Before we launch into our tips for branding your small business, it’ll help to give a refresher on just what a brand is—indeed, even seasoned business owners can use a reminder every so often.
A brand is defined as “what consumers know about you” and pretty much entails everything from your image, products, reputation, design, the story you tell, and how customers relate to you.
The traditional idea of a brand—literally the different brandings put on cows by their respective farms, and the trademarked logos of early 20th-century businesses—has changed over the years. Whereas change used to be perceived as poisonous for a brand, it’s now a rule.
However, even though flexibility is the new standard, there are definitely a couple traditional tenets that should still be followed: Consistency is good, research rules, and it’s always all about the customer.
Once you’ve figured out what your product or service is going to be, follow this advice for developing (or reinvigorating) a brand that resonates with people—and adds to your bottom line.
1. Be clear, and be yourself.
Despite all the complications that come with branding a small business, never forget the importance of simplicity. When it comes to designing a logo or website or your social media strategy, remember to stay true to yourself and to your message.
For example, Heyday, a company that provides customized, curated skin care products, is straightforward and recognizable, and this resonates with their customers: clean, healthy skin shouldn’t be complicated.
2. Stand out from your competition, but also know what works
Be distinct, but also understand that it’s okay to learn from those who have succeeded. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. However, the world today is changing faster than ever before. Remember the classic “Think Different” ad for Apple?
Don’t be afraid to pursue radical ideas that seem like they’ve never been done before, you might just be onto something. Still, keep in mind that not every business is going to change the world, and that’s OK.
3. Find inspiration in less-expected places
Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path. Sometimes, it helps to look outside your vertical (or the entire business world) to find inspiration and answers to your branding questions. A great and fun example is Stanley’s Pharmacy in New York City.
Not only do they provide custom-made treatments for whatever ails you, but they also have turntables behind the counter, an unexpected branding decision that adds to the atmosphere of restoration rather than the usual cold, sterile decor of your typical pharmacy.
4. Adapt, adapt, and keep adapting
Brands are always in flux—whether those in charge like it or not. Brands and businesses change with the times and needs of customers and with the movement of the larger culture, and it’s up to leaders like you to get in front of those changes.
Paintbox, a nail studio in New York, saw an opportunity in the fact that many women take photos of their manicures for social media, so they put a selfie-booth right in the studio.
Then there’s Shreeb’s Coffee, who saw the undeniable trends of pop-up shops and food trucks and decided to do it with coffee.
5. Take (smart) risks
Adaptation can come in the form of tried-and-true methods, but there is great importance in being bold as well. Risk-taking is the lifeblood of small business, but it’s easy to get comfortable once you’re established. Remember that experimenting often leads to the greatest innovations.
One solid example of a risky move was this Mailchimp campaign. A synergistic campaign targeting multiple different subcultures, it included playful mispronunciations of the Mailchimp name (such as “KaleLimp”) as a way of building curiosity. It was wildly successful.
6. Measure the impacts of your branding efforts
Though branding can sometimes be an abstract concept, there are ways to evaluate what’s working, what’s not, and why. The importance of measuring your efforts—whether it’s social media engagement or asking your customers what they think of new logos—cannot be overstated.
If you’re not tracking and measuring your branding efforts, that means you’re blindly following a strategy, and potentially, wasting money. And even if it’s working, it’s important to know why. Develop a set of metrics for testing your brand strategy at all levels, from customer awareness to engagement.