Branding for Small Business: More Than a Logo

old brand signsBranding is a big factor in contributing to someone’s decision to do business with you.  But what exactly is branding?

And is it only for big businesses that can afford expensive advertising to spread their name and logo all over just for the sake of brand recognition?

Like most abstract concepts, there is no single, precise definition of branding.  Many people have expressed different ideas about what branding is and what it means.  Here are a few of those ideas:

  • A brand exists in the mind of the customers or clients.
  • Branding is much more than just a logo.
  • A brand is a promise to the customers.
  • Branding is a perception that triggers an emotional response.
  • Your brand is what people think or say about you when you’re not in the room.
  • Branding often has nothing to do with the product.

And one of my favorites:

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”  ~ Seth Godin

When we choose to pay a premium for one product compared to another, we make that decision based on branding and usually we are unaware of the subconscious emotions that influence our decision.

Here’s an example I once heard from business magnate and motivational speaker, Nido Qubein.

Why would people pay so much more for a box of chocolates in a gold box with a dark red bow than they pay for a bag of Hershey’s kisses?  The difference is you buy Hershey’s kisses to eat, but you buy Godiva chocolates to give.

If you’re going to give someone a gift of chocolate, that gold box and red bow send a different message than if you were to wrap up a cellophane bag of chocolate kisses.  But it’s not the gold box and red bow that make Godiva more expensive; it’s the meaning the Godiva brand has in the mind of the purchaser and in the mind of the gift recipient.

Is Branding Relevant Only for Big Business?

It’s easy to think that only big companies can afford to worry about branding – especially when we see the television commercials, magazine ads, billboards, and store signage all focused on building brand awareness in the minds of consumers.

As small business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals, most of us can’t afford to spend millions of dollars on a nationwide campaign of televisions commercials.  We need to focus on getting new clients and making sales.

We are also unlikely to have our products distributed in stores across the country and we don’t have a team of sales people.  We need to rely on methods that are known as direct marketing or direct selling.

cattle branding

But branding is still critically important for entrepreneurs, professionals, and small business owners.  It just looks different for us than it does for the big brands.

One of the most important roles of branding for small business reflects the original meaning of the term, going back to the days of cattle ranching on the open plains of the western United States.  Branding serves to differentiate things which are otherwise identical.

When you tell someone “I’m a dentist” or “I’m a business coach” or “I’m a real estate agent,” you make yourself indistinguishable from your competitors and you give prospects no reason to choose you over anyone else.  It that situation, buyers will most often resort to choosing based on price!

What Makes Prospects Choose to Do Business with You?

There are quite a few factors that effect that decision-making process of our prospects and clients — reputation, quality of product or service, word of mouth, and more.

Here are some important elements to consider when developing a brand for your business:

Quality:  What is the level of quality that you establish for your products or services?  Do you consistently deliver that level of quality?  Would your customers or clients agree with you about your quality?  Remember, your brand exists in the mind of the consumer.  It’s their perception that counts!

quality-500954_1280Familiarity:  For a small business, think in terms of your tribe of fans and followers.  As your brand grows, they feel familiar with your brand and what you stand for, which makes them more likely to buy additional products or services from you because they already trust you.

Memorability:  In order to generate more business from your clients and prospects, your brand needs to stick in their memory.  You want them to think of you when they have a need for your product or services at some point in the future.

Consistency:  This is closely related to familiarity.  Be careful  your consistency in products or services, in your content marketing, and especially in your images and other visual content.

Resonance:  Since your brand lives in the mind of your clients and prospects, you want to continually focus on developing a brand that creates the desired feeling in your clients and prospects.  Make sure they’re receiving your intended message and not the wrong message!

Clarity:  Because branding involves so many abstract factors, it can take a lot of testing and feedback to make sure your audience is getting your intended message.  Visual images can also be abstract.  It’s important to choose an image, for your logo or other branding, that clearly indicates a specific meaning to most people.

uniquenessUniqueness:  This is one of the most important elements of branding for small business.  It is also an element that can take a lot of mental effort, brainstorming, and feedback from others.  What makes your product or service unique among your competitors?  That is something that may evolve over time as you understand more about the unmet needs of your clients and prospects.  By the way, uniqueness also means that your products/services don’t need to appeal to everyone!

Emotional Connection:  As I mentioned before, people identify emotionally with brands they like.  It becomes part of their personal identify and defines them just like their political or religious affiliation.  Since we know that “facts tell and emotions sell,” you want to make sure your brand makes an emotional connection.  Visual images are one of the ways to do this because they speak directly to the subconscious.

Credibility or Trustability:  This element relates back to Familiarity and Consistency.  By making sure your brand doesn’t stray from your clients’ expectations, you establish credibility in their minds.  Your business becomes a trustable old friend that is always there, always giving them the same message and the same feeling.

Aspects of Visual Branding

Out of all those factors that influence our clients’ and prospects’ decision-making, we can most easily and quickly change the visual elements of our branding.  Again, as you focus on visual branding, you want to ensure quality, consistency, resonance, and clarity.  Make sure that prospects and clients are actually receiving the message you want them to have about your products or services.

As you work on developing a logo or choosing brand colors to use in all your marketing content, be sure to get feedback from others.  And if your own graphic design skills cannot produce the desired level of quality, make sure you invest in getting the best branding graphics you can afford at whatever stage you’re in with your business success.  Poor quality graphics send the wrong message and can be worse than having no visual brand at all.

You can always upgrade and rebrand as your business grows, but get the best you can afford for now.  So much is at stake for the reputation of your business!  Make sure you give prospects and clients a good emotional connection with your brand and give them the feeling that you are really the only choice they should consider.

single_binder_16374Learn More About Designing Your Visual Brand

If you’d like to learn more about developing (or enhancing) the visual aspects of your branding, you can sign up for my email course, consisting of 5 lessons to guide you through this process.  This course will:

  • Help you feel more comfortable with your branding process
  • Lead you through brand development in easy-to-follow steps
  • Connect you with resources for the visual elements of your brand
  • Build your confidence in developing a brand your clients will trust
  • Help you share a consistent, quality visual message that generates more leads

Click here to learn more about this easy course that will get you started on designing your visual brand.  If you decide it’s right for you, sign up on that page!

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