Branding your Small Business – The Basics

Branding your small business - Cowlick Studios Windsor

If you’ve operated a small business for any period of time, you know how important branding is. It’s your identity, it’s what makes you unique, and it’s ultimately what will bring people to your door.

But how exactly are you supposed to brand your business when it seems like every company in Windsor is trying to do the same thing? How do you separate yourself? That’s what this guide is all about.

What Exactly is a Brand?

First things first. In order to understand how to brand your small business, we have to first decide what branding is. For starters, it’s not just a logo; a logo is one of the assets of your brand. A logo is what makes your brand distinguishable, but it is not the essence of who you are. A brand is also not a mascot, company name, or even your product lines. Like a logo, those are simply assets of what makes your brand unique.

At its core, a brand is the customer’s perception of who you are. It’s their gut feeling whenever they hear your company name and the emotions that come with it. As Charlie Hughes and William Jeanes put it, a “brand is a promise wrapped in an experience.”

Branding, then, is the process of shaping that experience into what you want it to be. People are going to have opinions about your small business, so the goal is to get out in front and control what they think. If you can guide people to the core values that make your business unique, your marketing strategy will be a thousand times easier.

Build a Solid Foundation

Before you begin marketing your small business to the customers in the greater Windsor community, sit down first and identify what makes your brand unique as well as what you as a company are good at. This can be a myriad of different things, but ask yourself:

  • What Do We Do Best? If your company is in the restaurant niche, perhaps you have a chef that has been to one of the top culinary schools in the country. Narrowing it down even further, perhaps one of the dishes that they prepare has won awards; if so, write that down. The key here is to play to your strengths and identify where you surpass the competition.
  • Are we Innovative? Even if your company doesn’t have the best of a particular item, you can still play to your strengths by marketing what separates you from the small business down the street, technology-wise. If you own a robotics company, what new tech are you designing? Own a hotel? If so, are you experimenting with different room configurations?
  • What Kind of Experience Do We Provide? In some cases, you may be known not for your products or environment, but for the people that you employ. Some companies have average to above-average goods, but their service is off the chart. They became known for that, and people returned for the service as much as the product.

These identifying characteristics of your company become known as your “brand values” and they’ll be the core focus of your marketing push.

The next step is in identifying what it is that your customers want. If you operate a business in a high-end part of Windsor, you probably won’t do well selling budget goods. Likewise, if your clientele expects a certain type of biking equipment, stocking your store with climbing gear won’t cut it. Those are extreme examples, but companies have done far worse.

When your company’s values intersect with customer expectations, you create a harmony with the market that you can build off of. Isolate these core strengths and communicate them to the people who desire those traits.

After this, the final step is in communicating what makes your brand special to your staff. If your employees don’t know what makes your company unique, how are they supposed to describe the business to your customers? How will they know what to focus on in their daily activities? Create a small pamphlet or booklet that you can hand out with your brand values clearly stated within. Have regular meetings to brainstorm on how you can communicate them to the public.

How to Build your Brand

Identifying your brand values is the first step; after that, you have to decide how to share them with your customers. Keep in mind that every single time your customers interact with your branding, you have an opportunity to create an impression, whether good or bad. Consistency is important here; if you voice one thing and represent another, your company’s branding will suffer.

You also need to make sure you’re capitalizing on every possible customer interaction. This extends to more than just the purchase experience. Your advertising, employees, and website are all ways that you as a company connect with your demographic. Below are some other areas to think about:

  • Company slogan
  • Logo design
  • Product packaging
  • In-Store signage
  • Employee dress code
  • Online advertising
  • E-mail newsletters
  • Trade shows
  • Names of products

There are certainly more ways that you create a connection with your customer, but the key is consistency. If your communication with your customers is in line with your values, your branding strength will increase.

How to Maintain Your Branding Strength

Once your branding is established, you’ll need to monitor its progress over time to ensure it stays strong. While you can certainly oversee this yourself, it’s a good idea to appoint one employee or a company like Cowlick Studios to take responsibility for this. Make sure they understand your core values and how they affect your small business’ branding.

Just because you appoint one person in charge of your branding does not mean other people can’t get involved either. Encourage them to communicate whenever they notice something is amiss. Consider a suggestion box for customers and employees to leave feedback about any areas to improve. Even better, schedule one-on-one time with your team to evaluate how your branding is performing.

It’s important for your employees to not only understand what to look out for but why. They need to know how important branding is for your business and the role that things like your logo play in that. Failure to deliver on those brand values can spell disaster for your small business.

Consider also enlisting feedback from your customers as well. Perform informal surveys to monitor what the customer perceives as your brand values and encourage your customers to be 100% honest. Keep in mind that customer perceptions can change over time, so you need to keep an eye on it constantly to notice any changes. One or two blips on the radar are anomalies, but if you see customers bringing up real issues, take it to heart.

One of the easiest ways to solicit customer feedback is to ask them to leave reviews on sites like Google or Yelp. Not only can they leave those on their own time, but they’re more likely to be honest if they’re not standing with a member of your staff. To increase the chance that people will leave a review, offer an incentive such as a coupon.

Remember to be open to critiques or suggestions for improvement. Many small business owners are under the impression that past success means the branding is performing, but that’s not always the case. They see things from a customer perspective that may pass you right by, so listen and take their suggestions to heart. In some cases, they may be able to stop you from going down a path that will eventually destroy your branding.

Remember to Review Your Brand Constantly

After a certain period of time, it’s likely that your employees and customers will become used to your company’s branding. Whether it’s the logo, the advertisements, or just the general friendliness of your employees, they come to expect certain elements every time they visit. For this reason, it’s important to tread lightly when it comes to making changes to the branding – a process called rebranding.

For instance, a patron that is used to an “old-time, vintage feel” to your restaurant may be thrown off if you modernize the surroundings. In trying to capture a more youthful demographic, you may alienate the core part of your customer base. While it’s possible they may be accepting of the changes, if not, you can lose a ton of business. That can spell disaster for your small business if your new target demographic doesn’t respond either.

Ask your employees constantly what can be done to increase your company’s image and what components of the branding can change. Take customer reviews and look for commonalities, both good and bad. Keep an eye also on any disconnect between what you believe are the main components of your brand values and what your customers believe are central. If your customers see one image while you’re trying to convey another, move your branding to meet their understanding.

Regardless of what type of changes you make, it’s important that they’re not done overnight. The last thing you want to do is give your customers a shock the next time they walk into your store. Even something as simple as changing your logo can have huge repercussions with the general public, so make small, incremental changes where you can. People will begin to develop an emotional connection with your business; don’t destroy it by trying to do too much.

Look for Any Potential Growth Opportunities

During the rebranding process, you’ll most likely notice some key areas that you can improve on. Whether it’s a new product selection or a different market that has similar demographics to your current one, there are always ways to improve. Finding them and extending your branding in that direction can drive exponential growth.

Before you make those changes, it’s important to consider whether or not your branding can withstand the pressure or if it’s even appropriate in the first place. In some cases, it might be better to create a “sub-brand” instead of trying to maintain the same branding in other areas.

One of the ways you see sub-brands most often is in the automobile industry. While everyone is familiar with several of the main brands – Toyota, Ford, Chevy, etc – sub-brands are usually not considered. Toyota, for instance, has a luxury sub-brand called Lexus, while Ford reaches a similar market with their Lincoln line. Both of these sub-brands benefit from the same manufacturing and brand values, but their branding is totally different. It has to be in order to reach a different market.

Look at your own small business and identify markets you can take your company into. If you have a high-end product that sells exceptionally well, consider making it a sub-brand with its own specific branding.

As a company, you should always be encouraging development and innovation of your products and its branding. But while you want to be sensitive to the needs of your customer base, you don’t want to sacrifice your core values just for the sake of change. While your branding can change and modify as your business grows, the central tenets of who you are should stay the same.

 

Branding Your Small Business The Basics - 60 Minute Marketing Plan from Cowlick Studios Windsor

Creating a Brand Budget

Branding your business properly and professionally costs money, whether you’re doing product research or developing appropriate signage. For that reason, it’s important to sit down and create a budget that will help guide you through this process. We have created small business starter packages that can help you get everything you need to start or rebrand your business. Cowlick Studios can help you with your branding.

Here are a few areas to consider when making decisions as to where to allocate your funds.

  • What your store looks like. Whether it’s the POS system or the type of shelving you choose, consider what areas of your physical business are important and what isn’t.
  • Meetings with your staff. You will need to make time for regular meetings with staff members to keep them up to date on how to maintain your branding. Keep in mind that these meetings are paid too, either in direct wages or in time lost. Make room for that in your budget.
  • Online presence. A good webmaster needs to be paid and they’ll need funds for images, writers, and anything else your site will require. Setting aside some money for that will go a long way in making you look professional online.
  • Design costs. If you don’t have a designer on staff, you’ll need to hire one, so make sure you vet potential candidates and pick someone who will work well with your staff. You’ll also need to give them the resources they need to be successful, so factor in a little overhead for that as well.
  • Physical advertising. Whether you’re putting up a billboard or creating a direct mail campaign, nearly all advertising will come with a cost. Set up some funds for that, but make sure it’s appropriate to your digital advertising as well.

Budgets are essential because otherwise, you’ll end up paying for things that are completely unnecessary. Moreover, it could be detrimental to your business if you overspend in one area, which forces you to under spend in another. Prioritize your line items based on what you already have and what you need most to reach your target market. Your branding can be done with any budget, but you need to be intentional with your funds.

Also, remember to allocate some funds for when your business grows. As your company expands, your branding will also become more clear, so you’ll need to keep spending money to develop those brand values. Allow your customers and employees to guide you in this process and don’t be afraid to cut back in areas that are unnecessary. This doesn’t need to be done all at once either. Good branding is a process, one that will most likely take years.

Top Ten Branding Tips

The goal of any branding strategy is to create the right type of impression with your customers that will resonate with your employees as well. This synergy is important if you’re to be successful in controlling the narrative of your company.

Below are a few tips to help you do exactly that.

1. Speak Your Branding Loudly. Every piece of signage, your logo, brochures advertisement, etc should communicate what you want your branding to be. Make sure it’s consistent as well: the last thing you want is a logo for your company in your store that’s different than the one people see online.

2. Exceed Expectations. Your brand promises make up the core of who you are, but they don’t have to limit you. Meet and exceed those values whenever possible in order to build up trust for your customer base.

3. Own Your Branding. While you should always be sensitive to your customer’s needs and desires, remember that you’re in charge. Only you have the big picture of everything that’s happening, so don’t make dramatic changes based on one person’s opinion.

4. Be Consistent and Thorough. Every piece of your branding should communicate your values loud and clear, even the areas that you don’t monitor very closely. Be thorough in your evaluation of your company’s branding and fix any areas that are not consistent with your message.

5. Maintain Authenticity. Customers can smell a phony branding strategy from a mile away. While you don’t want to necessarily reveal everything about your company, you want to make sure they can trust you. If not, they’ll take their business to a company they more closely identify with and feel is genuine.

6. Focus on the End Goal. What is it that your business ultimately does? No matter the branding strategy, it’s all for not if you are not actually fulfilling customer expectations for who you are. Optimize the marketing strategy, but don’t forget about who you are and what you actually are accomplishing for your customers.

7. Keep it Simple. Resist the urge to have a lot of different values and messages, even if they’re all complimentary. Too much dialogue and your customers can be overwhelmed. Too many marketing strategies and your employees will inevitably forget one, as will you. Failure to deliver on everything you promise is catastrophic for any business.

8. Ask Your Employees for Help. Your staff makes up the front lines of your business and are responsible more than anyone else for interactions with your target demographic. Include them in the branding process and make them feel involved. Honestly solicit their feedback and implement their suggestions where you see fit.

9. Keep an Eye on Your Branding. While your branding will inevitably change over time, you want to monitor it in order to make sure you’re communicating the right message. Moreover, look for any opportunities that you can expand into and reach a new – but similar – demographic.

10. Believe In Your Brand. If you don’t, no one else will.

From your logo to your employees’ presence at the point of sale, every interaction your company has with the general public is an opportunity to increase your reach and build your branding. It’s not rocket science to develop a solid reputation, but it does have to be intentional. A little preparation and cooperation with your staff, and you’ll have a company that is authentic and relatable in no time.

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