What is Branding and Who Cares Anyway?
Small business marketing 101: you need a distinct brand
So, you own (or work for) a small business. Yay, you!
Whether a hobby took off and became a paycheck or you punched out of the daily grind to make it as a lone ranger and brave entrepreneur, the rubber met the road and now you’re running a million directions everyday.
You’re not just a professional in your vertical, service, or product. You’re also an expert in leadership, management, accounting, customer service, IT, taxes, and (cue Rocky theme song) marketing!
Building a business is hard work. What I’m about to tell you may or may not be news: having a strong brand makes it easier. Let’s break it down: what is branding, should a small business invest in branding, and five things you can start today that will help your long term business health, profit, and yes, brand.
What is branding?
It’s not the same thing as marketing. It’s not your logo, it’s not your business card, and it’s not your Facebook page. It’s the way that whole package makes your customer feel.
When you think of Disney World – the first descriptor you come up with is probably magical.
When you think of Volvo – the first descriptor is probably safety.
Those are massive, massive brands that have spent a lot of time and money on their marketing to make sure that’s how you associate their brand.
They obtain your emotional/mental association through consistency. Every opportunity for you to touch their brand is consistent from one to another. From color and font, to their chosen charity partners, to language and messaging, all their content looks, feels, and says the same thing about who they are, what they do, and why they do it.
There’s an old marketing rule that states a customer must come in contact with your brand seven times before they remember who you are… So ask yourself, where are your seven touchpoints for each of those customers and do they all say the same thing about who you are? If it looks and feels different, you’ll never gain your seven and your customers will never hear your message.
Should a small business invest in branding?
Feelings are nice, but they don’t pay the bills, right? We know you’re passionate about your business otherwise, you wouldn’t have poured blood, sweat, tears, and probably savings into this venture. So why did you start? Why are you in business today? Spend time really answering that question, if you haven’t already, because that’s your mission and brand promise.
Truth be told though, brands do make money – it’s called brand equity.
Starbucks feels premium. It’s not just a cup of coffee; it’s an elegant cup, an upscale experience, and they work for your loyalty (rewards, anyone?). That’s why brand loyalists won’t think twice about paying $5 for coffee.
Dunkin’ Donuts has the same cup of good coffee, lots of brand loyalists (you can even buy it at the grocery store) and yet, you’ll pay $2 for their coffee. And less than that if you go to McDonald’s for your coffee, which I’m told is lovely.
The power of brand is that $3 difference. It’s why you’ll pay more for a brand you trust and recognize than the same product from a brand you don’t. Brand equity gives you more control over your profit margins. So see? It’s not just feelings.
Whitebox Real Estate is a commercial real estate advisory firm in Dallas, a scrappy startup, and we’re lucky to also call them one of our clients. After an in-depth brand discovery process, we knew the brand needed to feel premium. They are totally committed to making each customer experience both easy and excellent.
They are innovative, cutting-edge, flexible, and tenacious – they are in business because they want to break away from the way business has been done in commercial real estate for decades and show people a new experience. They’re brand needs to deliver on that promise.
From the logo design, to website, stationery, business cards, social media, and PR efforts, you find that brand promise exampled in different ways.
As a small business/startup, you don’t have the power of reputation to fall back on yet. Building your brand means building recognition, inspiring trust, creating financial value, recruiting and retaining talent, and generating new customers.
So the more important question is this: can you really afford to not be branding?
Five ways to start building your brand today (in no particular order):
- Determine WHY you’re in business and what truly makes your business different than your competitors then make sure you keep that in mind for every decision you make – from hiring, to business, to advertising. Write it down and look at it every single day.
- Document the exact color codes used in your logo and the colors you’re allowed to use with it. This helps you maintain visual consistency every time you put your brand on something. And when your logo is ready, make sure you get a PNG version from your designer (this allows you to put your logo on top of colors and backgrounds without the “white box” surrounding it). Inconsistency is your enemy.
- Determine rules for using your brand name and make sure you follow them. Your business name should be exactly the same on your website, social media, storefront, business cards, email signature, etc. If it’s shortened, abbreviated, includes “the,” or uses your city name, make sure it does so everywhere. Inconsistency is your enemy.
- If you don’t have a website or key social media pages, get them. Your name is still working hard even when your office lights are off and you’ve gone home – give it the tools to be accessible to your customer base when you’re not.
- You need brand essentials – business cards, envelopes, letterhead…. And they need to look consistent. Inconsistency is your enemy.
Questions? Leave them in the comments or reach out to us on the contact form. We love working with startups!