When you’re working on branding for small businesses, the first place to head is the internet. Research, research, research. Look at your top competitors and think about why they’ve chosen their color schemes, their typographies, and their tone of voice. Structure all your notes down in a spreadsheet for quick analysis later.
Once you’ve got an understanding of your market, you can identify the must-haves, the no-ways, and all those branding aspects that fall in between. You might want to take inspiration for some areas, for example red and yellow being good color schemes for food. However, you can also reject the status quo of other aspects and blaze your own trail. For example, more and more companies are leaving formal speech behind in favor of a chatty — and sometimes even aggressive — style of writing.
Without researching your competitors and industry, your decision making will be ill-informed and likely to cause you more difficulties than benefits.
Once you’ve delved into the finer details of your industry and competitors, the next step in branding for small businesses is to look at your users. Getting an understanding of who you’re talking to is an essential part of shaping your brand story and overall message.
Start off by creating your ideal customer profile. Think about their age, gender, values, and interests. If you can nail down where they go for coffee, you’re on the right path. Once you’re happy you understand your ideal profile, move onto secondary personas. They could be the kind who wouldn’t be immediately attracted to your offer, but could be swayed if the conditions are right.
One of our best branding tips for small businesses is to use your research as a point of reference when working on new marketing campaigns or introducing new products. Armed with multiple profiles, you can target separate messages to different groups, all under the umbrella of your brand.
If you’ve got a golden idea that nobody could even attempt to imitate, congratulations. However, back in the real world, you’ll need to find a point of difference (POD) that gives you an edge over your competitors. It doesn’t have to be an out-of-this-world idea, simply something that separates you from the crowd and offers customers a little something different. It could be attentive customer service, ethical working practices, or a family-run ethos.
Defining exactly what your edge is shows why research is such a key part of branding for small businesses. You’ll be able to spot your competitors’ PODs as well as how they are communicated to audiences.
With a broad idea of what other companies highlight, combined with a deep understanding of the people who are likely to use your services, you can single out your POD and make it the centerpiece of your branding.
All up-and-coming businesses need a story. It’s a way of communicating who you are, what you’re offering, and why your users should trust you. A story brings you as the owner closer to your audience and shows a personal rather than a corporate face.
It’s tough to start your story if you’re sitting in front of a blank page, so answer the following prompts to get started and add the flourishes and finishing touches later.
How was your company founded?
What problem does your business aim to solve?
How does it do it?
What does your brand believe in?
How are those values incorporated into the organization?
Bear in mind that your story isn’t the same as your marketing efforts. You’re not driving users to a CTA or trying to make a sale. Instead, stories play a role in branding for small businesses as a soft tactic, a small nudge on the customer journey that inspires confidence and makes potential users want to choose you.
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Art and design, or assets, is among the first things that come to mind when you think of branding for small businesses and for good reason. It’s the part that catches the eye, stands out in a crowd and assures your users they’ll get the same service wherever they find you. As a perfect example, McDonald's even has a name for their logo — the golden arches — and it is a guarantee of the same product wherever you go in the world.
As part of our branding tips for small businesses, we’d recommend spending time on getting this right. Set out all your tasks in a project management tool so nothing falls through the cracks, and when it comes to rebranding, you can re-launch the process.
Standard asset groups include:
Logos in a range of sizes and formats
Standard photos and graphics
A guide for logo usage
Create a press pack that you can send out to online and offline news outlets, magazines, and anywhere else that needs a one-stop shop for your assets in a range of sizes, formats, and color combinations.
The previous five tips on branding for small businesses have laid the groundwork for your public-facing persona. But times change, and the likelihood that you’ve nailed all your branding on the first attempt is unfortunately pretty small.
Rebrandings will (and should) come around every few years. As best practices, customer expectations, and trends in the design world change, so should you. This doesn’t mean looking at your first iteration as a failure, it’s a normal part of your evolution as a business.
One way of deciding what new direction to take is simply to ask your customers through feedback forms. Put your new ideas into practice with A/B testing during the rebranding phase, and be sure to announce your new look far and wide once you’re happy with your results.
You wouldn’t set up an ice delivery service in Antarctica, so why focus your marketing efforts on channels if your audience isn’t there to hear it? When creating customer profiles, identify the online hotspots where your users hang out and meet them there.
Similarly, if you’re only present on one social media channel, you’ll probably want to expand. Keep the same graphics and brand voice across all your platforms, and if you can get the same handles — perfect.
Branding and marketing for small businesses can be a massive investment of both time and money, but with a social CRM where you can manage all your accounts from one place, you’ll save yourself valuable resources.
Remember not all your socials are the same. Work hand-in-hand with your marketing team to create guides for each platform and tweak your message to each audience. Bear in mind that you shouldn’t sacrifice your own brand values for online clout. If you don’t deliver what you promise, your customers will soon suss you out.
Branding and marketing for small businesses can hit you hard financially, but there are ways around it that keep your costs low and offer multi-faceted benefits.
One of the best strategies in terms of value for money is SEO-focused content. The most obvious benefit is to appear first in the search engine and get your name out there, but there’s more to it than that. By creating content that answers key questions your clients have, you create a sense of authority around your specialist area. You can use your customer research to inform what you write on, focusing on their pain points and frequently asked questions from the industry.
As well as cropping up in the search engines, share your material on social media and through email marketing for maximum brand awareness. Over time, you’ll become synonymous with expertise in your field — the go-to brand that everybody can trust.
While your content will help drive your name out there, user-generated material is even better. This peer-to-peer method feels less corporate and is a form of branding for small businesses that the public are relying on more and more.
When your users leave reviews, give testimonials, or upload videos about how they use your product, you explore a strategy that you can’t get with your in-house work.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your top users to put the word out. You’d be surprised at how many people are more than willing to leave a review. You can even offer an incentive and get a video testimonial from them.
Users give you real-life experience, but influencers get you the reach. When you hire influencers, you get instant access to a brand new customer base. Think about the kind of followers your influencer has — you don’t want to be selling coding classes to fashionistas.
By now, you should be comfortable with your brand identity and how to get it out into the world. But why not take things even further with one of the less-common branding ideas for small businesses? By identifying with human rights issues, environmental initiatives, or even a specific working strategy, you may put a few people off, but you can create some serious loyalty among your core customer base.
Cynically following trends doesn’t fool anyone, and you’ll soon lose trust among those who are serious about the issue. However, if there is a topic you as a company feel strongly about, don’t be afraid to make it known — just be consistent about it. From chocolate companies ethically sourcing their ingredients to proudly cutting down carbon in your day-to-day operations, aligning yourself with positive movements are a great way to make your brand stand out.
Now you’ve got a framework in which to contextualize your branding, you can get things moving and start seeing results. Remember that although your branding efforts are more artistic than your other tasks such as finance, you still need to take a professional approach. This means using the most efficient tools for your task management, communication, and marketing needs.
Bitrix24 takes all these tools (and many more) and packages them up in one handy platform. No more switching between tabs looking for the right program, nor paying for an endless list of subscriptions — ideal for small businesses.
Sound too good to be true? Sign up for free today and see for yourself how to do branding for small businesses the smart way.