Running A Business

The Beginner’s Guide to Branding Your Small Business

Dec 18, 2020 • 10+ min read
Businesswoman placing branding domino down
Table of Contents

      Think of the world’s most iconic brands: Nike, Apple, Amazon, Tesla, Google, Coca-Cola. These brands’ logos alone symbolize quality, trust, and innovation. Everything from their fonts to their color schemes screams professionality and reliability.

      Your small business’s brand has the same potential—and it all starts with the details.

      Your brand is made up of several elements, including the following:

      • Name
      • Logo
      • Colors
      • Fonts
      • Design
      • Voice
      • Messaging
      • Tagline
      • Values
      • And more

      A brand encompasses everything that creates a perception in the minds of your customers—from its visual aspects (logos and design) to its personality (voice and messaging) and values (mission and vision).

      Successful brands go way beyond a high-quality logo and a clever name. A unified brand fuses everything from products to customers to positioning into the combined package that is your company.

      Whether you knew it or not, you started branding your company from Day 1. Ever since you began to visualize the solution, the product, and the business, you created your brand. However, the best business owners don’t let the world define their brands—they make intentional decisions to shape their brands to the world.

      Branding isn’t just for the big fish, either. It doesn’t only influence whether someone is pro-Nike or Adidas, or if they’re a Mac or Microsoft user—it also determines whether customers will buy your tacos or your competitors’ tacos, or whether a customer will walk into your store rather than another store without ever hearing of it before.

      First, let’s explore exactly why branding matters. Then, we’ll share several step-by-step tactics to shape your brand in the minds of your customers.

      Why Branding Matters

      Customers interact with thousands of companies across a variety of channels every day. From their morning commutes to their email inboxes to their lunch spots, they’re bombarded with branding and messaging practically 24/7.

      With so many brands and interactions, most customers don’t have time to shape their perceptions of each business proactively. Their opinions and judgments are formed passively through each mention, glimpse, ad, email, interaction, and purchase. That’s why it’s critical to create a unified brand that stays consistent across borders, channels, and even languages.

      Here are a few eye-opening statistics that’ll give you a sense of branding’s power:

      Effective branding moves the needle—it’s as simple as that. You’re in complete control of your business’s brand. Every design decision, marketing strategy, press release, and color choice shapes your brand’s identity in your customers’ minds.

      Before you can transform your brand, you need to know your brand’s core identity—or what you’d like it to be. 

      Define Your Brand’s Core Identity

      Graphic designer designing a logo

      Your logo, colors, tagline, and everything else about your brand should harmoniously communicate your brand’s personality. But before you tailor these elements, you need to know what brand identity you’re trying to express.

      Here are a few questions to consider to help you better understand your brand’s core identity:

      • What makes your brand unique? 
      • How is your business different from all your competitors?
      • What do you do better than everyone else?
      • What does your brand stand for?
      • How does your brand make the world (or your customers’ lives) better?
      • What 3 words best describe your brand?

      Hopefully, by the end of this exercise, you’ll have a better feel for your business and why it’s unique. Once you know who your brand is, it’s time to accurately depict it with the right design elements.

      Bring Your Brand Identity to Visual Life

      You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Your business’s name, logo, or tagline may be the first thing your potential customer sees—and it needs to pack a punch.

      If customers initially perceive your brand as cheap, then you’ll face an uphill climb to persuade them otherwise. Everything from your name to your typography needs to communicate consistency and reliability. Below, we’ll walk you through the core elements of a brand and what to keep in mind as you make design and business decisions.

      Name

      Your business’s name carries a lot of weight. It needs to be creative, but descriptive—unique, but not confusing—original, but not too out there.

      Some brands, like Nike or Adidas, have names whose origins mean practically nothing to consumers. Think about it—what does Nike actually mean? In Greek mythology, Nike was a winged goddess who personified victory. While that backstory resonates with the Nike brand and the Swoosh, you probably never knew that—and you likely still identified Nike with success and winning, thanks to the brand’s worldwide reputation.

      Now, take Buffalo Wild Wings, for example. Immediately, without any previous encounters, you’d know what this brand is all about—hot wings. Now, that’s not to say that Buffalo Wild Wings is a better brand than Nike, but it shows that you’ll want to carefully consider the impact your business’s name will have on your brand.

      Suppose you decide to give your local accounting business a cheeky name like Accrual World. In that case, you may win the respect (and giggles) of your fellow CPAs, but would a passing stranger have any idea what your business does without visiting your office or website? 

      Maybe. Maybe not.

      Again, there’s no right answer. Just know that a name has the power to make or break a business.

      Taglines and Slogans

      The tagline and slogan are an often-overlooked afterthought of a company’s brand, but this catchy, succinct phrase has the potential to shape your brand’s identity: “Just Do It,” “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One,” “I’m Lovin’ It,” “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” 

      These short, memorable quotes leave a clear brand message in your consumer’s minds. Your tagline or slogan is often one of the aspects your customers will remember most about your brand, so this is your opportunity to transmit an important message.

      So how do you come up with the right slogan?

      • Keep it short: A few syllables at most. The longer it is, the harder it’ll be for customers to remember.
      • Include a key benefit: Don’t focus on the product features—focus on the benefits. Coke doesn’t sell the flavor—they sell the resulting happiness.
      • Differentiate your brand with something unique: What does your brand do differently than your competitors? Dollar Shave Club’s tagline, for example, is “Shave Time. Shave Money” because they’re selling convenience at a low price.
      • Impart positive, powerful feelings: Use upbeat language that creates positive vibes. For example, L’Oréal Paris uses the tagline “Because You’re Worth It” to lift up their audience and leave them with strong, cheery feelings.

      Logo

      Your logo has the potential to be as recognizable as your brand’s name, if not more so. It deserves thought, time, and attention to detail. This element of your brand is a non-negotiable part that you should consider hiring a professional to create.

      Take Apple, for example. While the Apple logo’s inspiration is still up for debate, the fruit with a small bite taken out of it is now one of the most recognizable symbols on the planet. However, an apple itself does little to illustrate the product, value, or benefit that this brand delivers.

      On the other hand, think of NASA’s logo with the blue background, twinkling stars, and white ellipse representing space travel. When you see this logo, you know this brand must be about something related to space.

      Some brands use creative variations of their names as logos. eBay, Google, Walmart, and Lyft are great examples of brands that typically use their business names as their logos.

      When designing a logo, try to make it consistent with your brand’s identity. The simpler you make the design, the easier it’ll be for customers to remember. Ask yourself: “Would I be able to draw this logo freehand from memory if I could only look at it for 10 seconds?” If it’s too complex to pass this test, you might want to simplify the design.

      Colors

      Colors carry meaning, and the psychology behind each color is complex and compelling. Each color has certain emotions and ideas attached to it that impact your customers’ emotions and behaviors. It’s no coincidence that 1/3 of the world’s most successful brands include blue as the primary color in their logos.

      That’s not to say that your logo should contain blue—but it illustrates that color’s impact goes way beyond personal preference. Here’s a quick rundown on what each color means:

      • Blue: Calming, trustworthy, mature
      • Red: Passion, excitement, anger, loud
      • Green: Versatile, but often associated with money, nature, or life
      • Orange: Playful, energetic, invigorating
      • Yellow: Friendly, cheery, youthful, affordable
      • Purple: Luxurious, feminine, cutting-edge
      • Pink: Feminine, modern, cool, youthful
      • Brown: Rugged, masculine, earthy, handmade, rustic
      • Black: Slick, contemporary, luxurious
      • White: Youthful, affordable
      • Gray: Classic, serious

      Your brand will likely incorporate 2 or more colors in its scheme, but try to keep things simple. For example, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter all use a blue background paired with a white symbol. However, some smart brands are cheeky and add a variety of colors to their logos, like Slack, Instagram, NBC, or Microsoft—and it works.

      Try using a tool like Adobe’s color wheel to find colors that work well together. You can play around with the different color harmony rules (analogous, complementary, monochromatic, etc.) to find the perfect combination of colors. 

      Then, use a tool like Accessible Brand Colors to check how ADA compliant your colors are when paired with each other. This tool will let you know if a color combination is hard to read and which similar colors may work better.

      Typography

      Your font will need to complement your logo, and it should also be an extension of your brand. Most brands will have several complementary fonts for different uses: headers, secondary headers, body copy, etc.

      However, some fonts can clash like plaid with paisley. You’ll need to be strategic about which fonts you pair together.

      Searching for a font can lead to an endless goose chase—so narrow down your options from the beginning with these basic categories:

      • Serif fonts: Serif fonts contain the tiny decorative lines at the end of each character stroke. These fonts are classy and easy-to-read.
      • Sans serif fonts: Sans serif fonts don’t have the tiny decorative lines. This makes them a little harder to read, but they carry a more modern, stronger aesthetic.
      • Slab fonts: Slab fonts use blocky letters, making for the perfect old-school logo or tagline.
      • Script fonts: Script fonts look like cursive. They’re stylish but sometimes tricky to read, making them impractical for paragraphs of text.
      • Decorative fonts: Decorative fonts are all about style, but that style often comes at the expense of legibility. Ever receive a wedding invitation that took you minutes to decipher? Well, it was probably using a decorative font.

      Let Your Customers Hear You

      Female clerk speaking to customers

      Your brand goes way beyond visual design. It also encapsulates feelings and values.

      “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” What does your brand stand for? You communicate this through what you say and how you say it. It’s not so much about the product as it is about the value proposition.

      For example, Coca-Cola isn’t providing anything inherently good for society—just an addictive, sugar-filled soda. However, they don’t sell beverages. Coca-Cola sells happiness, togetherness, smiles, and good times conveniently packaged in a teeny-tiny 12-ounce can.

      What does your company sell? No, not the T-shirts or the accounting services or the fried chicken—what is the value?

      • Comfort
      • Convenience
      • Reliability
      • Safety
      • Nutrition
      • Satiety
      • Happiness
      • Fun
      • Connectedness

      Once you know the value, it’s time to effectively communicate it with strategic messaging and voice.

      Messaging

      Your brand messaging is the story that your business tells—the language behind your tagline, mission, and vision. It contains your brand’s values, key differentiators, and purpose.

      TOMS’ messaging, for example, is less about buying stylish shoes and more about giving to those in need. Coca-Cola’s messaging is more about having drinks for a good time and less about how many calories are in a can.

      Voice

      Voice goes beyond what you say—it’s how you say it. Back to the TOMS example. TOMS doesn’t claim to be better than other brands for their philanthropic endeavors—that would damage the brand’s reputation. They focus on giving with language like “we’re in business to improve lives.” On a similar note, Patagonia doesn’t claim to have the greatest products in the world, but they do state, “We’re in business to save the planet.”

      Compare Wendy’s “you know when it’s real” voice with Taco Bell’s “think outside the bun” voice. These restaurants are both in the business of food, but Wendy’s voice communicates authenticity (and a sense of nutrition), while Taco Bell’s delivers experience and lifestyle.

      You’ll identify your brand’s messaging and voice when you work on your core identity. Then, you’ll need to make it work conjointly with the visual design of your brand.

      Start Building Your Brand Now

      Your brand should be a priority right from the get-go. Branding has the potential to play a more influential role than price or even innovation. Building a top-notch brand won’t happen overnight. It’s going to require a significant amount of time and research, and it might demand some of your budget—but this investment is well worth it in the end.

      However, remember that your brand is never set in stone. The brand you establish today may shift over time, and you may need to make strategic changes to your logo, colors, typography, or even your voice to shape customers’ perceptions in the way you desire.

      Protect your brand. Establish guidelines to ensure it’s portrayed appropriately across your platforms and other 3rd-party entities. Trademark your name, logo, taglines, slogans, and other brand-specific company assets.

      Branding has always been important, but it’ll become increasingly critical as attention spans shrink and digital milliseconds become more valuable. Make brand a priority from Day 1 to proactively shape your customers’ perceptions of your business.

       

      About the author
      Jesse Sumrak

      Jesse Sumrak is a Social Media Manager for SendGrid, a leading digital communication platform. He's created and managed content for startups, growth-stage companies, and publicly-traded businesses. Jesse has spent almost a decade writing about small business and entrepreneurship topics, having built and sold his own post-apocalyptic fitness bootstrapped startup. When he's not dabbling in digital marketing, you'll find him ultrarunning in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Jesse studied Public Relations at Brigham Young University.

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