Small Business Branding 101


Branding. Most small businesses know they need it, but few understand branding’s true role or what goes into developing a memorable brand. Some small businesses imbue it with colossal power, treating branding as if it’s the golden snitch of the business world: once created, business has been won. Others feel branding is an luxury expense a small business should shelve until after profitability has been reached. And others are confused about its purpose and hold branding as an either / or to marketing.

The reality is that while developing a memorable brand is important to a small business’s success, it’s only one of many tools in the marketing tool box along with communications, public relations, advertising, etc. Branding is a subsegment of marketing that should be created through careful research and planning, in accordance with the information discovered in a marketing strategy (see 7 Ways a Marketing Strategy Will Grow Your Business). Essentially, branding is the window dressing that dictates the image a business presents to the world, but it’s not the entire program.

Something to keep in mind when creating a brand is that it is not a business salvation. It can not act alone because “brand” is neither a process nor an activity by which a business interacts with buyers. It does not tell a story. Branding will not overcome a poor marketing communications program (how will buyers know about the brand without communications?), develop a campaign, combat outdated technology such as web sites, or address all barriers to purchase. Branding is NOT a marketing playbook, nor is it a substitute for a true marketing strategy.

Then what is a brand and why is it important?

A brand is a business’s unique, intentional, and easily recognized identifier. It is derived from the use of a logo, tag line message, color scheme, and design style. A brand is also the overall impression a buyer has of a business, drawn from marketing sources, first-hand experiences, and reputation. In both cases a brand evokes emotion, spurs a reaction, and incites an opinion. A brand should help a buyer develop a personal connection and loyalty with the business and generate interest in making a purchase.

Creating a marketing program by which a brand is consistently presented to a buying audience is called, “branding“. In simplest terms, branding is the set of rules that dictates items such as the colors used in design, the tense and style in communication, types of supportive graphics and photos, the décor of an office or retail store, and the placement of a logo. In the creative world, these rules are also known as Style Guides and should be referred to in all marketing activities. Businesses use brands in a couple of different ways:

Corporate Branding. Corporate branding refers to the overall corporate identifier where a business name is the focus of the brand. Not restricted to corporations, this type of branding can be used by any business, nonprofit, individual, educational entity, etc. where the name of the corporation IS the brand (think Amazon or Harvard).

Product or Service Branding. A business can develop brands within its core brand that are specifically focused on its products and services. This type of branding is used to further set the business’s offerings apart from the competition while simultaneously allowing for a more focused marketing effort. The goal is to create brand loyalty with the individual product / service, not necessarily the business itself (think Band-Aid from Johnson & Johnson).

How is a memorable brand Developed?

How does one develop a brand that inspires loyalty, evoke emotions, create a claim, and uniquely identify a business? It starts with the information gathered while creating the business’s marketing strategy. Namely, information about the targeted buying audience, the business’s profile, its goals, its history, and the competition. All of this information feeds into the following:

Position. The starting point in developing a brand is to evaluate the business’s culture, values, offerings, and personality. Is the company serious or playful? Local or worldwide? Service oriented or strictly product? Environmentally conscious? A well developed brand takes all of this into account and reflects its business’s position through message, color, marketing style, and experience.

Business claim. Next a brand needs to resolve the business’s claim. A brand should give potential buyers an understanding of why a business exists and how its services or products resolve their needs and wants. This is called the business’s claim which is easily calculated by: taking the business as it exists + the business’s competition and marketplace = the business’s claim.

Credibility. A brand should quickly convey a sense of business credibility. In marketing, this is where logos, color scheme, packaging, social media, web site, and chosen imagery impact a brand’s credibility and work as subliminal influencers. For example, the color yellow is considered positive and blue trustworthy. In-person encounters with a brand’s credibility can are found in location, décor, types of services or products offered (especially true in retail), and even customer service and cleanliness.

Targets an audience. The last step in developing a brand is to evaluate the business’s buyers keeping trends in mind. Through marketing research, a business will have a buyer profile in hand, which includes an understanding of likes and dislikes. The brand should take these buyer preferences into account and “speak” directly to that buyer. For example, a conservative style probably won’t work when selling computer games to teenagers.

Why Rebrand?

Sometimes it’s necessary to refresh or completely rebrand a business to keep it current. In a rebranding situation, a business may find its old brand no longer reflects its position, claim, or audience due to changes, good or bad, within the business, marketplace or buyers. Rebranding can be a healthy exercise for a business and should include new market research and an updated strategy. It’s also an excellent excuse to reach out to buyers and launch new campaigns and promotions!

Adding branding to a small business program

Branding is important to a small business’s success, but only if it has been developed through careful evaluation and research before implementing it throughout the business’s marketing activities. Understanding how branding should be used, then adhering to the brand’s rules, will result in a stronger marketing program moving forward!

Written by Bonnie Taylor, CCS Innovations, LLC’s Chief Marketing Strategist and author of the bestselling book, I Think I Need Marketing. Named one of 2014’s “Top 40 Digital Marketing Luminaries & Educators” by the Online Marketing Institute, Ms. Taylor has spent the last two decades focused on Strategic Marketing and has been instrumental in leading many small to mid-size businesses to growth awards and international expansion.