“Once we have enough revenue, we can invest in building a brand.”
Sound familiar? It’s common for small business owners to think this way, if they think of brand identity at all. Some think they don’t have the time to worry about brand in the startup phase of a business. However, skipping the important work of brand identity usually causes more time-consuming challenges in the long run.
Brand identity is much more than a logo and a tagline. It’s more than style guides, marketing materials, or color palettes. Brand identity is the culmination of how your brand looks, feels, and speaks to customers. It influences the entire customer experience and ultimately affects how others view your credibility and business. In reality, brand identity is more about what audiences think of the business than anything else, because what they think is your real brand identity (no matter what you think it is).
Ignoring branding may mean that messages get through loud and clear but produce undesired results and create long-term problems. It may not be noticeable initially, but the impact from this approach becomes apparent all too quickly and painfully in various ways: you’ll get more questions than sales, audiences won’t be clear on what you’re all about, and potential customers will buy from your competition instead.
In order for small businesses to compete, they should create and cultivate emotional connections with target audiences through messaging, marketing, and engagement. Brand is the most valuable asset of a business, and when it is done right, the benefits and ROI are measurable and immediate. It takes effort to mold an audience into thinking of a business the way the business owner desires or expects. It doesn’t magically happen! It requires time, research, and deep thinking, but the results are worth it.
So where do you start? In this blog post, we’ll review 4 steps to creating a small business brand identity.
- Research and understand the market
A brand identity that resonates with customers can’t be created until the business owner understands those customers. So, first take the time to truly learn about first-, second-, and third-level audiences. Develop personas that define their likes and dislikes, hobbies, and values. (We’ve written about personas previously.)
Once you have a deep understanding of your customers, move on to competitor research. How are other companies positioning themselves in terms of visual elements, personalities, and themes? What will be your advantage over those competitors?
And finally, don’t forget to interview the people closest to your current brand: your employees. They have an important point of view on how the company should be portrayed and what has and hasn’t worked in the past. If they don’t believe your message, then who will?
- Create assets
Once the research phase is done, the fun can begin. It’s time to translate what you’ve learned into visuals. Here’s a quick list of common brand assets:
- Color palettes
- Photography and graphics for marketing campaigns
- Style guide that explains appropriate logo usage and tone of voice, among other things
As you’re building your brand assets, think about the 3 Cs of branding and how they can help:
- Clarity: It’s your job, not your customer’s, to figure out your message. If they have to work to interpret something you’ve created, your brand isn’t clear enough yet.
- Consistency: Your billboard needs to have the same voice as your website, which needs to have the same voice as your Twitter account. Why? Consistency in your brand inspires confidence and discipline.
- Commitment: We want our ads to go viral, and the minute they don’t, we get discouraged and shift directions. Don’t forget that great branding takes great time.
Thinking of the marketing process—of creating promotional pieces, capturing customer attention, and converting that interest into sales—can also help once you move deeper into asset creation specifically for marketing campaigns.
- Define your brand story
Cement your brand identity with a brand story. This isn’t necessarily your origin story, although it will have components of why you started your business.
Your brand story should answer these questions:
- What does your brand believe in?
- What pain points does your product or service alleviate?
- How does your business solve those problems?
- Why did you decide that your business should alleviate those pain points?
- Where do you see your business going?
As you’re crafting your brand story, remember that it’s not just the elevator pitch you give to people when they ask what your business is. It’s about how your brand relates to people and why it exists. Brand strategy is not the same thing as marketing, but it may be the foundation of the marketing and promotion of a business. Brand identity could be a major part of the messaging that you are trying to get across in your overall marketing efforts or specific promotional campaigns.
In all of this, your message mapping should appeal to the potential customers you researched in step 1. Delivery of your offering (product or service) should cause the customers to think and feel about your brand the way you have envisioned based on the research. In this way, your messages should help your audience understand how they should think, feel, and speak about your brand.
- Formulate and refine
Your brand identity may change over time, and that’s okay. Once you’ve formulated your initial brand identity, analyze and refine it based on customer feedback. Test new strategies and tactics to see what works best. For example, you could use A/B tests to try out different taglines on your homepage and see which story resonates best with your audience.
If you’re new to branding, you may want to consider hiring a brand strategist to help pull it all together. We’ve already hinted at the importance of creating a brand identity. Getting expert advice at the outset can help you avoid making a costly mistake.
For more information about this and other topics, consider registering for the NaperLaunch Academy workshop series or scheduling a one-on-one appointment with a business librarian or NaperLaunch coach.