Business Posts

4 Steps to an Effective Brand Identity

“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.

  1. 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?

  1. 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:

  • Logo
  • Color palettes
  • Typography
  • Iconography
  • 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.

  1. 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.

As we’ve written elsewhere, this story development may be supported by or include selecting the company’s name and creating your unique value proposition. So, those are part of the brand story, too.

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.

  1. 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.

Monday, June 14, 2021 - 14:00

Best Practices for Creating Buyer Personas for Your Small Business

A buyer persona (also known as a customer avatar) is a fictional representation of your company’s ideal customer. Personas can help you customize marketing efforts to specific audience segments; by understanding the concerns and motivations of your buyers, you will be able to tailor your marketing messages and provide better solutions to their problems.

Personas are based on real data about current customer demographics and online behaviors, as well as educated guesses about their personal background, motivation, and concerns. Creating an effective persona requires extensive research, which may take the form of customer interviews, surveys, website analytics, product reviews, keyword research, social media analytics, and/or competitor research.

When deciding what personas to create, consider your typical buying process. At each stage, with whom do you typically engage? Personas typically consist of end-user customers, influencers, and decision makers or those with purchasing authority. Prioritize them based on their impact on the final purchasing decision, their relationship to your company, and the size of the persona group. (If a particular group only has a few members, you may want to focus your marketing efforts on a larger one.) Ideally, you’ll narrow your list to about three primary personas to start; once you’ve completed them, you can refine and/or add additional personas as needed.

The most useful information for your buyer personas will depend on whether your company has a business-to-business or business-to-consumer focus.

For a B2B company, your persona should identify:

  • Demographics such as gender, age, and education
  • Work-related information such as job title, company size, industry, and job responsibilities
  • What a day in their life is like, including who they deal with and what types of decisions they make
  • What their primary pain points are that relate to your products or services
  • What they value most in making a purchase decision and what their purchase goals are
  • The primary sources of information they use in their research and purchase decision process
  • What is most important to them in selecting a vendor, such as having proven experience or being a domain expert
  • Their most common objections as to why your company’s solutions don’t meet their needs
For a B2C company, a persona should include:
  • Demographics such as age and gender
  • Their geographic location (including time zone, for international and online businesses)
  • What language(s) they speak
  • How much money they have to spend and how they approach purchases in your price category
  • What their interests are, such as what they like to do and what other businesses they interact with
  • What their pain points and challenges are
  • What stage of life they are in; for example, college students, new parents, retirees
Once you’ve gathered the information, there are a wide variety of templates and examples online to help you organize it. Once you’re done, you’ll have a customer avatar to keep in mind when you create and implement your marketing strategy. 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.
Wednesday, June 9, 2021 - 15:00

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business

Running a business is tough. Whether you're a brand-new startup or an operating company, it’s important make sure you've considered your own strengths, weaknesses, and reasons for wanting to be an entrepreneur.

In the NaperLaunch Academy, participants use an entrepreneur profile questionnaire to reflect on whether entrepreneurship is a good fit with their interests, skills, and life circumstances. For those who have already started a business, this profile can provide deeper insight into how they and their organization affect each other.

If you’re considering starting your own business, ask yourself these seven questions to assess whether you're ready to take the leap.

  1. Why do you want to start a business?

    What brought you to this point? Is your reason personal, opportunity based, or a mixture of both? For example, do you want more flexibility with your time and energy? Do you want to be your own boss?

  2. What do you know how to do?

    Do you have any specific skills or experience that can help you in this business? Are you a quick learner? Can you gain the skills you need in a timely manner? Do you have expertise in finance, operations, sales, or marketing? How well do you know the market you are entering? Do you know what it takes to make your product or service successful? Are you a good problem solver?

  3. What do you love to do?

    If you have free time, how do you spend it? Do your hobbies fall in line with the business you’re thinking of starting? Does your personality match up with the type of business you’re thinking of? Will you still like what you do when it becomes your source of income?

  4. What personal and professional relationships do you have that can support your business?

    Would you want to partner with someone who has similar or complementary skills? Do you know people with skills, tools, capital, property, or connections that could help you? If you seek help from someone you know, can you accurately gauge their skills or resources?

  5. What kind of support network can you rely upon?

    Building a business can be very stressful; on whom can you rely for emotional support? If your business doesn't take off financially right away, how can you make sure basic needs are met for yourself and your family?

  6. What are your resources?

    Do you have enough cash on hand to get started? Is there anything you can use as collateral if you need a loan? Do you have investors lined up to fund your business, or do you know any in case you need investment in the future?

  7. How do you handle setbacks?

    Do you set realistic expectations? How do you manage your blind spots? How have you learned from past mistakes? In what ways have you shown resilience when facing challenges?

If your answers support your desire to start a business, NaperLaunch can help! Register for an upcoming NaperLaunch Academy workshop or schedule a one-on-one mentoring session with a business librarians, NaperLaunch coach, or SCORE mentor.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 - 12:45