A brand is more than just a logo – it’s how you’re perceived.
Jeff Bezos is widely quoted as saying, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Amazon may be a huge company, but the same applies to small business branding. The discussions are just happening on a more local level.
Your brand is constantly being shaped by the people around you – your direct customers, your local or online community and your employees, suppliers and stakeholders. It’s reflected in every interaction people have with your business and team.
Small business branding is all about owning (and winning) those small and numerous interactions which influence how people feel and think about your business.
And whether you’re in Melbourne (like us), in a small town or anywhere else in the world, the principles remain the same.
Here’s how you harness the power of these interactions to create an unforgettable small business brand.
Small business branding basics
1. Know your values (and act on them).
What do you stand for? Where do you put your stake in the ground and say, ‘this is us’?
Your values need to inform your choices – both guiding strategic ones (like you might make once a year) and the everyday decisions your frontline staff make.
Rather than being constricted by your values, employees should be empowered by them. If they know what the business stands for (and feel like they can stand alongside it) they’re more likely to be able to make the right call without coming to you every time.
So how do you make sure your employees are aligned?
You should make your values a core part of your hiring process – you can’t change values, so it’s a lot easier to hire people who already share yours.
How to develop your small business’ brand values:
The quickest way to develop your company’s values is to get inspiration from other businesses who have gone through the process, then grab an existing template and work through it.
As an example, here are ours:
As you can see, our values are clear and defining but not prescriptive. Everyone at The Marketing Project is free to do what they think is best, as long as it aligns with these values.
To create something like these values for your small business, download our brand values template for small business. It will take you through the main steps and prompt you to think about what’s truly important to you and your business.
If you want to see a few more, Google “brand values examples”. You’ll see that some are just one word, others are sentences and others still go more in-depth. What you end up with will depend on you – if you’re naturally to-the-point, don’t blabber on just because you feel you need to.
2. Make sure your ‘key messages’ are clear.
What’s unique about your business?
What do your staff say when they’re asked what they do for a living?
How would a newspaper write about your business?
It’s important that everyone in your organisation speaks about your business in the same way. There are plenty of successful businesses that have trouble succinctly summing up or aligning on what exactly it is that they ‘do’. This is ok – it’s a natural product of growth.
If this sounds like your team, it’s not the end of the world – you just need some key messages you can align with.
Once you have them, they’ll feed into assets like your website and marketing – but it also needs to become part of your ‘internal language’, which your entire team needs to be fluent in.
How to craft key marketing messages for your small business
I’ll show you ours again so you know what we mean.
Notice how they’re clear and confident, but realistic? It’s not just that ‘WE’RE THE BEST!’, but that we’re clear about what makes us a better option than other marketing agencies and we play to those strengths.
When crafting your key marketing messages, keep coming back to one question:
What are the core messages about your business that need to be communicated as often as possible?
3. Know (and live) your brand personality
So you’ve decided what you want to say…
Now it’s time to think about how you say it – your brand personality and tone of voice.
These are two similar but different concepts. Your brand personality informs everything about how your brand talks, looks and feels – your storefronts (if you have them) and your digital assets – as well as little decisions, like what name you put on the ‘contact’ email address.
Your tone of voice takes this one step further and distils this into a few concrete rules specifically for when you’re writing on behalf of the brand.
How to define your brand personality
Again, a Google search for brand personality examples will give you so many different types it can be confusing. How you document your brand personality is up to you.
If you’re more of a written-word type, you might want to write down a few descriptive ‘personality traits’ – for example: trustworthy, conscientious or cheeky.
If you’re more visual, try drawing what your brand would look like if they were a person – what would they wear? How old would they be?
A good collaborative exercise is to get your team in a room with Post-it notes and have them stick personality traits on the wall. Group similar ones and duplicates, and you should start to see a picture come to life before your eyes. Continue discussing traits and eliminating outliers until you have five or six key traits. Decide on the wording and you’re all set!
From there, you might wonder if you need to work on your tone of voice. That’s almost another article in itself! If you’re only ever going to do your own marketing, you can probably skip this step. But if you plan to expand your team or engage an agency to do your marketing, you’ll want to have something on paper.
(Note: once defined, you might want to go over points 1 & 2 again and fine-tune them in the right style.)
4. Create a strong visual identity
This is the step lots of businesses get stuck on – because they try to do it first!
As we mentioned up top, visual brand isn’t your entire brand – but it is a key part of it.
Just like the clothes you wear, what your business looks like makes up such a huge unspoken part of your communication with customers – and as a result, a huge part of your overall brand.
Even if you’re not visual or don’t have any design skills, it’s crucial that you take some interest in your visuals – not just that everything looks nice, but that it’s consistent across all your touch points. Consistency, after all, is the basis of any strong brand!
How to define your visual identity
If you don’t have any design experience, it’s best to do this in consultation with a design or marketing agency who have professional designers on staff.
They’ll know how to distil your brand personality into a set of assets you can use moving forward.
This will typically include a logo, colours, letterheads and fonts as a starting point. They might also give you some guidelines for selecting stock imagery or pick some for you. These assets then make up the majority of your visual communications like your website and any marketing you do.
(For bonus points, engage the services of a photographer and get some shots taken – it makes a huge difference. For an example of how photography can enhance a visual identity, check out our website.)
5. Use these elements to make your brand touchpoints work for you
Businesses know they need to present a consistent tone of voice where they can. But most don’t go far enough or appreciate just how many touch points – or moments where you come into contact with your customers – there actually are.
Often brand is perceived as the big interactions: marketing and advertising campaigns, websites, brochures – and it is. But it’s all the little things too.
Your website and marketing needs to communicate the right tone, of course – but how about your emails, or those of your colleagues? The person answering the phone? Your foyer? How you greet your visitors?
How to ensure a consistent brand across all touchpoints
This is a big job, but we recommend something called a customer interaction map.
It helps you map out every touchpoint you have with your customers and ensure that you have a plan of attack for each and every one.
Here’s a video of ours that explains what we’re talking about in a bit more detail.
With this step completed, you’re well on the way to creating a memorable, consistent brand – one that will stay fondly in people’s memories and make sure that when you’re not in the room, they say nice things about you. Now you just need the final element of the puzzle – a thematic element to pull it all together.
What’s your ‘big idea’?
Small business marketing tends to err on the side of product, and not do enough to nourish the brand.
The difference is the inclusion of a ‘big idea’ – the kind that’s going to get stuck in people’s heads.
For example, we talk a lot about ‘purpose’ in business beyond just making profit. We’re fascinated with and enamoured of B2Bs who can weave positive acts into their regular business processes. It helps us communicate what we’re about, and adds an extra emotional element to our brand.
To explore the idea more, we’re interviewing a series of businesspeople who we think are doing great things with their resources and platforms.
And we’re promoting these kinds of stories across all our touchpoints to act as an earworm in people’s heads.
Read an interview from our ‘People with Purpose’ series here.