by Katie Lundin of crowdspring
If you think that branding is a luxury and something you can do in the future, when your business is successful, you’re not alone in thinking this way.
In fact, some small business owners struggle to understand how branding impacts their businesses. As a result, they have difficulty justifying spending a part of their budget on branding.
The problem is that these business owners often struggle to grow their businesses. If they’re lucky, they might see modest short-term growth. But, businesses that don’t invest in strong branding rarely see aggressive long-term growth.
Bad branding undermines credibility, customer awareness, and customers’ trust. Bad branding harms your business in the long run.
Good branding builds credibility, helps your best customers to identify, relate to, and remember you when they need your product or service. Good branding builds trusted relationships with customers that pay you back in revenue and repeat business.
The sooner you begin to develop a strong, authentic brand and brand identity, the sooner your business will start to reap the benefits.
Let’s examine these strategies.
1. Create an authentic brand.
Whether you’re starting a business or growing an existing business, the most important branding investment you can make doesn’t cost a cent. It’s the time and thought you invest in defining your authentic brand.
As we’ve previously mentioned, every business has a brand whether they’ve made a single conscious branding decision or not.
That’s because a brand is made up of the visuals, words, actions, and products that represent your business, as well as customer experiences and perceptions.
If you’re running a business, these elements exist. But, is your brand:
- a confusing, misaligned mess, or
- a carefully contrived façade, or
- a consistent customer experience that communicates an authentic core identity of your business to your target market.
Authentic brands ring true for consumers (winning their trust and loyalty) and can be maintained with less effort because you don’t have to lie or put on a show.
Authentic branding choices will come naturally because they’re motivated by your actual values and genuine personality. So, take the time to think about:
- what makes your business unique,
- what makes your products or services unique, and
- which guiding personality traits and values best describe your business – as it actually is.
Then, use the brand traits you discover as a guide for literally every other decision you make in your business.
This step is free. And it is VITAL. So, take the time to figure out what your brand really is.
2. Get a strong brand name.
Your business name is the most fundamental representative of your brand.
While it’s impossible to control the entirety of your brand (remember that a brand is made up of public perception as well as the conscious branding choices you make), you do control your business name.
People will identify and remember your business by its name.
They’ll search for your business online by its name.
They’ll recommend your business (or not) by its name.
The name of the business is a big deal.
And, your business name (ideally) should communicate “who” your business is. A business name that doesn’t align with your brand will cause cognitive dissonance for your audience. This will make your brand name harder to remember and harder to trust.
But, a brand name that clearly communicates the essence of your business will resonate with and attract your best customers.
Your business name is absolutely a place to invest in your brand. Some people invest time (it took our founders nearly 50 hours to name crowdspring).
Take a look at this guide for tips on naming your small business or startup.
And, if you’re struggling to grow an existing business, consider whether your brand name is holding you back. This may be the perfect time to rebrand and start with a fresh new brand identity.
3. Build a unique visual brand.
Humans are visual creatures.
Most of us rely on our eyes to navigate the world and our lives.
So, every business benefits when it presents a visual brand that people can recognize and identify.
In fact, if you’re starting a business and working on a business plan, potential investors and lenders will evaluate the strength of your visual brand when deciding whether to make an investment or a loan.
But, not all visual branding elements are equal. Let’s take a look at the visual branding elements with the biggest bang for the buck…
People identify other people by their facial features, body shape, posture, and style of movement.
But, most businesses don’t have a single face or body by which they can be identified.
So, we create a company logo people can use to identify and remember our business.
Your logo is the primary visual identification tool for your business. It’s your business’s face! We can’t overstate how important your logo is.
Invest in a custom-designed logo that effectively captures your authentic brand.
And, remember that you get what you pay for.
Be wary of free logo generators and $50 “original” logo designs. These free and cheap options will cost you more in legal fees (you can’t trademark stock art and generic templates, which you’re getting from generators and discount logo purchases).
Real custom logos can be trademarked.
And, computers don’t understand human emotion, color or shape theory, or psychology. Real logo designers understand how people think and how to create emotionally powerful brands.
For more insights and a list of questions to ask designers or agencies when looking for a logo, check out this guide on how much logo design should cost.
Brand color palette
A logo is the cornerstone of a visual brand.
But, it’s not the whole visual brand.
A complete visual brand provides a broader visual context that people can relate to your business. And, no visual brand is complete without a dedicated color palette.
Color is a major branding powerhouse.
Colors resonate with people, capture attention, and communicate emotion.
And, when colors repeatedly co-exist in combination, they take on an identity of their own.
Red and yellow conjures McDonald’s. Forest green and white evokes Starbucks. Looking for Best Buy? You’ll recognize it by the royal blue and yellow sign long before you can read the type.
Your business can also benefit from brand color recognition. And, the best news is that this powerful branding tool should cost you very little – just a bit of time.
So, invest the time to develop a brand color palette.
How to use colors effectively
Your brand logo should inspire your color palette. It should include your logo colors, some neutrals (black, white, grey, taupe, etc.) for flexibility, and possibly an additional complementary color or two (based on how many colors are in your logo).
Don’t go overboard with too many strong signature colors. Balance strong colors that draw focus with calmer, more recessive colors to ensure your ads, social media content, website (and more) are easy to read.
For businesses with a bit more wiggle room in their branding budget, consider an illustration system.
An illustration system is a series of illustrated graphics that can be used, re-mixed, and re-used throughout your website, social media posts, business cards, blog graphics, and email templates.
Good illustration systems visually complement your logo. And, together with your logo, they create a bigger visual context by which people can recognize your brand.
This is investment will deliver branding bang for your buck in three ways:
- It’s another way for people to visually recognize your business, increasing the likelihood that they’ll get to know your brand.
- Providing a broader visual context creates a larger neural network dedicated to your business in people’s brains, so they’re more likely to remember you.
- Illustration systems can be used and re-used in countless contexts. So, you’ll always have versatile resources to use for branding visuals without spending more after the initial cost of creation.
If you can’t afford an illustration system now, set aside money to invest in one later. It’s an investment that will keep paying you back.
4. Create a strong online presence.
When deciding where to spend money for your brand, prioritize your website.
A website is not only a major brand representative; it’s also a functional sales tool. So, this investment pays your business back on multiple levels.
Every business website should be quick to load and easy to navigate. But, vital functional details like these are only part of the equation.
Your website also needs to act as your brand ambassador – helping people get to know your business, educate them about what you do, and reassure them that they’ve found the business they’re looking for.
Luckily, if you’ve invested in a unique custom logo, a memorable and brand-appropriate color palette, and an illustration system, you already have all of the building blocks you need to create a fantastic, on-brand website.
Because most prospective customers will see your website before interacting with your business in any other way, you cannot afford to cut corners on your website. Like your logo, place your branding dollars here.
5. Develop a unique brand voice.
Brands don’t only communicate with graphics.
They also communicate with text and spoken word.
And, the words you choose must align with your brand personality and values. This creates the impression that your business has a consistent identity.
Trust grows from repeated exposure – but only when each exposure confirms our initial impressions. It’s hard to trust people or businesses who are erratic and unreliable.
So, your website copy, social media posts, email messages, packaging design (if applicable), and customer support language should all sound like it’s coming from the same “person.” Your brand.
Identifying and consistently using a specific brand voice is a core pillar of your brand identity. And, it’s free. But, it does require a bit of thought.
Define a few adjectives to describe your brand voice. Keep these handy whenever you’re writing new copy. And share them with anyone who interacts with your customers. A consistent brand voice will pay you back in customer trust and additional sales.
A final word
Your brand is an invaluable tool that can lift your business – or hold it back. These strategic branding investments will enable you to create a compelling brand without breaking the bank.
Katie Lundin is a marketing and branding specialist at crowdspring, one of the world’s leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services. She helps entrepreneurs, small businesses and agencies with branding, design, and naming, and regularly writes about entrepreneurship, small business, and design on crowdspring’s award-winning small business blog.