At the heart of a great business is a first class product or service and every business wants to be a customer’s ‘first choice’. Building and managing a brand can play a large part in making this happen and if you want to strengthen and manage the perceptions of your business, then a strong brand is needed. Good branding elevates and differentiates your like-for-like products or services and gives your customers reason to choose you over your competitors.

In short... Better perceptions outsell better products – For example the famous Coke/Pepsi blind taste test. In blind tastings Pepsi tends to have a slight advantage, but take the blindfold off and Coke nearly always wins.


OK, What is Branding?

  • Branding is the building of trust with employees, customers and stakeholders.
  • In marketing terms, the definition of branding is the sum total of a company’s value, including products, services, people, advertising, positioning and culture.
  • Brands give potential clients a firm idea of what they are buying before they buy it, making the purchasing decision easier.
  • Customers trust strong brands because they know what to expect.
  • The term ‘brand’ should not be confused with Brand Identity or Corporate Identity. Brand Identity is an element of the brand experience and we’ll talk about brand identity below.

But... brands aren’t just for big companies, they can make smaller businesses stand out from the crowd, particularly if you operate in a competitive market. We need to trust the people we do business with.

The benefits of branding – why should small businesses bother with it?

  • The most important reason is that it can help increase your sales. This means that when you need to increase your prices (because you are a small company, and there are only so many hours in the day) then your target audience will be accepting of your price increase. Think about it like this - if your company is built upon a solid brand base, you can build up to the next stage successfully without losing the trust of your customers.
  • Branding also encourages confidence and trust in your product/service - If you do experience a one-off issue with a product or service, your customers would be more likely to understand, if your brand ethos proves that you’ll do what it takes to resolve the problem.
  • Branding also develops the uniqueness of your product.

How to get started with branding

  • Consider what your business’s strengths (or brand values) are, what you are good at and believe in, as a business. For example, I would list my brand values as: great customer service, a friendly person to deal with, good client communication, clean modern graphic design, an understanding of visual communication and marketing techniques, exacting typographic knowledge, trustworthy expertise in getting jobs to print or online, and value for money.
  • You need to ensure you can ALWAYS deliver your brand values and then match them to what your customers want. Here’s an example: If you are a clothes shop and ‘high fashion’ is a brand value for you, that’s fine if your customers want to buy the trendiest gear. But if your customer base is made up of pensioners, your brand value is not going to match your customers' buying needs.
  • To help you, try asking an existing customer what they like about doing business with you and ask a potential customer what they would look for when making a decision to buy. This information can help you start to build your brand. You may find that some of the answers are what you expected, but some answers - particularly from new or occasional clients - can give unexpected answers.
  • What makes your customers buy? It is not normally just the cost or the performance.
  • Consider the benefits you offer your present customers and whether you are targeting the right people.
  • Every contact you have with a customer or potential customer is a chance to reinforce your brand values – but remember, a brand makes promises to customers, if these promises aren’t fulfilled, it could mean the customer is less likely to buy from you again. An example, if you are a jeweller, and your ‘Elegant’ range of products are beautifully produced, stylishly packaged and advertised in glamorous glossy magazines, its brand values could be ‘classy, special, elegant’. But if a customer calls on the phone and the staff that answer are rude or unprofessional, that’s the lasting impression they will leave with. As a result the brand and possibly the business, will be undermined.

Start to define what your brand values are and your customers needs and you are on your way to building your brand.

  • Your brand affects many areas within your business and they all need to be consistently in line with your brand values: your business name and the names of your products and services; your logo, your strapline - a descriptive line to describe your business; the style and quality of your stationery and website, any letters & emails you write, your product packaging, how you and your employees dress and behave, how your phone is answered, your premises, how you deal with your customers, where and how you advertise...
  • You need to reinforce your brand values with every possible contact you have with both customers and potential customers. Communicate your brand and make sure everything you do reinforces the same message. Use your logo, everywhere!
  • Review your brand regularly – ask customers for feedback and if your customers' needs change, your brand and your business may need to evolve to stay relevant. You may feel too busy to do this, but if you’re quiet - it may be too late!
  • Ask the questions, how does my business, product or service meet my customer’s needs? Ensure your brand is in line with the answers to this question. You need to set up your business so it is easiest for your customers, not necessarily for you!
  • Keep your brand simple and focus on a small number of key brand values.
  • Involve your employees if you have them – make sure they understand and believe in your brand.
  • Creating and managing your brand doesn’t have to cost a lot – you don’t have to do everything at once.
  • Set a budget and within that, cover the key areas, such as any design needs i.e. a logo, business stationery, packaging. Other priorities might be any marketing materials, your website and then allocate time to make sure your employees understand your brand.

Set yourself a goal to brand one more area of your business each month, and you will soon be on your way.

OK, so what makes up a brand?

Well, as I’ve mentioned above, your brand values.

Also, visual elements such as colours, fonts and logo (more of which later),

Your USP: Your Unique Selling Proposition (or sometimes Unique Selling Point) - What makes you stand out from your competitors? - Your USP is a summary of what you do and how you do it better or differently than others. Often, a USP can be summed up in just a few words that become a catch-phrase or strapline. Whether long or short, your USP should focus on how it benefits the customer. Here are a few well-known examples of USP straplines:

  • the best a man can get. Gillette - USP focusing on quality
  • the world’s favourite airline. British Airways - USP focusing on popularity
  • never knowingly undersold. John Lewis – USP focusing on price
  • have it your way. Burger King - USP focusing on choice
  • every little helps. Tesco - USP focusing on price
  • just do it. Nike - USP focusing on a can-do attitude
  • the ultimate driving machine. BMW - USP focusing on performance
  • the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate. Flake - USP focusing on being unique
  • the mint with the hole. Polo - USP focusing on being unique

If you’re able to sum up your brand values and your advantage over competitors into a strapline, why not put it on your literature and advertising and make sure everyone gets the message!

OK, so we’ve talked about the 3 key ingredients of a strong brand:

  • your brand values
  • your USP
  • and a cohesive visual style

Lets elaborate on this visual element - it can be made up of:

A device or icon - maybe a picture forms part of your logo? if so, its' style and subject need to comply with your brand values.

Your brand colours - People have emotional responses to particular colours, shades and tints. Your brand colours need to reflect your brand values - you don’t want to send mixed messages such as using fiery pillarbox red for a relaxing massage!

Your brand Typefaces – the styles of lettering that form your logo and any correspondence with your target audience. Some typefaces look friendly, some look elegant, some are modern and some look casual. Once again, choosing the right style typeface can add to the tone and personality of your brand.


Whatever visual elements you choose - stick with them!

Brand Identity

Following on from the above, these points focus on Brand Identity as the visual aspect of a brand:

  • The identity should be legible, recognisable and memorable. It should reflect - through the use of your logo, name & strapline - your brand values. It should clearly communicate your name and/or product or service.
  • The identity should be constructed using appropriate typefaces and colour remembering the different types of media it will need to be applied to i.e. stationery, electronic media, products, advertising and literature.
  • The identity should be applied consistently across all media – for example its colour and its positioning on a page or screen should remain familiar across all your marketing material, the secondary typefaces and imagery styles you use, should also have a uniform look.
  • The quality of the way in which the identity is presented should reflect the values of the product or service (simply, this could be the board and paper used for stationery or advertising in publications that reflect like-minded values). Consider your business card is often what you leave behind after a meeting, so how it looks and feels is very important – has it been printed well, on good quality card and is the information clear and easy to read?
  • Anyone associated directly with the business should embrace the brand and be sympathetic and understanding to the importance of its identity.
  • If you consider partnering with other companies, ensure that your brand and brand identity reflect theirs and vice versa.
  • The identity is often the first thing people will see. Any product/literature/advertising is acting as a silent salesman 24/7 selling your product or service – which, if working correctly will help you to see a return on your investment.
  • Your logo should therefore be reproduced on every element that comes into contact with your clients and potential clients. Ensure your logo is on every invoice, every email, all your envelopes, name badges and powerpoint presentations. Use it whenever you can.

As a conclusion to this subject, with examples to help you understand each point:

  • Your brand is your businesses promise to your clients and prospective clients. You should not over or under promise. For example: don’t have a beautiful logo on crisp white paper, with mouth watering image of a fresh sandwich, and then deliver a soggy sandwich with limp lettuce on stale bread!
  • Branding must be relevant to the target markets that you want to talk to. For example, you don’t need to print metallic inks onto embossed paper, if you sell handbags at a market. Similarly, make sure you have a professional logo and branding if you are a professional company.
  • Your brand must be able to be reproduced on the media that you select to advertise your product. For example: Your strapline will emphasise your brand on a radio ad, where your logo can’t. And your typeface and icon will emphasise your brand, where colour cannot be used, say on a black and white newspaper advert.
  • Ensure your brand can reproduced in one colour. A good graphic designer will always design a logo which logo looks good in one colour, as well as multi colour.
  • Think about style durability, will it look good next year? A durable brand, recognisable over years, develops trust and is easily remembered. It is also a good investment if done correctly. Logo styles do follow a fashion - for the last 3 or 4 years the ‘Web 2.0’ style logo has been seen as the epitome of funky brand design - the style is open and friendly and often uses small chunks of large type. The colours are bright fresh and cheery -  lots of sky blue, orange, and lime green. Many companies need to look like they keep up with the times. A good graphic designer is able to take an existing logo, evolve it for today’s customers whilst keeping your brand values intact!
  • Monitor your competitor’s brand strategies. Assess how you compare, review and consider updating in light of this. For example: Make sure your clients recognise you and don’t confuse you with a competitor who is copying your style!
  • Branding needs to match your market, it needs to match your pricing and promotion. For example: Don’t have a rustic looking logo if you are in the IT Industry. You need it to look high tech, dynamic and exciting.
  • And remember, if you are a 'one man band', which many small businesses are, your personality is a major asset and you are the business, if you can leave an impression of a lively, professional, enthusiastic individual, who will deliver, then you are half way there!