How To Create An Iconic Small Business Brand
We like to practice want we call “Evolutionary Branding”. Put simply, evolutionary branding is the steady and methodical evolution of a brand as time and budget allows. Branding is much more than a logo and much more than widespread recognition, so here are some tips and tricks to help small businesses EVOLVE a brand that supports and grows their organization.
When branding a small business, the first thing that virtually everyone does – both clients and agencies – is use Apple, Coca-Cola and Nike as examples of great branding. Which they undoubtably are. But after working in the trenches with over 100 small businesses a year I have to ask the question: does this kind of thinking help or even apply to small businesses?
Yes and no.
I started my career as an art director creating exhibits for major international brands such as La Louvre and the Musee d’art Moderne in Paris. Since then, I’ve worked with many of the biggest brands in the world like Levis, Kellogg’s, IBM, Disney, Gatorade, Xerox and countless others. I’ve worked with the biggest ad agencies like BBDO, Foote, Cone and Belding and Publicis.
“Evolution not Revolution” is a quote I’ve heard in business meetings attributed to everyone from Steve Jobs to Buckminster Fuller. Even though it was actually said by French fashion designer Pierre Balmain, I think it is fitting that it oft gets applied to Jobs. Apple computers is a company that never actually invented anything but nonetheless has had a MASSIVE impact on the world by EVOLVING technology like the Graphic User Interface and Mouse (Xerox), the Tablet Computer (Pencept) and the Smart Phone (Hewlett-Packard). I think it sets an especially powerful example for small businesses, given Apple went from a tiny garage startup to the most valuable company in the world in only a few decades.
Evolution not revolution is an especially important concept to grasp when branding small businesses. For small brands with limited financial resources, widespread logo recognition is (realistically) an unattainable or very distant goal. Likewise, rebranding in one fell swoop, something that big corporations do all the time, is outside of the budget of most small businesses who rely on their day to day sales to stay in the black. So here are a few tricks that can help you evolve into a well branded organization without breaking the bank:
Research your target audience and your competitors.
Be madly, truly and deeply in love with your brand. Carefully research your target market and see who your competitors are and define what you do that they don’t do. It’s all about who does it better. Trying to be everything to everyone is a recipe for disaster unless your brand has lots of resources and many, many extensions.
If you are re-branding, know how your brand makes your customers feel. A simple way to do this is to conduct a brand assessment. Ask 20 of your most loyal customers to name one word that they would use to describe your brand. If your twenty responses all come back different, you need to work on your Consistency. If the large majority of them don’t meet the message you were hoping to send, then you need work on the Clarity of your communications.
Branding is about the emotional experience for your target audience. Exceptional branding provides a sense of comfort, acceptance, yet inspiration to keep your clients coming back for more.
What do you do that nobody else does?
“Outstanding Customer Service” doesn’t count. EVERYONE says that.
This is called your Value Proposition and how you express that (the tone of your communications and the style of your writing) is your Brand Voice. This is perhaps the most fundamental and most overlooked part of branding. We build and market websites for over 100 businesses a year and the single most obvious thing we see with the ones that fail is that they have not created a useful business in the first place. It’s tough when you get a failing business that wants a spiffy new logo or website to revitalize their brand when it’s plain as day that the real culprit is much more fundamental.
Every organization, no matter how small, has the opportunity to revolutionize their business. Do something none of your competitors have ever done before, take a position that’s bold and imaginative, paint a picture of the future that your customers want to live in, and then put your whole company into motion creating that vision.
So if you can answer the question, “what do you do that nobody else does?” you are 99% of the way to creating a powerful brand.
Create your business or product name.
A strong brand is easily recognizable. And recognition starts with the name of your business or product. The name will appear on your business cards, letterhead, website, social networks, promotional materials, products, and pretty much everywhere in print and online to identify your company or your company’s products and/or services.
Start by deciding what you want your name to communicate. It should reinforce the key elements of your business and of course your value proposition. Be creative. At a time when almost every word in our language has been trademarked, a popular solution is to use new forms or spellings of existing words.
After you’ve narrowed the field to four or five names that are memorable and expressive do a trademark search. Not every business name needs to be trademarked, but you need to be sure you aren’t infringing on anyone else’s trade name.
Write your slogan.
Nothing works quite like clarity. If your slogan communicates your brand message to your target audience properly and your brand positioning is easy to understand, your consumers will be great brand ambassadors. When your consumers are fans of your brand and identify with it, they become vocal in spreading your brand’s message.
Word of mouth marketing has always been important, but it is even more crucial in this age of social media. Customer endorsement is more powerful than any advertising or copy you could produce and nothing works better than a hashtag with a catchy slogan.
Design your logo.
It’s not enough to have a recognizable name, you also need a recognizable logo. As you think about your logo, keep your audience and products/services in mind because you want your logo to reflect your company. A good logo builds trust and a strong logo will help to pull your brand together. Don’t think that you need a symbol or mascot either. Some of the most recognizable brands use just text for their logo. This is especially powerful when you have a catchy name.
Choose the look of your brand (colors and font) photo style, illustration style.
Design to Impress. Compelling brands have a style and design that is unique, that evokes emotion, and that is relevant to their niche market. Quality design should be a part of every one of your marketing materials. Your website, logo, brochures, and emails should all be designed for maximum aesthetic appeal. Beauty and elegance exude professionalism and trigger feelings of comfort and reassurance which reinforces the value of your brand in the customer’s mind.
Apply branding across your business.
Be consistent. To build and maintain a strong brand, every aspect of your brand should be as good as your product or service and you must be consistent in presenting your brand. This includes not only your company’s name, logo, overall aesthetic design, products and services, but also includes your marketing materials, website, appearances at trade shows and conferences, content posted to social networks, etc. You should care because brand consistency leads to familiarity, and familiarity leads to trust.
Then there is the intangible:
Deliver value. Value doesn’t mean lowest price. You can focus on product leadership, operational excellence, or great customer service. You can also focus on a combination of those things. This is why all branding starts with what we call the “Value Proposition”. As you think about the value your company delivers – ask the following questions: What value do you provide? And how does that value differ from that provided by your competitors?
Keep your promises. You’d be surprised how many small businesses tarnish relationships with their customers by failing to keep their promises. Missing deadlines, going in back order, delivering shoddy merchandise. Happy customers who feel good about your business are your best source of referrals.
Stand for something. Think about brands you love. Those brands commonly stand for something (or against something) and connect with their customers emotionally.
What does your business stand for (or against)?