Often one of the first questions for any new business starting out is ‘how can I create a professional looking brand?’
Though most people understand that it’s a vital part of creating their business identity, fewer really know what goes into building a successful brand or how to achieve it.
It’s certainly not something just for big companies and there are plenty of successful small businesses who have built a strong following and brand identity by following these simple steps.
So, what is a brand?
Originally it was used as a way of distinguishing your livestock from someone else’s but you probably want something more applicable to your business.
Well the methods might be different but the basic premise is the same. You want to make sure that your business can be identified from your competitors.
Some brands are so ingrained with us that we associate them as the product.
Take Coca Cola for example.
How often do you ask for a fizzy drink?
Chances are not often, you’d probably just order a ‘coke’.
Google has such a well-known brand that it has become a verb for searching the internet in much the same way as Hoover has for vacuuming your home.
It’s not just the company name either.
What do you think when you see a golden ‘m’ by the side of the road?
That’s right, McDonalds.
So a brand can be anything that you associate with a business, whether it’s a sign, a logo, a colour, a sound, a design, a person or anything else that makes you think of that particular business.
Bear in mind when building your brand that it’s not what you think it is but it’s what your customers think it is.
Going back to McDonalds as an example.
They know that they’re not selling a fine dining experience.
It’s not somewhere that you are likely to go for a romantic anniversary meal.
Hopefully not anyway. If they started dimming the lights and putting candles on the tables, there would be a huge disconnect between your expectation and the actual experience.
This is why you need to understand your audience and what they think of you.
Why bother with branding?
There are a number of reasons to put some time and thought into developing your brand.
Firstly, branding helps build awareness, and awareness means business.
With so many companies trying to attract the same people you need to get heard above the noise.
If no one knows you exist then don’t expect to get a lot of customers.
And it’s not good enough just letting people know you exist, they need to know what makes you different from the other 5 companies that have tried to sell them widgets this month.
A strong brand shows your unique identity and gives people a reason to buy from you instead of your competitors.
Having a good brand also helps your customers identify with you and understand your values.
This leads to loyalty, repeat business and referrals if you treat your customers well.
Take note that branding can work both ways and if you try to pull the wool over your customer’s eyes then it could backfire and damage your brand reputation.
You can also use your brand to attract and retain staff.
If you’re well known for treating staff fairly or being particularly eco-friendly as an organisation then you will attract staff who relate to your values.
These staff are also more likely to be proud of where they work and become strong ambassadors for your business as a result.
So how do you go about building a successful brand?
1. Identify your target audience
Don’t try to appeal to everyone. It’s a common mistake and one that’s best avoided.
It doesn’t matter what product or service you’re selling, not everyone will like it.
Let that sink in because it’s very important.
It doesn’t make sense to try and appeal to everyone.
It will take far less of your valuable resources (time and money) to identify a target audience first.
Try to understand the problems that your customers face.
You might have first-hand experience of this already which led you to start your business.
If not, go where your customers would go.
There are lots of forums where people ask questions and share information on a specific topic.
If you’re manufacturing mountain bikes then Mountain Bike Rider forum might be a great place to start seeing what problems mountain bikers face and how you can solve those problems for them.
Use surveys: If there’s a place you know that you’re customers go then get out there and ask them what issues they face.
There are great tools such as Survey Monkey that allow you to create and distribute surveys online as well.
What does your customer look like?
The more information you have, the better.
Try to ask yourself these types of questions:
- Are they male or female?
- How old are they?
- Where do they live?
- What is their social status?
- What kind of income do they have?
- What are their hobbies and interests?
- Where do they shop?
- Are they price sensitive?
- Do they use social media?
These are just some ideas and there may be other more specific questions you can ask depending on your industry.
If you don’t have a piece of information then try to find out.
Once you start getting answers to these questions, you can really start to build up a clear picture of who it is you are trying to target.
Also don’t do this exercise once and forget about it.
Keep trying to improve your customer knowledge as it will help you develop your brand and tailor your marketing efforts more quickly.
The other advantage to identifying your target audience is that you can start to become an expert in your field and really know your customers.
If you were offering business consultancy then it might be difficult to offer your services to every type of business on a national scale.
However, you probably could much more easily target businesses with fewer than 100 employees in the South West.
This becomes even more targeted if you specialise in a particular type of industry such as manufacturing.
Now you can see how you can start to develop your brand as you will start to get known in a particular area and industry.
You now know what your target audience looks like so you know which events to go to, what publications to advertise in, what social media to use etc.
Without narrowing down who your target audience is you would not be able to do this.
2. Get to know the competition
Understanding your competition can also help you to work out your place in the market.
Take the supermarkets below for example. Although each one is essentially providing the same types of products and in many cases exactly the same products, you will feel differently about each of them.
You know before setting foot in any one of these supermarkets the kind of experience you are likely to have, as well as the types of products on offer.
It’s fine to be more expensive than your competitors, offering a smaller range of higher quality products, or provide a more mass market selection for a fraction of the cost.
What you don’t want to be is the same as everybody else.
Those brands that are most successful are able to offer products or services that have a clear place in the market.
To identify your competitors you can start by simply searching the internet for similar businesses to your own.
Check their website to find out whatever you can.
Often companies have links to their social media accounts so you can see what kind of information they send out and how they communicate with customers.
Other ways to find out about the competition could be to look in newspapers or trade magazines, go to trade shows and search business directories.
Put together a spreadsheet or document and try to answer these questions for each:
- What is the quality of their products or services?
- What prices do they charge?
- What areas do they cover?
- How do they distribute their products or services?
- How do they communicate with customers?
- What colours do they use in their branding?
- What kind of staff do they attract?
- What is their customer service like?
- How do they use social media and what platforms are they on?
- Are their accounts available? – You may be able to find certain details on Companies House or Company Check.
- Are they innovative?
- What are their company values?
This exercise will allow you to work out where your brand might fit in the market.
You may find out at this point that the market you are entering is full of mass producers offering relatively low quality products.
This might mean that there is an opportunity to position your brand to provide a higher quality alternative.
Be careful though and don’t just leap in if you see a gap.
There may be a good reason why nobody else offers that type of product or service.
Hopefully the research you have done around your target audience already and the market in general will let you know whether you are on to a good idea that people are willing to pay for.
Having all this information about your competitors (which you should keep up to date) will allow you to capitalise on areas that they are weaker.
You might be able to offer better customer service, hire better staff, have better supplier relationships, use better marketing tactics etc.
Bear in mind that your competitors are likely to be collecting the same information about you and improving what they’re doing as well.
3. Set up your domain name
Once you have identified the needs of your target audience as well as how you are going to position your brand in the market, you can start to think about the actual look and feel of your brand.
This will be the logos, marketing materials, strap lines, language, tone of voice, colours and personality.
Everything that makes up your brand that people will start to recognise and identify with as you.
You’re likely to need an online presence so start by finding a web address URL that is going to work for you.
This could be your company name, keywords of what you do or something completely made up.
Even if you’re not intending to create a website straight away, the cost of a domain is usually less than £10 per year so securing it early means you will have something to use at a later date.
You don’t want to create the rest of your brand and then find out that the web address you want is taken.
The URL ideally wants to be as short as possible as a general rule. You can get away with longer ones and you might have to if you occupy a popular niche.
Let’s take Jane Smith Furniture as an example. If we go to 123-reg and type in ‘janesmith’, we’re presented with a number of options, most of which are already taken.
Ideally you’re going to want a .com or .co.uk extension as these are the most widely recognised.
A .co.uk domain is likely to be best if this is where most of your customers are going to be from.
A .com domain would be better if you expect to trade internationally.
So with a quick search for ‘janesmith’ we can see that all of the most popular extensions are taken.
Let’s have a look at ‘janesmithfurniture’. A slightly longer URL but still memorable. You can see that now all of the main URL extension are available.
You can keep trying different combinations as much as you like before settling on one that fits your business best.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a URL that hasn’t been taken then sites such as Panabee will allow you to put in your keywords and it will give you some suggestions of available URL’s.
4. Give your brand personality
Once you have a domain that you’re happy with the next step is to create the personality of your brand.
This is where the research you did on your target audience and competitors really pays off.
Depending on where you have decided to position your brand and who your audience is, will determine the decisions you make when it comes to design.
There will be a big difference between a business offering eco-friendly yurt holidays in the countryside to one that provides web design for tech companies.
Here are a couple of examples of well know British high street brands.
Both know their audience and market well.
Jack Wills makes and sell clothing designed to appeal to university students.
From the photos below it’s clear that they focus heavily on the fact they are a British company with traditional values.
On their about us page they say:
“Jack Wills, for more than 18 years, has brought British heritage-inspired wares of the highest quality to the wardrobes of a spirited and inspired youth, epitomising what it is to be British, irreverent and carefree.”
This comes across from their use of colour, the game birds and antlers on the wall, the Union Jack and their traditional sign writing.
Without even knowing what they sell it’s easy to get a feel for the kind of company they are and the values that they follow.
Contrast this with Lush, again another British high street brand.
Instead of focussing on Britishness, they choose to highlight their environmental credentials and the fact that their products are made by hand.
Just have a quick look at their Facebook page and you’ll see that they look like a great place to work with fantastic ethical practices.
Everything from the design of their stores to their product packaging demonstrates these values without taking themselves too seriously.
See how the decisions you make, from your logo to your website all come together to form your brand?
It’s not just the design either but the wording and way they communicate their brands with their customers.
Here’s a twitter post from Lush.
It’s light-hearted and shows the natural ingredients that they use for their products in an engaging way for their audience.
With this twitter post from Jack Wills, they haven’t promoted themselves in any way.
They know that their customers are mainly young university students and have posted an amusing photo and caption to engage with them on a personal level.
Okay, so if you’re selling computer microchips to international businesses then this kind of engagement might not be appropriate but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of humour or showing off your personality.
It’s especially important if you are your business as it’s you that makes your business unique.
5. Tell your story
Everybody loves a good story right?
The two brands above each tell a great story.
Just look at their about us pages and you’ll see how they started, their values and policies, so that you can identify with them.
It doesn’t matter whether you necessary like them, agree with them or buy from them but at least they have an identity and a story that you can relate to in some way.
Innocent are an example of a company that has a great brand story.
Don’t you feel you really know them? From just a couple of paragraphs you understand how they got to where they are today, what they offer and the values that they stand for.
If you can develop something similar for your own small business then you’re well on your way to creating a recognisable brand that your customers can relate to.
6. Choose colours wisely
There has been a lot of research done surrounding the psychology of colour used in brands and marketing.
It can make a big difference to how your brand is perceived and is usually the first thing that people notice about your logo.
Colours influence us on a daily basis and can play a major part in affecting our mood.
Red might make us think of passion or a warning whereas blue may have a more calming influence or create a feeling of trust.
The colours themselves are not what’s important but the way they make consumers react is.
You are likely to recognise a lot of the brands here and it’s interesting to note their choices of colours.
Sometimes a company chooses its brand colours based not on what their customers would expect but on how they want to be perceived.
Take the colour green for example.
Often used to convey eco-friendly credentials, growth or agriculture.
It’s not surprising then to see companies such as John Deere and Tropicana choosing green as their primary colour.
What might be more surprising is that BP, a worldwide oil and gas giant uses green and yellow for their brand.
You probably don’t think of BP as a particularly eco-friendly company but that’s exactly why they have gone with colours that give this perception.
Notice how it also looks like a flower? That’s certainly no accident.
While huge oil spills may have undermined the effectiveness of this, they continue to use these colours throughout their brand.
For more information on what the colours of your brand say about your business here’s a great SlideShare presentation on the power of colour.
You should now be well on your way to creating a strong brand for your small business, whatever your niche or market as well as understanding why the brands we know and love resonate with us so much.
They key to any good branding is consistency.
Everything from the way you answer the phone, to the wording on your website, and the colour of your logo should create a lasting and consistent impression with your audience.
All these factors make up your brand, allowing you to stand out from your competitors, attract great staff, increase your profits and create a loyal customer base who rave about your company to everyone they know.
Leave a comment below and let us know how you’ll be building your brand.