Branding for Small Business

You may have heard the term “branding” thrown about in regards to business strategies and marketing. But what is branding exactly?

Your “brand” is your company’s image, what it stands for, and its personality. It’s what differentiates you from your competition and cements loyalty and understanding between you and your customers.

Let’s take for example Haagen-Dazs versus Ben & Jerry’s ice creams. Although they both make premium ice creams with high quality ingredients, they have each set themselves apart from the rest of the pack by creating a very specific brand to appeal to a specific audience. Everything from the logos, colors and designs to the language choices and product names reinforce their company brands.

Haagen-Dazs brings to mind luxury and indulgence, a dessert for affluent adults with discriminating tastes. Their logo, website and packaging feature golds, creams and rich chocolate browns and lots of close-up images of dripping, sumptuous treats with words like “heaven” and “decadent” in the titles.

Ben & Jerry’s brings to mind fun, eco-friendly treats for all ages with a socially-conscious, hippy vibe. Their designs are all focused around cartoon images in bright primary colors and tongue-in-cheek flavors like “Chip Happens,” “Cherry Garcia,” and “Netflix & Chilll’d.”

Creating a strong brand that appeals to the right customers and sets you apart from your competition is a huge key to a business’ success. Even if you’ve been in business for years, don’t be afraid to reassess your brand. Maybe you have an enormously loyal customer base that doesn’t want to see any changes. On the other hand, your brand may not be presenting an accurate picture of your company at all and you could use some brand tweaking or a complete rebranding.

How to Plan Your Business Branding

Define Your Audience

If you’re an existing business, you may have a pretty good idea of who your typical customer is. Write out an audience profile that describes what you know about this customer, their age, lifestyle, marital status, income and other demographics.

If you have more than one type of typical customer, write out separate profiles for each. Get as detailed as you can. Are your customers digitally savvy? Do they shop online? What do they like to do in their free time? Do they tend to be conservative or liberal? Religious or not? Do they travel? Do they have a college degree? What is important to them? Consider doing some online surveys to get a better handle on what your customers want and need.

If you have not yet launched your business, or if your current customers are not your ideal customers, then write up a customer profile of who your ideal customer would be. If they have not been approaching your existing business, it could be because your brand is not appealing to them. Whoever your ideal customer is, your branding should be focused on attracting them.

If you want to get really in-depth with understanding your audience and how to market to them, you can hire a market research company to deliver detailed profiles about your potential customers and their buying habits.

Define Your Story

Every business has an origin story. What is yours? Did you see a niche that needed to be filled? Did you have a passion for something that organically became a full-time business? Did you learn a love of cooking from your grandmother, and then transferred that love into your own brand of sauces?

Make sure you have a clear, concise and compelling story that you can tell prospective customers about why you started this business.

Write a Mission Statement

Every business needs a mission statement to provide direction to future endeavors. It will also help guide your marketing when you keep the mission of your organization top of mind. If your mission is to make and sell the most environmentally-friendly shampoo on the planet, then your branding should reflect that in everything from your logo to your packaging to the language you use. If you don’t have a strong, defined mission statement, your branding can get confused, and your customers won’t know what you stand for.

[Related: Why Your Organization Needs a Great Mission Statement]

Know What Makes You Unique

What sets your business apart from your competition? If you don’t know, don’t expect your customers to know either. Figure out your niche and amplify it. There are probably dozens of pizza places in your city. Which one is your favorite? Why? It probably does something better than the others, whether it be a special crust, or does a real traditional Sicilian style, or it has a family-friendly play area.

Figure out what makes your business different than the rest. Or find a niche that isn’t currently being filled and fill it. Think about what matters to your ideal customer and how you will communicate that your business is the one that best fills that need.

Put It All Together

Now that you have an ideal customer in mind, a backstory, a mission statement and you know what makes your business unique, it’s time to create a logo, website design, marketing materials and language that will reflect all of this. Write down some words and phrases that encapsulate the image that you want your brand to convey to the world. If you’re opening a high-end wine shop catering to affluent professionals who love to entertain, you might focus on words like, “premium,” “celebration,” “tasteful” and “joie de vivre.”

Now is a great time to hire a marketing design firm or at least a strong graphic designer to help you craft your logo, website and other marketing materials with your unique branding vision in mind. This isn’t the time to skimp and hire your nephew who knows a little Photoshop to create a logo for you. Your visual design will be the first thing many potential customers will see and the impression they give can make or break their decision to investigate further. Plus, you will hopefully be using your branding for years to come, so it is well worth the investment.