonating with your audience’s preferences and values. Maddie builds on all this advice and adds that your branding strategy will be more effective if you include ways to show how your solution solves your ideal customers’ pain points.
“Know your customer! You need to have messaging that resonates with your target audience if you want to convert them from prospects to leads to customers. Identify what pain points your customers experience and draw a line to how your solution solves it for them. Your value proposition needs to be clear and succinct.
The biggest mistake I see brands make is diving into rebranding (new logo, new colours, new fonts, etc.) without doing customer and industry research first. You must know who your customer is and what message they need to hear from you before anything else.
Once you have your primary message nailed down, then you can figure out how to stand out in the marketplace. Everything else you do and create will be much easier after you really understand who you’re making it for.”
Maddie Michaud is a storyteller-turned-marketer and the founder of Blue Spec Marketing. She writes about marketing, healthcare, tech, and ethics. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading sci-fi and snuggling with her dogs.
Katie starts off by bringing all this advice together into one branding tip and then builds on it by extolling the benefits of niching down. And for everyone who’s scared of turning away potential clients by getting too specific, Katie says perhaps the wisest words I’ve heard on this topic — specialists earn more than generalists.
“1. Be crystal clear on who your target audience is
So many businesses get excited to show who they are and what they stand for, which is wonderful, but they’re nothing without an audience. While it’s important to have an offering, perspective and differentiated brand vibe, your effort must start with who your target audience is.
Be clear on:
– Who your audience is
– What’s on their mind/what keeps them up at night
– What their goals are
– Where they turn to for advice
– What helps them decide if a business is credible, of value, worthy of their business
Once you know those answers, you’re able to build a brand that really resonates with your target audience.
Put a face on these insights and speak to this audience. Only once you’re at this point are you ready to layer in your mission, customer value proposition and my favourite branding components, brand colours and fonts!
2. Don’t be afraid to be niche
As a small- to medium-sized business, it’s imperative to streamline as much as possible. Your time is valuable and you can’t be everything to everyone!
Yet I see so many businesses be scared to miss out on a sale that they continue to widen their products and services that eventually everyone’s confused about what they offer and why you should buy from them.
Going back to the first tip, be clear on who your specific target audience is, how you solve their problem and why you’re the best business to work with. When you do that, your brand is evident, you attract who you’re supposed to and people who don’t fit within your target audience naturally fall off.
And if niching down sends panic waves through you, remember: A specialist makes more than a generalist!”
Katie Gootenberg, Founder of Digitally Enhanced Marketing, brings nearly a decade of multifaceted marketing and PR experience to her clients. What started by working for and advising Fortune 500 companies has since evolved into a boutique digital marketing agency. Focusing predominantly on women-owned businesses in the health, wellness and empowerment space, Digitally Enhanced enables lean brands to run integrated marketing programs that achieve real results.
Consider which branding elements you’ll use to implement your branding strategy
Once you’ve sorted out the more abstract parts of your branding strategy, like your mission statement, you can start thinking about the more concrete elements like your website and content.
While this may make it seem like we’re straying into implementation planning, that’s not the case. Because it’s really important to consider how you’re going to ‘deliver’ your branding when you’re developing your strategy, as the mechanisms of delivery will, by necessity, impact on the strategy itself. For instance, a business that primarily builds its brand via its website and social media platforms is going to have a vastly different brand strategy to a business that’s focussed offline.
Paige provides some very detailed advice that I’m sure you’ll love if a website is going to be part of your branding strategy (all the evidence points towards it being a necessity these days) and it’s especially useful if you’re considering branding your business for voice search. I agree with her when she says that SEO is vital and that voice search is the ‘next big thing’. If you want to take advantage of that trend, your branding strategy will need to extend into the realm of voice branding.
“I started a global branding and marketing firm 19 years ago when websites were basically a brochure online, no bells and whistles. They have gotten fancier over the years but I see the pendulum swinging back a bit now.
Businesses do not exist today if they cannot be found online.
As a company, you must have a website and I’d argue businesses always need SEO because the whole point of having a web site is to make it easy for customers to find you. Being invisible online is a terrible strategy so making sure your site is keyword rich, mobile-friendly, loads quickly and produces meaningful content today is the price of entry. That also happens to be a great foundation for effective SEO.
Your home page is the most important to hook in prospective clients and customers if it does not load quickly or they do not see something that grabs their attention the opportunity will be lost. It must include enough of your value proposition to start the conversation so they will click further to learn more about your product or service. The goal is to make the navigation intuitive and easy so they follow the breadcrumbs to get their questions answered or problems solved.
When your brand foundation is strong the metrics show that you shorten the sales cycle and people spend more time on your site. When I started my company search was a novelty but today search engines change their algorithms regularly to keep up with customer demand for better and more relevant search capability.
My top tip is that websites must be optimized for voice search today because voice user interface allows users to interact with websites through voice commands so it adds usability and functionality to your site making it accessible to all users including those with limitations and disabilities. It is not just about complying with the ADA, responsible web design and corporate social responsibility goals but it is also good for the bottom line by reaching a broader audience.
Inclusion is the right thing to do and it is good for business.
Smart speakers are only getting more popular going forward so being able to optimize for voice search will be key to maximize the marketing and advertising opportunities on Siri, Alexa, Google Home, etc. Brands that perfect the ‘branded skill’ with more customer-friendly, less invasive ads are going to win big.
Are you prepared when customers ask for help like “Alexa ask Nestle for an oatmeal cookie recipe” or “What is the best Mexican restaurant in Boston?” if not you are missing a big opportunity!
There are always new shiny objects in marketing to distract you, social media and technology are 24/7 but SEO is here to stay whether it is via Google or voice.
You get one chance to make a great first impression so if you want to improve the impression you are making and give your business a boost make sure your site is optimized and voice search is very important.”
Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder & CEO of global marketing and branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, The New York Times Company, Colgate, venture-backed startups as well as non-profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. Paige is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.
If you’re relying on social media for your online presence and thinking that a website is really not necessary these days, research shows that 48% of shoppers say they will stop considering buying from a business if it doesn’t have a website. Peter also outlines other important reasons why a website is valuable in addition to a social media presence.
“An often ignored aspect of branding for SMB are their websites. These days, many businesses opt to use a social media platform like a Facebook page instead. But there are numerous downsides to it:
– you can’t control how your business is presented
– you can’t control advertising for other businesses on your page or near it
– you can’t engage freely with your customers
– most of all you are at risk to be simply removed from the platform at any time – destroying your work to build up a following
A professional website gives you a competitor-free place you are fully in control of. You can present your business as well as drive communication from it: be it with announcements or a newsletter. With modern website builders, the task is easily and quickly done and achieved at low-costs. No more WordPress-Pain.”
Peter Thaleikis is a software engineer turned entrepreneur from Germany / New Zealand. His company, Bring Your Own Ideas Ltd., helps people to turn their ideas into reality.
Several of the branding experts I spoke with were also keen to point out the role of content marketing in branding strategy. Khris talks about how content can help you achieve many branding goals, and that producing awesome content is a great way to help your brand stand out. In fact, there are a huge range of benefits associated with content marketing.
“My best branding tip and advice for small and medium business owners is for them to create helpful, relevant and killer content that makes them stand out from the rest. When you create content your audience loves, it will help build your credibility, develop a lasting relationship with your audience, create loyalty and trust, position you as an expert, and most importantly increase your brand visibility beyond measure.”
Khris Steven is a sales funnel and content marketing expert who derives passion from helping people serve more and make an impact online.
Jenna is a strong advocate for thought leadership as an integral part of building an effective brand strategy. As someone who is a firm believer in the importance of producing well-researched content, I agree with everything Jenna says here. If you’re keen to explore using content marketing in your branding strategy, here are six steps to achieving content marketing success.
“Your brand is more than just a logo, fonts and colour palette. It is the complete story of your business that can have a tremendous impact on how you’re perceived by potential customers. Telling this story in today’s digitally-driven world requires a content strategy that focuses on establishing thought leadership. In fact, according to some of our recent research, a 59% majority of marketers named thought leadership content as most effective at building brand awareness.
Creating content that is rich in evidentiary support, like research, case studies and infographics, can be a game-changer when it comes to building a powerful brand presence with a targeted audience.”
As a partner and Chief Content Officer at Ascend2, Jenna works with their internal team as well as their partners to provide a creative edge to Ascend2-generated content. With over 13 years of experience in brand marketing and as the owner and operator of a creative marketing agency, she integrates a fresh perspective into the content they create and how it is used by their partners.
Brian’s advice really resonates with something I’m always talking about with my networks — providing value. If you consistently provide immense value to your prospects and customers, you prove you can help them solve problems and that you care about their success. This encourages them to trust and like you and become loyal customers and even brand advocates. Brian and I agree that producing valuable content is an essential part of effective branding strategy. Here’s some more guidance on how to use content marketing in your branding strategy.
“Solid brand equity creates attention, sales, and profit growth. Every small and medium business desires this. But only the minority will put in the work to achieve it.
How’s it done? You must start creating content.
Put out articles, podcasts, videos, or social media posts. Be consistent to educate, inspire, or entertain your company’s target audience.
By giving massive value, your audience will start to comment and share your content with their friends and family. Over time, you create enough goodwill that carries over into an organic stream of new sales. The snowball effect takes over and your profit margins notice the difference.”
Brian Robben is the CEO of the international digital marketing agency Robben Media.
Ashton gives some great advice about how you can include content in your branding strategy to ’empower your growth’.
“In 2020, branding is everything. When you understand why you exist and who you exist for, you can create content for the right people and share the right message. Below are three ways to use your brand to empower your growth:
1. Valuable Copy. Gone are the days of super self-promotional copy in your content, and fluffed-up blog pieces. It’s critical to include data, as soon as possible, in your content to catch your audience’s attention and also validate that you are credible.
Why should they care? What does previous experience show?
Tell them with powerful research and reinforce how you’ll build onto their current skillset instead of trying to outsmart them through your piece.
2. Robust Design. If you have access to a designer (or design yourself), think of what the graphic or photo is supposed to add to your story.
How does it make your audience feel? Is the image of quality? Does it match your brand and is aesthetically pleasing so your readers/followers will want to re-share on their own social media pages?
3. Relationship Building. Content should be built for your target audience.
How can you use copy, imagery, and storytelling to earn their trust? How can you tweak your language to, instead of making them feel wrong, feel empowered to strengthen their current skills? There is so much power in building off a positive!”
Ashton Newell is the lead digital PR strategist at Directive, a next-gen performance marketing agency specialized in the software space. In this role, she creates and implements link building strategies to make her clients known worldwide.
Your employees can play an important part in your branding strategy
Everything I’ve talked about until now is applicable to all small and medium businesses. If you’re a sole trader, this next bit isn’t going to be relevant at the moment, unless you hire contractors, but it may be relevant in the future. If you currently have employees, have you considered how you might integrate them into your branding strategy?
Shannon outlines some excellent reasons why you can benefit from including your employees in your branding strategy.
“Many small and medium businesses overlook their employees as important ambassadors of developing a strong brand that is authentic, relevant, and differentiating.
Companies must embody an ongoing practice that instils, among internal teams, an intrinsic (not memorized) understanding what a company’s brand stands for, why it’s important, and what their role is in growing and protecting it. Here are five reasons to support this strategy:
– When employees understand the brand purpose, its promise is strengthened externally – naturally.
– When employees understand the brand, they are galvanized by a common sense of direction and aspiration.
– Employees are inspired by being an ambassador of an important company initiative.
– Understanding the brand makes storytelling come naturally.
– Employees prioritize and make decisions based on the same north star.
When teams understand, care about, and trust in the brand, they are more interested in being part of the story. They are more convinced of purpose, and their loyalty to the company increases, driving better business results.”
Shannon Riordan is the founder of a small but mighty branding agency in San Francisco called Global Brand Works. The agency specializes in helping its clients design and build solutions that deliver on brand promise.
Elliot talks about the importance of incorporating your business brand into your business’s culture. I particularly love the example about expertise in this branding tip.
“Your brand needs to extend through your whole organization.
Once you’ve gone through the soul searching process to find an effective way to differentiate yourself, you have to make your brand part of your culture, too. An attempt to build a brand can be superficial if it’s just about design or a tagline. But a brand will come to life when a company lives up to its brand standards by doing things like using brand pillars to make business decisions or making brand traits part of employee evaluations.
For example, if you’re branded as the expert in something, you should actively foster expertise across your org and prioritize building expertise over other initiatives. Also note that if you can’t do this with the brand traits you decide upon, there’s a good chance your brand will feel inauthentic.”
Elliott Brown has helped build brands for several startups and is currently director of marketing at OnPay, a payroll provider for small businesses.
Don’t forget your product and service packaging
Jessica offers some excellent advice about including product packaging in your branding strategy. While this branding tip focusses on physical product packaging, I highly recommend exploring this idea if you sell services as well. For example, the documents I send to my clients when I present their deliverables include some of my branding elements. The branding I’ve chosen provides a better experience for my clients, especially when they need to send deliverables to multiple employees for review and approval, and it helps me achieve several of my business goals.
“My best advice to businesses who are looking to improve their branding is to focus strongly on the presentation and packaging of your products. Creating a powerful brand requires cohesive and memorable design elements throughout your store, products, and packaging.
When your custom packaging is consistent with your overall branding, including your logo and signature colours and designs, it reinforces who you are as a business.
Packaging is an aspect of branding that stays with your customers after they make a purchase, and can provide further marketing opportunities through social media sharing, reuse, and reviews. Customers are more likely to remember and associate positive feelings with brands who have appealing and functional packaging; it may even result in improved reviews and ratings of your products!”
Jessica Wells is the advertising and marketing manager for Morgan Chaney. They provide custom printed packaging to businesses in all industries and of all sizes. Branding is one of the most important aspects of packaging design and they always emphasize the importance of strong branding to their customers.
Consider branding your products first
Victor’s branding tip was distinct from all the other advice given by the branding experts I spoke to. Victor advises new small and medium-sized businesses to start by branding each product and service first. I’m not sure this advice would work for every business but I do like the idea of exploring the market through individual products and then developing a really well-informed, whole-of-business branding strategy based on the insights gained from branding the individual offerings.
“For small and medium-sized businesses looking to break into new markets, it’s important to brand the product and not the business. Many businesses will have multiple products in their portfolio, but for relatively unknown small and medium businesses breaking into a new category, product recall is more important than brand recall. It doesn’t matter if you know P&G or Unilever as the house of brands they are, but garnering a sense of loyalty towards specific products from these businesses is what helps with repeat purchases and growth.”
Victor is VP of Marketing at Lumen5 and an adjunct professor of marketing at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.
Business branding costs
By now some of you are probably wondering just how much implementing an effective branding strategy is going to cost you. Alex offers some sage advice about weighing up the investment against the benefits to your business. I’d also add that it’s far more cost-effective to pay more to get your branding right than it is if you go down the cheap route initially and then have to redo it all down the track.
My advice is to carefully weigh up your skills vs. budget vs. the potential ROI of each branding element to determine where you’re going to allocate your budget for the greatest effect.
“The first question you want to ask is what’s the marginal value of investing in branding. Do people in your space actually make decisions at that level?
I’d argue that most expensive web design and logo work goes largely wasted, or at least the scale is not well known (perhaps you spend $15,000 on branding, but it generates you only hundreds of dollars in incremental business, for instance).
Some brands, especially CPG brands without much product differentiation, do benefit immensely at the margins from branding. For example, we help Cup of Kava with content. They do affiliate marketing for kava brands, so they don’t care much about their own brand. However, for the products they help sell (all kava brands), branding helps differentiate from the masses and really moves the needle on sales.”
Alex Birkett is Co-founder of Omniscient Digital.
You are not a small or medium-sized business, you’re a challenger brand
The final branding tip in this article comes from Justin Baja and it’s simply awesome!
“If you’re a small or medium-sized business, you’re a challenger brand. Challenger brands are outspent by the category leaders, but they know how to generate press and get earned impressions (free eyeballs!). Challenger brands don’t have corporate red tape, so they can naturally come across more human, more provocative, more in the moment.
So my advice to you?
Don’t think of yourself as just a small or medium-sized business. Think of yourself as a challenger brand, and act like one. Once you start doing that, you’ll dance circles around the competition.”
Justin Bajan is the co-founder of Familiar Creatures, a fractional AOR for challenger brands. A copywriter by trade, his ad agency offers the efficiency of a project-based vendor and the expertise of an AOR.
Key branding strategy takeaways
Phew! What a jam-packed article! At over 14,000 words, there’s certainly plenty of advice here to help you build an awesome branding strategy that will help you achieve your business goals. But that’s also a lot of information to remember, so let’s review the key points:
- Your brand is your business’s identity.
- Your business branding is about more than just a logo. It includes your business name, typography, colours, tone of voice, your mission statement, your values and more.
- Your branding strategy is the approach you use to ensure your vision of your business’s identity aligns with what everyone else thinks your business’s identity is.
- An effective branding strategy leads to more sales for less work and a lower cost. It also allows you to help more people.
- It’s crucial that you know and understand your target market in as much detail as possible. Every part of your branding strategy should be tailored to your target market’s wants, needs, preferences, desires and pain points. If you’re already in operation, ask yourself, how do customers describe your business to their friends? Detailed customer personas can be a useful tool when developing your branding strategy.
- Once you have that information, building an effective branding strategy starts with examining why you started your business.
- Once you’ve articulated your ‘why’, you can develop values and mission statements that align with your ‘why’ and resonate with your target market. These should use inclusive language and incorporate what you do and how you help your target market.
- A mood board can be a useful tool when it comes to developing the visual and language aspects of your branding strategy.
- Incorporating a personal element into your branding strategy can help you connect with your target market.
- Story-telling can be a powerful tool for conveying various aspects of your brand.
- People decide what to buy mostly based on emotions so try to incorporate emotion-evoking elements into your branding strategy.
- Researching what your competitors are doing is a great way to learn about things that work or don’t work in practice, but it’s important you don’t copy what they’re doing. The whole point of branding is to stand out from the crowd. If your brand is similar to the brands of your competitors, you risk your target market not remembering you, or worse, confusing you with your competitors and shopping with them instead.
- Don’t be afraid to show your business’s true colours and don’t be afraid of specifying a targeted niche. Incorporating these elements into your branding strategy will help you attract customers that are a great fit for your business and who will, therefore, be more likely to enjoy working with or shopping through your business and then rave about their awesome experience.
- At every stage of your process, bear in mind the importance of keeping your branding simple and consistent.
- Your branding strategy should also take into account the kinds of marketing assets you’ll use to implement your strategy. A website and valuable content are both effective for all kinds of small and medium-sized businesses. And your product and service packaging can have a big impact as well.
- If you’ve got or will one day have employees, don’t forget to incorporate them into your branding strategy so your branding feels authentic and your branding strategy is more effectively implemented.
- Match your branding budget to the level of impact your branding could have and the skills you already possess.
- If your business is new, you may learn a lot from focussing on branding your offerings first.
- You’re not a small or medium-sized business — you’re a challenger brand!
What to do once you’ve developed your branding strategy
Once you’ve developed a robust branding strategy, it’s time to start implementing it and beginning to build your brand. Depending on your strategy, this could involve creating or outsourcing any or all of the following:
- A brand name and domain name.
- A logo and favicon. I love Looka’s AI logo generation tool. It could be an excellent place to start your logo design process and I wish I’d known about it when I was redesigning my own logo. If you’re looking for someone to design a new logo for your business, Adeel Aalim does some great work. I also love the idea of getting an animated logo. Lordicon is one company I know of that provides an awesome logo animation service.
- A tagline.
- Value and mission statements.
- Tone and voice guides.
- A social media style guide.
- An email marketing style guide.
- A visual design guide (which includes guidelines for the use of your brand visuals as well as typography guidelines).
- A brand style guide (for written content). I can help with this.
- Banners for your website, advertising and social media platforms.
- Profile pictures. You might like to hire a photographer to produce at least one professional shot of you and potentially your employees.
- Brand videos. There are several programs that claim to make it easy to create your own DIY brand videos but I’m yet to find one that produces videos of a sufficient standard. I highly recommend hiring a videographer or other video expert if you’re creating evergreen videos (as opposed to things like Facebook Live videos, vlog entries etc.).
- Other brand images. If illustrations and cartoon-style images align with your branding strategy, check out the work of Jhenny Laquian.
- Business cards. I’ve previously used Vistaprint, Moo and several other local and international business card printers. If you don’t want to make a bad impression, I recommend Moo for high quality, value-for-money business card printing. Vistaprint is a cheap option, but in my view, they also produce cheap-looking results. If you’re not able to design your own card, I recommend hiring a designer rather than using a template because you’ll never be able to produce something truly unique and perfectly suited to your brand using a template. I include business card design as one element of my broader marketing packages.
- A website. If you’re not a copywriter, this is one area where the DIY route is really time-consuming and fraught with danger. If you have a limited branding budget, I recommend you dedicate it to your website in the first instance. The copy (text) is the highest priority, followed by the web development, followed by the imagery. If your budget is really tight, you can even start with a single page and expand later as needed. Website copy that gets people buying and also ranks well in search results is one of my specialties. I also offer value-for-money basic web development and copy packages for non-e-commerce sites. If you need an e-commerce site or something a little more complex, get in touch with Adeel Aalim.
- Printed signs. I recommend finding a local printer to avoid issues with delivery (not to mention, supporting local businesses).
- Digital signs. A graphic designer is a great asset when it comes to designing digital signs. However, if you’re on a tight budget, here’s some great advice for designing a digital sign that looks great and is consistent with your brand.
- A blog. If you’re going to start a blog, it’s really important to post consistently. That doesn’t mean you have to post daily or even weekly. But you do need to be consistent. If you’re considering starting a blog, here’s a detailed guide that will help you decide whether a blog is the right decision for your business.
If you do decide to start a blog, you’ve got several options. You can write everything yourself, outsource everything to a trusted writer or do a mix of the two. And whether you’re starting a new blog or already have one, I highly recommend learning about these seven types of blog posts that drive sales or you can jump right in and learn how to use and write them.
- If you’re going to write your own blog posts, here’s a detailed beginners’ guide to writing great blog posts and the first in a more advanced blog writing series which starts with posts that attract prospects.
- If you’re going to outsource all your blog posts, you’ll need to find a good-quality writer who can write the perfect content that aligns with your branding strategy. One of my specialties is crafting well-researched blog posts for the entire sales funnel. The benefits of this include attracting more of the target market and more efficiently turning them into loyal customers that keep coming back time and time again. If this aligns with your branding strategy and business goals, get in touch with me and I’d love to learn more about your project.
- If you’ve got a more limited budget but you still want some top-notch blog posts, I recommend you outsource your cornerstone content (the longer posts that are more central to your blog post strategy) to the best writer you can afford and then either DIY the others or hire a more junior writer for them. If you want someone who can do in-depth research into any topic and turn that into an engaging blog post that appeals to your target market and ranks well in search engines, check out my blog post writing services or my blog post samples.
- Social media profiles and associated posts. In most cases, you’ll be able to create your own social media profile/s yourself. You might need some help with the banners and optimising your profile, but if you’ve got a tight budget, you can probably afford to DIY that now and outsource it later. The exception is LinkedIn.
LinkedIn allows you to put a lot of content into your profile and therefore there’s a lot of room to optimise and brand it. If LinkedIn is going to be a major part of your branding strategy, I highly recommend following and/or connecting with Chrissie Wywrot, who’s an absolute legend when it comes to LinkedIn lead generation and profile optimisation. She shares a huge amount of high-quality information for free and her paid services are exceptional if you need more help.
Other than that, the main aspect of social media that businesses tend to find the most challenging, is showing up and engaging regularly and consistently, especially when they get busy. If this is or becomes an issue for your business, there are plenty of professionals who can help you. Social media managers, like Adeel Aalim, can handle every aspect of your social media profile. There are tools like Quuu and Quuu Promote that can help you with content curation and cost-effective content promotion or you can hire a professional to cover that side of things. Or you can hire someone to create social media posts that promote other pieces of content you publish elsewhere. For example, I offer a blog post package that includes a year’s worth of social media posts to promote each blog post.
- SEO (search engine optimisation). If you’re going to have an online presence, you need to be familiar with SEO. If you don’t know what it is, only have a vague understanding of what SEO involves or think SEO is just about keywords, read this introductory SEO guide now. Once you understand what SEO is and how it can help you build your brand and grow your business, take a look at this detailed SEO guide which will tell you what SEO techniques are worth prioritising depending on where you are in your SEO journey. If you need an SEO audit, competitor SEO research or SEO-friendly content, search engine optimisation is one of my specialties and I’d be happy to learn more about your project. If you need some help with the more technical aspects of SEO, get in touch with Adeel Aalim.
- Email marketing. Email marketing could fit into your branding strategy in several ways. You might use warm-email prospecting to fill your sales pipeline with prospects. Or you might have a mailing list that you send email newsletters to. Professionals can help you set up an email platform for your brand, develop a template for your newsletters or prospecting efforts, or create autoresponder and newsletter content and copy. I am an email marketing expert and I craft email content and copy for autoresponder, email newsletters and warm-email prospecting templates that stands out in inboxes, gets more opens and encourages your target audience to complete the actions you want them to (like click through to your website or make a purchase).