Branding might make you think of multi-nationals, but every business has a brand. And there’s more to a brand than a flashy logo.
Customers can find you more easily if you have a strong brand. They’ll understand your business better and feel more connected. So they’re more likely to buy from you and keep coming back.
Your brand is not just a visual identity or logo. It’s all the features that distinguish you from your competitors. The gut feeling your customers have about your business comes from your name, advertising slogans, design, and what it’s like to do business with you. Everything about customers’ experience contributes to your brand.
A strong brand is one of the most valuable things a small business can have. It lasts longer than individual marketing campaigns. That’s why it’s so important to get your brand right.
Building your brand involves defining:
This page covers brand identity and building your brand as a small business. For tips on creating logos, slogans and customer personas, see:
Your brand gives customers a first impression. It helps people make decisions about your business, including if they want to buy from you. Your brand is a marketing tool, increasing customers’ awareness, loyalty and willingness to buy from you.
With a strong brand, people can find you more easily. You stand out from the competition, and people are more likely to remember you when they need what you provide. People tend to associate a strong brand with a good reputation, helping new customers trust your business.
This is why people often eat at well-known chains when travelling on a tight schedule or in an unfamiliar city. They value a reliable experience without any surprises, even if local alternatives might be more like their usual favourites. The brand encourages the customer to make a shortcut to the decision the restaurant wants.
A respected brand can offer financial benefits, allowing you to charge higher prices. And it can help you find funding when you need it.
Manu offers a no-nonsense approach to gardening. He focuses on a few services so his customers quickly learn what to expect. They know he can consistently carry out these tasks to a good standard. Manu carries this idea into his simple but memorable choice of business name – Manu’s Mowing.
In keeping with this direct approach, his brand emphasises clarity, trust and value for money. The visual elements of his brand are based on a simple double M logo. His work vans display this MM logo and also have personalised MM registration plates. It all helps to emphasise the brand.
Studying your brand in more detail helps you understand it better. Look at different aspects of your business, eg workplace culture, where you fit in the market, and how you stand out from the competition.
Business experts recommend using a brand identity matrix, which is a grid of nine questions. Three looking inward at your business, three looking outward, and three that mix internal and external.
First, answer each question. Then look at how each answer relates to the others and if everything fits together neatly.
Here’s a shortened version of a brand identity matrix in the Harvard Business Review.
Use our template to create your own brand identity matrix. It also includes example answers from our case study, Manu’s Mowing.
Some brands just focus on making a sale. Once the sale is complete, their interaction with the customer ends. These are purchase brands. A coffee cart, for example, might use a branded flag to encourage passers-by to choose it over its competitors.
Other brands take a longer view. These are called usage brands, as they seek to build long-term relationships with customers who use their product or service. For example, a store selling espresso machines might:
Their customers may then act like unofficial brand advocates.
Some brands take this relationship a step further. They link themselves to a culture their customers belong to or find appealing. Fitting in with this culture may help attract customers. For example, the espresso machine store may align itself with local coffee culture with its choice of store name. It might also:
Once you define your brand, the focus shifts to building it. This involves:
Figure out how you want people to think and feel about your brand. This is also called brand associations. If these align with someone’s values, or make them feel good, they are more likely to seek you out. A fashion brand, for example, might emphasise its eco-friendly fabrics. Another example is our case study, Manu’s Mowing. Its brand emphasises its reliable and no-nonsense service. By using the tagline “We take care of your garden”, it also taps into positive emotions around caring and protecting.
Think about colour, text and style when creating your visual brand. People attach meanings to colours. For example, if you use green in your logo, people may expect an environmental focus. The style of text gives an instant impression of how formal or casual your business is. For example, Manu might choose simple and clean lettering. A wedding boutique might choose lettering that looks like traditional handwriting.
Put your brand in front of customers whenever you can, eg on invoices, business cards or staff uniforms. This personal connection will have more impact than untargeted advertising.
It’s important to protect your brand. Look into ways to discourage others from using your name and ideas. Examples include registering your brand name and using trade marks. You can pay to register a trade mark, but even putting “TM” on your logo and name offers some protection.
If these reflect your brand identity, you’ll give customers a better experience overall. Think about how you can strengthen your online presence. Focus on social media platforms your customers use the most. Make sure your website looks attractive.
Plan how you’ll live up to your brand in everything you do. For example, if convenience is key to your brand, your website should be easy to use. Common tasks like buying a product or booking a service should be straightforward. If your brand includes being friendly and helpful, your terms and conditions should match that promise.
Your brand needs to keep up with changes in markets, customer behaviour, or your business. For example, a winery might need to improve its luxury brand if competitors move upmarket. This could involve updating their visual brand or approach to customer service.
It helps to use the brand identity matrix. Look at each of the nine questions to see what’s changed and get an idea where to focus. For example, Manu’s Mowing wants to be the best value-for-money gardener in town. If a competitor challenges Manu on price or quality, he might need to explain his quality advantage better, or change his market position.
When you deeply know your target customers, use these insights to identify what to sell and where best to sell it.
How high is too high, how low is too low? Plan a pricing strategy that suits your customers and your business.
Online or face to face, there are many ways to communicate with customers. Here’s how to choose and plan.