Branding Basics: How to Get Started

Two entrepreneurs looking at logos on a screen

You can probably think of a dozen different companies whose brands play an important role in your life. Maybe you only buy a certain brand of smartphone or running shoe, or prefer to buy your groceries at one supermarket chain over another. Your dedication to these companies is primarily a result of one thing: their branding. In this article, we'll go over the importance of branding your small business and provide some tips for getting started.


Branding vs. Marketing

Many people confuse branding with marketing because they are often used in the same context and deal with similar processes. Branding and marketing, though related, are essentially two different parts of building a successful business. When a small business is starting off, it must make a few choices related to the company name, mission statement, the nature of the products or services, and so on. These choices all fall under the umbrella of “branding.”

However, building a brand is not just for new businesses. It is a process that must be consistently maintained throughout the life of a business, and the ability to be sustainable for the long term is greatly impacted by the quality of the branding. For example, once the basic things like a name, logo, and message are created, one must make sure that these signifiers are associated with a useful, high-quality product or service. That way, people come to associate the brand with quality, and as long as that quality remains high, the brand will continue to have a positive association for consumers. Even the best marketing strategy cannot make up for lackluster brand perception.

On the other hand, marketing refers to the strategy of convincing consumers to choose your brand’s product or service over those of another brand. This can be done through paying for advertisements, developing a social media following, building an email list, or dozens of other strategies. All of these must work to show consumers that you have a quality brand. In short, branding is the process by which a company becomes recognizable or memorable, and marketing is the process by which a company persuades consumers to choose its brand.

Why Do You Need a Brand?

A brand is like a road sign pointing to your business. Without it, most people will just pass you by. However, with a strong brand, people are reminded of your business and how it can benefit them.

Imagine, for example, that a person is driving down the highway. They know that they are hungry, but they are not in the mood for anything in particular. They just know that they want food. They see two signs advertising different hamburger chains, both of which are conveniently located at the next exit. One of the chains is familiar to them. Its name and logo are synonymous with quality hamburgers. The other is a generic diner that is not familiar, though they have no reason to doubt its quality. After considering both restaurants, the person decides to go with the one that they know.

Now, let’s look at this same example from the perspective of the hamburger restaurant. They gained business without needing to convince anyone with clever marketing or a well-implemented sales pitch. They did nothing more than the generic restaurant, and yet the person was willing to choose them simply because they recognized their brand. This is the power of branding.

In a sense, branding is a way to make marketing easier and less necessary over time. If you have a strong, established brand, you don’t need to work very hard to convince people to come to you. People will buy your products and services simply because they know and (hopefully) trust your brand, and they will refer new customers to you as well.

Things to Establish as You Build Your Brand

So, you want to establish your brand, but where do you start? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and building a strong brand is no different. Start with the basic qualities and aspirations of your brand, but be prepared to continue working on it over time. Here are some important questions to ask yourself at the start:

What Are Your Values?

Your business should be a reflection of your values. Do you want to run an aggressive business, focused on increasing profits and wiping out the competition? Do you want your business to give back to the local community or have a positive impact on the environment? Do you want to provide something that makes the world a better place or allows people to enjoy more leisure time? Your values define the course that your business will take, so understanding your core beliefs and goals is a vital step toward crafting your brand.

By asking yourself these questions, you can determine how you see your own business, goals, and values. These values are a part of every facet of your brand, so it is important to be self-aware. If you understand yourself, you can understand the kind of small business you wish to run. And your perception is vitally important, because you cannot hope to understand how consumers will perceive your brand if you do not have a clear vision as well.

What Is Your Message?

By creating a message, you are defining your brand’s purpose for consumers. What value does your brand provide that can’t be found somewhere else? What purpose does your business serve in the community? Asking these questions can help you identify the benefit of your services and craft a message that gives consumers a reason to engage with your brand.

A message should be short, concise, and easy to understand. Some of the most successful brand messages have been no more than a few words. Generally, brand messages let consumers know how the brand can improve their life or provide them with something they need. Think about your business and what it does, and then research successful messages to see how you can speak directly to your target audience.

What Impact Do You Want To Have (On Your Customers, the Marketplace, etc.)?

Do you want to run a small business that provides a service to the local community, or do you aspire to grow your business and become a household name across the globe? No matter where your endgame lies, defining the impact you want to have is key for crafting your brand. This way, you can use branding strategies that fit your needs and objectives.

When you craft your message and develop a mission statement, you are essentially defining who you are and what you want to accomplish. Just as your values drive your business, so too does your vision for the future. It is easy to get distracted with day-to-day issues that arise, but always remember to play the long game and focus on the reason you established your brand in the first place.

Who Is Your Target Audience?

Even the strongest brand is useless without an audience. So, who is your target audience? Who is your business intended for and how do you plan on reaching them? It may seem like an obvious question, because, like most small businesses, you want to reach as many people as possible. However, reaching the masses does not guarantee that people will choose your brand. In fact, casting too wide a net can waste a lot of time and resources. Instead, home in on a demographic (or several demographics) to find the consumers who are most likely to take an interest in your brand. The following categories will help you narrow down your target audience:

  • Age: When establishing your target audience, age is one of the most important factors. While some products and services are accessible to people of all ages, most fall in a certain range. Identify your range by researching the interests and priorities of different age groups.
  • Gender: This category is not always applicable, as many businesses cater to both men and women. However, if your product or service is intended exclusively for one or the other, you probably shouldn’t waste time and resources trying to appeal to both.
  • Geographic location: Whether you are selling your brand in a small town or shipping your merchandise halfway across the world, the cultural and national identity of your consumer base can play a large part in your branding. Designs and messages that appeal to the people of one country, region, state, or even city may not appeal to consumers somewhere else.
  • Niche demographic: Are you developing an app that allows expectant mothers to track their pregnancy or a product to help rock climbers identify dangerous terrain? If your business speaks to a very particular demographic, incorporate this as an integral part of your brand.

What Is Your Aesthetic?

It may seem unimportant, but brand perception is largely dependent on imagery. If you quickly throw together a logo or brand name without first researching the impact of color, aesthetic balance, and relevance to your product, the results will be less than stellar. Research other businesses in your industry to identify features that you think work and that you feel personally match your tastes and vision for your brand. You don’t need to copy others, but instead, come up with unique branding that includes elements that have been proven to succeed.

However, if you are confident that you can come up with a logo or design that is completely unique and does not incorporate any previously successful elements, go for it! Just remember to always keep the nature of your business and audience in mind. You may come up with a great logo that matches your tastes, but perhaps it doesn’t appeal to your target demographic; maybe your design is really appealing, but it doesn’t really match the kind of products or services you provide. Research what works and what doesn’t to ensure that your imagery will be both appealing and memorable.

Conclusion

Branding is often given a secondary role to marketing, and this is unfortunate because branding can make or break a small business. It should always be your primary concern, whether you are opening your doors for the first time or you’ve been in business for decades. By implementing branding strategies that take into account the nature of your business, tastes, audience, goals, and values, you have made the first step toward developing a long-term, sustainable brand.