When writing The Ultimate Small Business Branding Guide, the irony of commas in the title wasn’t lost on me. Is this “The Ultimate Small, Business Branding Guide” or “The Ultimate Small Business, Branding Guide”?

I’ll let you decide!

But it’s not a small guide, and we talk about some big ideas. So maybe a better name for this would be “The good sized, branding guide for small and medium businesses.”

But, that’s not as catchy is it?

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Let’s get on with it:

Branding isn’t just for large companies and crazy rich business tycoons. And that’s why we think it’s important to talk about small business branding.

When people talk about branding, and reference companies with strong brands, they always talk about corporate giants such as: McDonalds, Coca Cola, Apple and Google.

They never talk about small business branding.

But getting your small business branding right can be the difference between success and failure.

Get it right, and you could reap the financial rewards for years to come. However, get it wrong and you could be looking at rebranding your company further down the line, and that could end up being quite a costly branding mistake.

Why Did We Write This Guide?

There’s always plenty of discussion around Starbucks’ new logo, the latest Apple product and the new Coca Cola cans. While it’s easy to find quality branding or rebranding advice about large corporations, the same ideas are not always appropriate or easily adapted to a small business’ needs.

A local food entrepreneur with a smaller budget, running an outlet with 10 to 20 staff, faces a very different branding challenge to McDonalds, who have more than 35,000 restaurants worldwide, employing around 350,000 people.

And that’s why we wrote The Small Business Branding Guide. To help small businesses, like yours, to get their branding right.

Who Is This Guide For?

We wrote this guide for the local entrepreneurs and the small businesses that find it hard to find good small business branding advice.

How Much of This Guide Should You Read?

The Ultimate Guide to Small Business Brand is intended to be read from start to finish. And, because we know how busy you are, it’s written to take as little of your time as possible. We estimate a total reading time of around 30 minutes.

What Is Branding?

Before we dive into The Small Business Branding Guide, let’s clear up the definition of branding.

We’ve already written about this twice before on the Canny blog.

You can check out those blog posts here:

  1. What is Branding? – In this post, we try to answer the question, What is Branding? We give a broad overview of the term and look at corporate giants with successful brands.
  2. Branding Definition: Branding for Businesses Explained – With this post, we break down the term further and explain what branding means to different businesses. We also talk about pizza!

However, for the sake of speed:

Branding is a marketing technique that helps companies establish a unique presence in the marketplace whilst differentiating from their competitors.

The brand building process will often help small businesses define a unique name, story, strategy and visual identity.

So…

What’s The Difference Between Small Business Branding and Branding a Large Business?

Often, there’s not a lot of difference between branding a large organisation to the branding of a small business. But there are some areas where things differ.

For example:

Many large companies need to engage in a more comprehensive brand building process. They need to produce internal operations manuals, documents, revisit training programs and more.

In a small business, that element of the branding process may not be a concern.

Another difference is when it comes to the brand identity design.

Large organisations tend to come with a lot of advanced design requirements. When big companies rebrand, they have a lot of existing brand assets that need to change too.

Smaller businesses might not have branded materials just yet, or if they do, they might not have as much.

When large companies talk about branding, they’re normally talking about rebranding a whole company. Rebranding is a completely different approach to creating a new brand.

But, the key ideas are the same.

Identify Your Brand’s Target Audience

Knowing your brand’s target audience is vital. Without this knowledge, you’ll be pouring money down a sinkhole and you’ll find it hard to recover.

But why?

It’s important to know your audience because, without that, you’ll not know how to position your brand. Telling your brand story will become more difficult, so will developing the right name, brand strategy and identity design.

You might think that all of that derives from what the brand is all about, at its core, at its heart. And to some extent, you’re right.

However:

You can tell the same story several different ways. You can design visuals that appeal to one type of audience but might not appeal to another.

And all of that is great, and exactly what you should be doing. But you need to identify your target audience first.

When you’re branding or rebranding a company, a lot of questions will be asked. And they’re easy to answer if you’ve identified the target audience for your brand.

So, how do you identify your target audience?

Create Your Customer Personas

When people talk about target audience in the context of small business branding, they seem to think that your small business can only choose one.

And that’s wrong. If you can identify several different types of audience, then that’s great.

The easiest way to identify your business’ audience is by creating customer persons. Neil Patel has a great blog post called A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Reader Personas over at Quicksprout.

Replace “readers” with “customers” and that’s exactly what you need to be doing. Identifying the key types of people and audience for your small business.

In Neil’s post, he walks you through the creation of a customer persona from start to finish.

To add a little extra to Neil’s post, here’s something else to think about:

We were recently talking with one of our clients who is positioned in a pretty vanilla niche. The finance software industry. They had no idea how to create a unique brand persona and utilise it.

Until we asked this question:

Where do your ideal customers go online?

They fired back with “Entrepreneur Magazine’s website, The Financial Times website” and so on…

And instantly, you begin to build up a bigger picture of your customer. You can identify with what they’re reading online. You can position your website copy to align with their reading choices.

Most importantly:

You can start to create content that your customer’s want to read, encouraging them to think of your brand and visit your website when they can.

Look at Your Existing Customer Data

Who are your customers now? Is your customer base made up of students, over 30s, over 50s?

If you’re a bricks and mortar business it’s quite easy to analyse that data. It can be a little trickier if your small business is online based, but you can always send out a survey!

Look at your current clients and ask yourself:

Are these clients the best clients for our business or are we heading down the wrong path?

If you have the right type of clients for your business already, then great, let’s figure out how we can utilise your brand to get more of those clients.

If not, then it might be worth repositioning your brand.

It’s also worth looking at who your best and worst customers are. If you’re in a service-based business, look for the specific accounts and ask what makes those customers so great, or so bad.

If you run a small restaurant or coffee shop, look at the type of customers you attract. Perhaps rowdy groups of teenagers are disruptive in your establishment. So you look to move away from attracting those customers.

On the flip side, if you’ve noticed the over 50’s market makes you a lot of money, you can decide to try to attract more of that market.

Define Your Brand

I know it might feel strange to start with your customers, but it’s easier to do it that way because, without customers, you don’t have a business.

But, once you’ve identified your customer personas, it’s time to define your brand.

The Benefits, Products or Service You Offer Your Customers

Start with the product or service that you offer.

Ask yourself:

What are the true benefits that you’re bringing to your customer?

You sell a blue widget – great! But what does the blue widget give your customer, that the red widget from next door doesn’t?

And don’t just focus on the physical benefits of the things you sell.

For example:

Our client Lean Mums originally thought they were in the lifestyle and fitness business, which is only partially true.

Sure, they sell memberships that aim to get Mums around the world into shape.

But there was more to their business than that.

The major positive that was selling memberships for Lean Mums, was the holistic benefit of being involved in a community of like-minded people.

The benefits of your product or service are not the features of your product.

If you’ve ever looked at writing sales copy or copy for the web, you’ll know that you should always make benefit driven statements. And it’s the same with your brand.

Get the benefits of your brand written down and build up from there.

Your Brand Mission

Every company, whether large or small should have a mission. What does your brand stand for? What are you trying to achieve?

Sometimes called a mission statement, or company values, your brand’s mission is what defines you as a company.

Apple’s mission statement is quite elaborate:

“We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self- honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change. And I think regardless of who is in what job those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.”

A mission statement gives you something to tie your business decisions back to.

At Canny, our mission statement is a lot simpler than Apple’s. Our mission is:

“To provide outstanding design, every time. We want to help companies grow with branding, web design, and digital marketing.”

After defining our mission, I was able to make key decisions based off the back of it.

For example:

We don’t have “good enough” or “that’ll do” attitudes. And our staff and hiring choices are made around that. If it’s not outstanding, it’s not good enough.

Your brand’s mission is fundamental in laying the groundwork for your small business branding efforts. Without a mission, what are you trying to achieve?

Your Brand Story

People often confuse their brand story with their brand mission.

The mission is what the brand is setting out to do. It’s the “what” of the 5W’s. Your brand story is the “why.”

Toms shoes have a page about their brand story on their website. It’s not a mission statement, it’s a “why we believe this is an important cause.”

Fittingly, GoPro has decided to wrap up their brand story in a video:

And again, this helps you make better brand decisions. You can ask questions when hiring, taking on new contracts and clients etc. “Does this company align with my companies brand story? Or is there a conflict here?”

Without these fundamentals in place, your small business brand is just a pretty logo and set of superfluous design guidelines. And that’s no brand at all.

New Brand or Rebrand?

Once you’ve analysed and assessed your customer base and defined your brand, you have to ask yourself another question.

If you’re starting from scratch, you can ignore this because you only have one route forward. But if you’re already trading, ask yourself this:

“Does my brand mission match up with what my brand is doing now?”

If it does, then great, carry on. If not, you need to take one of two routes forward:

  1. Create a new brand, whilst keeping your existing brand active
  2. Rebrand your existing company, to follow through on your new brand mission

Let’s explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of each situation.

Creating a New Brand, Whilst Keeping Your Existing Brand Active

Creating a new brand gives you a completely fresh start. And if you keep your existing brand rolling at the same time, you’ll also keep your revenue stream alive.

So why would you want to create a new brand?

Perhaps the area you’ve moved in to dictates that a separate brand from your existing business is required.

For example:

Let’s pretend you currently sell shoes through an ecommerce website. Recently, you’ve noticed a gap in the market for baby and toddler footwear.

Rather than repositioning the existing shoe website to focus primarily on baby and toddler footwear, it would probably be more effective to set up an entirely new company and website.

That way, you can keep your existing revenue stream active, and keep the core demographic of that brand the same.

Then the new brand launches, and you’re not harming your current revenue stream or taking the attention away from your current demographic.

By launching a new brand in this situation, you’re in the same market space but going after a very different target audience. The visual language of both brands would be very different, therefore it makes sense to build a new brand entirely.

If you’re looking for a real life example, here’s an example from the cereal world.

Imagine you’re Kellogs. The owner of most of the cereal brands in the world.

Here’s the situation:

You’ve invented Corn Flakes already. They’re wildly popular among adults all over the world. But, then you come up with another idea.

Sweeter, sugar coated Corn Flakes. Do you have one brand of Corn Flakes with adult and child variants? No!

You create a new brand called Frosties (or in America, Frosted Flakes), and create the Tony the Tiger mascot. And suddenly you’ve got two very successful brands working for you.

The target markets are different and the visual language needs to be different. So again, it makes sense to create a new brand.

Rebranding Your Existing Company, To Follow Through On Your New Brand Mission

If your company has changed it’s brand values or mission statement, but your target audience remains the same, you should consider rebranding.

There’s no point in setting up a new company, if your existing company is essentially selling the same thing, with a new attitude.

Other reasons you might consider rebranding rather than creating a new company include:

  • Your existing brand identity looks old and dated
  • You’ve recently refurbished your physical premises
  • You recently suffered a PR disaster
  • You’re experiencing a period of growth and your brand feels lacking

There are a lot of different reasons that a rebrand would be better than creating a new company from scratch.

You certainly wouldn’t want to throw away your customer loyalty, or rip up existing contracts. You may alienate people by creating a new company. But if you roll out your rebrand correctly, you will retain customer faith.

Time for another real life example:

We recently completed work on a project for a company now called Xceptor, who were formally known as WSI (Web Service Integration.)

They wanted to rebrand because:

  1. Their existing brand looked years out of date (think early internet)
  2. Their software product is called Xceptor, and everyone called the company Xceptor anyway

As they had long standing relationships with some of the top banks in the World, it made no sense for them to start a new company. If they did that, they’d have to explain why, and what had changed so dramatically that they had to start from scratch.

We rebranded the company, created them a new brand identity and helped them roll out the brand the right way.

They alienated a total of zero customers, and their company is now stronger than it has ever been.

Once you’ve made the decision in which way to progress, you need to think about…

Your Brand Name

Picking the right name for your business is one of the tasks that small business owners struggle with the most.

So how do you pick the “right” brand name for your small business? And, more importantly – does it even matter?

What Your Name Can Do For You

In the best case scenario, your small business brand name can create buzz around your company. If it’s exciting or intriguing, people will want to know what you do.

If you’re just starting out in business, that can be a great way to drum up some interest.

Our full name is Canny Creative. People from the Newcastle always raise a smile and mention our name. We’re always hearing positive comments about our name.

Canny is a Geordie word, and it’s relatable. So for Geordie’s our name has an added level of depth. And when dealing with clients in other parts of the world, it’s inoffensive and also creates a great talking point.

There are arguments for and against the importance of a brand name.

One camp believes in the power of naming, and the other believes that the branding is more important than the name itself.

I’m on the fence. I think a combination of both worlds is the best possible solution.

So, How Do You Choose a Brand Name?

Now that we’ve looked at what your brand name can do for you, let’s look at actually sitting down and trying to decide on a name.

The Post-It Note Approach

The first thing you should do is a huge brain dump of everything that’s rattling around inside your head.

Get together a pen, a pile of post-it notes, some paper and some masking tape. Then, go crazy.

Write down literally everything that you can think of. Objects, colours, themes, ideas for names. Write them forwards, write them backwards. Then, stick them to one of your sheets of paper.

Once you’ve amassed plenty of ideas, start trying to group them.

Are certain themes emerging? Are certain words reoccurring over and over again? Maybe it’s not even full words. Maybe it’s part of a word. If there’s something jumping out at you, make a note.

We recently went through this approach with one of our clients, MyDome (previously known as Light Switch Timer.) And we were holed up in their office all afternoon.

Light Switch Timer is a timer for the lights on your wall. But they wanted to create a home brand to house the light switch timer, among other products.

When we began to analyse the words that were jumping out, we noticed lots of alternative words for house. We had “TechHouse, HouseSecure, HomeLink, HomeAuto, Casa, Castle” and the list went on.

To accompany that, we had a lot of words or parts of words linked to technology and the future. We had “iHome, Wired, Sync, HouseSync, LinkedUp” and again the list went on.

Together with the client we identified that the brand needed to sound personable yet with a slight technical edge.

And thus MyDome was born. The “My” was on one post it note on one side of the room, and the “Dome” was in another, grouped with other words relating to safe spaces.

The post-it note exercise may seem childish or even pointless, but even managing to get all of your thoughts out is a big win in itself.

Identify Themes Within Your Business

As with the post-it note method, it’s important that you identify themes within your business.

If you’re a small business owner, who owns an organic food brand for example, you could look to use:

  • Organic
  • Natural
  • Light
  • Health
  • Green

Even just taking the short list, you could chop the words up and rearrange them.

And if you were an organic food brand focused on creating healthy baby food, you could add the words:

  • Baby
  • Child
  • Kids
  • Toddler
  • Infant

Combining ideas from both list could leave you with a name like “Babyganic” or “Nature Kids” or “Naturic.” Sure, they may not be the best brand names, but if you go 25-50 words deep, you’ll be getting into unique branding territory.

Exploring the key themes from your brand’s mission and story will help you identify unique words, phrases, syllables or sounds you may want to explore to use as a name.

Use a Brand Name Generator, No, Seriously!

Brand name generators send shudders down the spines of many a professional branding consultant.

However, they can be put to good use.

Much like the post-it note brain dump approach, brand name generators can be good for creating a lot of ideas quickly.

Sure, there’ll be some horrible, horrible suggestions in the list. However, there may just be a diamond in the rough. And if there’s not, a name generator might just open your eyes to a new idea or direction.

Consult With Branding Professionals

The best way to develop a name for your brand is to consult with a professional branding agency. Working with professionals who do this for a living is should work out well for you.

Finding an agency with a good reputation can be a little tricky, but it’s worth persevering with.

A good professional branding agency will work with you to drill down into your business and really get you thinking outside the box about your company.

If you choose to work with a branding agency, they’ll probably run you through everything that we’ve talked about in this post so far. If they don’t, it might be a sign they’re not engaged with your brand or project.

But won’t hiring a branding agency cost a lot of money?

Sure, if you choose a high profile capital city based agency, you’re going to be looking at a hefty bill. And if you have the budget for that, then go right ahead.

But knowing your budget, and being honest with potential branding partners can work to your advantage in this situation.

How so?

Knowing your budget and being open and honest about it will help give your shortlisted agency partners a clear idea about how they can help you. And hopefully, they’ll be able to offer solutions to you that will fit within your budget.

If they don’t know your budget though, you’re leaving them guessing, and that doesn’t help anybody!

Are The Names on Your Shortlist Available?

Once you’ve compiled a shortlist of names, either on your own, or with an agency, I suggest you check out a few things.

  1. Are your shortlisted names available as domains?
  2. Can you legally register your shortlisted names?

These are 2 very important factors when choosing a brand name.

Let’s explore:

Are Your Shortlisted Names Available As Domains?

In this day and age, if you can’t secure your brand name as a .com domain, you might want to reconsider.

Sure, there are ways around it. You can use modifiers such as “hello” or hyphens or anything else you might be able to think of.

I bought “canny-creative.com” as I couldn’t get “canny.com” unless I wanted to pay a ridiculous price for it.

Most people want to secure the .com domain name, but depending on your company or organisation, you may also want to consider other TLD (top level domain) options.

For example:

If you’re in the tech space, how about the new .io that many companies appear to be using.

Or if you’re a charitable or not for profit organisation, how about a .org domain extension?

There are a lot of options to consider, but you’ll probably want to secure a domain name one way or the other.

Can You Legally Register Your Shortlisted Names?

If you’re setting up your new business in the UK, you’ll need to check with Companies House to make sure nobody else is using your chosen brand name.

If they are, you’ll need to rethink your idea.

When registering Canny Creative Ltd I took professional advice from my accountant, and I highly recommend that you find a professional to assist you. They can then recommend the right course of action and suggest workarounds if needed.

Most countries have an organisation responsible for checking the legalities of a company name, and each have their own rules. So do make sure you check before embarking on branding and marketing projects!

Now that you have the groundwork down, it’s time start thinking about the way your brand looks.

How Does Your Brand Look?

Again, we always recommend working with a trusted branding partner when establishing your small business brand.

The look of your brand is going to be based on the things that we’ve already identified earlier in this post, such as:

    • Your target audience
    • Your brand mission
    • Your brand story

and to some degree…

  • Your brand name

It’s important to remember that you’re not creating a brand that you like on a personal level. You’re working to develop a brand that your customers like.

You want your brand to work for you and sell your product. It’s not about personal taste. Sure, if there’s room, you could factor some of that in. But, you need to realise the value of design and let your branding assist in the selling of your product or service.

Who Could You Hire to Design and Develop Your Brand?

You have a lot of options when it comes to selecting a branding partner to work with. Depending on your budget for the work, you might want to consider some options from the list below.

So, how provides small business branding services?

Let’s take a look at your options:

A Student

Students are a mixed bag. Some of them are great, others not so much. It’s important to remember that if you hire a student, you’re not hiring a professional designer and they may lack experience in working with real businesses.

That said, everyone has to learn somewhere. And I know I would have been grateful for the opportunity while I was studying.

If you do decide that hiring a student is the right way to go, I would suggest trying to work with a 3rd year student, or someone that had recently graduated and is looking to snap up exciting opportunities.

Remember to pay students fairly, it’s not fair not to!

A Freelancer

Freelancers are also an interesting situation. Technically, anybody can set up a design agency and call themselves a professional design freelancers.

You don’t need a formal qualification and you don’t need to register with a professional body. Therefore there are no restrictions in place. People that download a copy of the Adobe Suite call themselves freelancers, and it’s just not right.

Just like with students, it’s important you do your due diligence and check over portfolios and testimonials of their past clients. There are some great design freelancers out there!

Cost wise, a freelancer will usually be cheaper than a small design agency, but more expensive than a student.

A Small Design and Branding Agency

As I run a small design and branding agency, this is the area I have the most to comment on. It’s also the area with one of the widest spreads in terms of cost and quality.

When I say small design agency, I mean an agency based in a single location, such as a smaller city. The size of the staff team at the agency isn’t usually the factor when labelling the agency as a “small design agency” or a “large branding firm.”

That’s normally based on they type of clients they deal with, and the rate at which they charge their projects.

Smaller agencies will tend to work with exciting new ventures, startups and some SME companies. Some small agencies (like Canny) are fortunate enough to work with large corporate clients.

For example:

We’ve worked with G4S, one of the biggest employers in the world.

The cost of working a smaller design agency might not be as much as you expect. At Canny, a lot of our projects run in the mid four-figure range. Sure, that’s not a small amount of money. But, design is an investment and when investing good money, you’ll get a good return.

The advantage of working with a small agency is that you’re often working hands on with the business owner. That’s a great advantage for a client, as they’re going to want to make sure you’re happy, and their agency is putting out cutting edge, professional branding projects!

Another advantage is that when the team is smaller, projects are normally worked on collectively in the office. That means you can talk to anyone about your project, and they should be able to provide you an update.

One of the only disadvantages I can see of working with a smaller agency is the scalability factor.

If you’re looking to seek huge investment, strap a rocket to your back, and fly to the moon – you could quickly outgrow your smaller branding agency.

That said:

If you work with your agency to formulate a brand strategy and scope of work, you can potentially help them grow them too, for which they’ll be forever grateful.

Choosing a good design agency to work with can be tricky, so check out our handy guide.

A Large Branding Firm

Unless you have mega money to spend, a large branding firm probably isn’t the right choice for a small business branding project.

That said, if you are looking to strap a rocket to your back from the start, perhaps looking for seed money and investors (like Uber) then maybe it’s the right choice.

Large agencies are normally based in the bigger cities across the country. They’ll also tend to have pretty central locations. As well as that, large branding firms tend to have multiple premises.

For example:

A branding agency such as Huge, live up to their name. They have offices in most continents and their client list includes Google, HBO and more.

Needless to say, to work with large branding agencies, it’s important you have deep pockets.

So for small businesses, what is it that actually makes up a brand identity?

Brand Identity Deliverables

The deliverables that make up a small business branding project can differ from business to business. However, there are some key elements that tend to make up every brand identity design project.

Let’s take a look:

Logo Design

Your logo design is one of the first things that your target audience will come to associate with your brand.

When working with a professional designer, you’ll be given several variations of your logo. These will include:

  • A full colour version
  • A black and white version
  • An alternative colour version
  • A vertical lockup
  • A horizontal lockup
  • Social avatars

The files should be delivered in multiple formats, ranging from JPEGs and PNGs all the way through to vector formats such as EPS and PDF.

The price of professional logo design has and always be up in the air. However, you should be working with a professional design agency or designer to work on your brand identity project.

If possible, when you create a brand logo, it should symbolise your brand mission and story. But it doesn’t need to show exactly what you offer!

For example:

The McDonalds logo isn’t a hamburger and fries. The Apple logo isn’t something hi-tech or technology based. The Nike logo isn’t a pair of trainers.

So try to resist that temptation! And again, remember, it’s important that your logo is designed with your customers in mind, not just to satisfy your personal taste.

Stationery Design

Your stationery design is often derived from your logo. Colour choices that have been made roll through into your stationery and other materials.

You might use your logo in it’s original form, or one of it’s variations. Along with that, your designer might choose to explore further colour choices and typographic solutions.

As standard, we include business cards and letterhead paper with all of our projects.

We’ve not had a small business client yet that hasn’t asked us to design a business card for them. Some people say business cards are on the decline, but we simply can’t agree!

Business cards and letterheads should definitely be considered, and after that you need to start thinking about your promotional materials.

Promotional Materials

And this is where a lot of small business brands vary depending on the area they’re in, and their target audience.

You need to think about the type of business you are and how you’re going to reach your customers.

Let’s examine three types of business to understand what type of promotional material they might have designed.

An Accountants

An accounting firm are probably looking for businesses to work. They might rely on networking and attending expos and conferences to market their business.

Therefore, for them, banner and exhibition stands are probably a must. As are flyers, and maybe even smaller promotional items such as pens, bags and key-rings.

That way when they’re attending conferences, they have a professionally branded look to their exhibition stall and marketing material that they can give away.

A Sports Team

In sports, you need to stand out. There’s a lot of noise and colour.

Flyers probably aren’t the right choice for a sports team, unless they’re being used to specifically promote a one-off deal. However, a weekly or monthly newsletter or programme could be a better choice.

Other considerations could include: team kits, mascots and saleable merchandise.

A Restaurant

A restaurant will have a different set of requirements to both of the other ventures outlined above.

Sure, they too could use flyers, but how about a coupon book instead? Something that gives your visitors an added benefit when returning.

Restaurants need to focus on brand building, and small marketing materials such as pens and notebooks aren’t so relevant. They could instead need to invest in signage and decor for their premises.

Another option for restaurants is to focus on building a restaurant “cult.”

For example:

Red’s True BBQ sell their own range of tshirts and BBQ sauces. Nandos sell hot sauce and have a great rewards scheme to help build brand loyalty.

As you can see, promotional materials will vary depending on the type of small business you run. You need to think about your ideal customers and how you’re going to market your business to them.

Brand Guidelines

The final thing to consider is your company’s brand guidelines. Brand guidelines are an all encompassing document that outlines exactly how your brand should look.

They’re great for handing over to companies that will be working with your company.

For example:

If you change to a different design agency, your brand guidelines should be handed over to help ease the transition.

Or, if you’ve worked exclusively with a graphic design agency, you should hand your guidelines over to your web development team.

They’re a handy versatile document that will grow as your company grows.

So what exactly should be in your brand guidelines?

Let’s take a look:

  • Your logo – Full colour and single colour logo designs should be included. As should horizontal and vertical iterations if possible.
  • Logo use cases – Your guidelines should explain exactly how your logo should and shouldn’t be used. They should also outline “clear areas” around your logo, and minimum and maximum sizes your logo should be used at.
  • Fonts and typography – If your brand has a distinct typeface, it should be included. Think about typography in your logo, marketing materials, and website.
  • Colour palette – Your brand’s colours should be include. The colour values should be outlined in HEX code, RGB and CMYK values.
  • Language – This is an interesting one. If your brand has a unique written tone, include it. Do you say “Hello” or “Hey” or “Hey there!”?
  • Photography – A lot of brands include photographic styles in their guidelines. If they’re key, they need to be in there.
  • Additional features – And finally, include anything else that differentiates your brand. Perhaps its uniform choices, or maybe it’s email signature designs. If it’s unique to your company, make sure it’s included.

You need to be able to hand over your brand guideline document and have the person on the receiving end understand your company completely.

If you’re looking for some good examples of brand guidelines, have a look at Skype and NASA’s documents.

Your Website

Your brand’s website is an important part of your brand identity, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

Your website should reflect your business. And it’s important that you avoid making one of the top website design mistakes.

There are a number of ways that you can make sure your website reflects your brand:

  • Use the same creative agency to create both your brand identity and website.
  • Know your brand identity inside and out, ensuring your website design follows suit.
  • Revisit your brand mission and story, and make sure that is evident online.
  • Bring your social media strategy in line with your brand strategy, identity, website.
  • Create a plan to effectively market your brand online.

Small businesses often overlook their own personal website in favour of using a social media platform like Facebook.

And that’s a huge mistake!

Facebook and other social platforms are a great way of extending your brand reach and following. But, ultimately, you have no control over those platforms.

If Facebook implodes, or restricts your brand reach, you can’t do anything about it. If Twitter closes down tomorrow, and you’ve not built a following elsewhere, you’re up the creek without a paddle.

That’s why it’s important to grow traffic to your own website. Then you’re control of your own destiny.

You can track your website traffic using a tool like Google Analytics.

But what do you do once you’ve got people using your website? Essentially, you have two choices:

  1. Sell them your product right away
  2. Convert them into a subscriber

Let’s take a closer look at each option:

Sell Them Your Product Right Away

Selling your visitors a product right away can be difficult. Especially if this is the first time a visitor has come into contact with your brand.

Think about it:

How many times did you see adverts for Netflix or Spotify before signing up?

However, if you are selling products online, it makes sense to try and sell them to each and every website visitor.

Convert Them Into a Subscriber

This is the easier route forward. Rather than focusing on the sale, focus on a conversion.

Get your website visitors to become either a mailing list subscriber or, a social media follower. In essence, you’re turning visitors into fans of the brand.

Over time, this will help you generate a return from your website’s visitors. And that, is exactly what most small businesses want.

It’s important you don’t rely on existing platforms to build your online following.

Sure:

Use social media to promote and market your business, but you need to be in control of your own online audience.

A Final Note on Brand Identity Design

It’s important to work with a professional branding agency to create your brand identity.

When working to create your identity, it’s important to create your own unique, distinctive identity.

You don’t want your small business brand to be accused of mimicking the feel of bigger companies. You need to focus on what makes you unique!

Stealing ideas from others means your brand isn’t authentic, and people buy into authenticity. If you’re struggling to differentiate your brand, have a look at our small business branding tips to help you out.

Brand Rollout

Once you have everything in place, it’s time to focus on your brand rollout.

We’ve come this far, now it’s time that your small business branding efforts start to reap the reward they deserve.

So, how do you perform an effective brand rollout?

Give Yourself Enough Time

Rushing out your small business branding can be tempting. It’s exciting to see your new brand vision and identity spring to life.

But don’t rush it!

Give yourself and your chosen branding partner time to pull everything together.

At Canny, we recommend branding projects run over the course of 12 weeks if a web element is included. In that time, it’s important to prepare all of your brand touch points and create a launch calendar.

Prepare All Brand Touch Points

Get together everything that you’ve been working on with your design agency. Make sure you have all of the designs and guidelines in place and list out all of your brand touch points before launch.

If there’s anything you’ve forgotten about, revisit it and get it ready for launch too.

Create a Launch Calendar

Work with your agency to build out a launch calendar. If you’re gearing up towards an event, build your brand rollout around that.

If you’re launching at a particular time of year, make sure you’ve got your project rolling early enough and get the important dates in the calendar.

That way you’ve got key dates to build your rollout plan around, making it clear for everyone involved.

And Don’t Forget…

Don’t jump the gun and accidentally leak out parts of your brand in dribs and drabs. We had a client do this recently, and it left them in a bit of a pickle!

Conclusion

Small business branding can be a headache. Especially if you’ve never done it before.

Working with a professional branding agency is the easiest way to ensure your small business branding or rebranding project goes off without a hitch.

It’s true that if you have an exceptional product or service, you can start a small business without building a professional brand.

However, if you want to grow the business and expand into more aggressive markets, you’ll need to establish a great brand identity!

When facing similar pricing and comparable quality in a tight marketplace, developing a strong brand will pay dividends and can often tip the balance in your favour.

In the end, the most successful small business is going to be the one that’s a) making the most money and b) building the biggest following of loyal customers.

The power of the small business brand should never be overlooked. Do you agree? What steps are you taking to ensure that you’re building the strongest possible brand?

Tony Hardy is the Founder and CEO of Canny Creative. He is a graphic designer, web designer, brand consultant, blogger, Newcastle based entrepreneur, drummer, and wrestling fan.

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2 comments on “The Ultimate Small Business Branding Guide

  1. Howard Packaging on

    Something I’d like to add to this comprehensive branding guide is that packaging can be a great branding tool, because it puts your business in front of new and repeat customer. This opens the door to lots of new sales. And friends, family and even strangers can be very influential! If your packaging is distinctive, people ask about it and you’re likely to get referrals if they love your product.

    Reply
    • Tony Hardy on

      Hi Howard, thanks for the comment. I agree entirely! We’ve had great success with branding/packaging projects in the past, and you’re right, it can generate referrals. Thanks again!

      Reply

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