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  • Kristen

A Guide to Branding a Small Business in 2021

Branding is more than just a logo. Some well-known brands announced new logos at the start of 2021 and those logos were just one part of their rebranding initiatives. A company’s brand is what contributes to consistency in how it’s represented, which translates to the most important thing of all — people remembering the company, especially when they are ready to buy. Branding is a long-term initiative, something that is established and doesn’t change for years or decades. It’s an important foundational element for businesses of any size that connects customers and employees in a shared understanding of what the company represents.

Examples of education brands

Harvard University

It’s cliché, but it’s true. Harvard is one of the most well-known university brands in the world. The prestige draws research-driven faculty who teach students who become well-known alumni, spreading word about what the Harvard brand represents. Among its many schools, consistent colors, logos, and naming are used across communications that people interact with, whether it’s the website, a hat, or a brochure.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom benefits from being a sub-brand of the Google brand, demonstrating how powerful branding can be. Once a brand is established, it can launch new product lines under its branding to earn instant recognition from customers.

Goldfish Swim School

Good franchises are strong at branding their businesses so that no matter what location you interact with, you know it is all part of the same family. Goldfish Swim School has a distinct style to its brand, bringing a fun, tropical environment in physical locations, which is also expressed across its website and merchandise.

Why does a brand matter?

Building a brand is a concept that has been around since the 50s when consumer packaged goods companies saw increased competition from similar products. Today, companies are not only competing against similar products and services, they are also trying to break through the 4,000 to 10,000 ads a day people see. On top of that, the pandemic has brought on shifting consumer behavior driving people to be selective in their purchases and where and how they buy. Since the start of the pandemic, 76% of consumers have changed stores, brands or the way they shop. A brand tells people what a company stands for and why they should buy it. Without it, people will look over the business and buy from another brand they know or they will go for a product or service with the lowest price.

Elements of a brand

If you want to build your brand, there are many components to developing one that will lead it to successfully being embedded across your company and communicated consistently.

1. Brand Platform: A one-page document that explains your brand which is shared with employees and referenced for all external and internal communications.

A solid brand starts with a strong business strategy that outlines the company’s vision, mission and purpose, so first, answer the question “why does this company exist?” Next, look at how you help your customers. What pain points are you solving for them and how do you fix their problems better than your competitors? Answers to these questions fuel the brand platform.

2. Brand Name: This is the name that your brand will be referred to. It can be different from your company name. If you have different products or service offerings, they can be given their own brand names if they are big enough or they can be connected with the same brand name.

Even if your logo changes, your brand name won’t. When you create a brand name, there are a few things to consider. If you will have many brands under one (ie. Google has gmail, Google Classroom, Google Photos), you need to think about your brand architecture. If you are a company that has international customers, test your brand name across different languages. Finally, you’ll want to check that you can buy a domain name and secure social media accounts for your brand name.

3. Brand Guidelines: A multi-page document that outlines what your brand stands for, your tone, your logo, what colors, font, common words, imagery, and icons should be used.

This is the visual reference point everyone who is creating any form of communication will need to refer to, whether it’s for internal or external use, so that you are consistent in how you show and tell your brand. This process might start with creating a mood board based off of the brand platform to explore what it is you visually like and don’t like. Keep in mind all customer touchpoints when creating your brand guidelines. If you have a physical location, think about signage, uniforms, and merchandising. If you are mostly digital, consider your website, social media pages and online stores.

How to get started on branding a small business in 2021

A brand is something that is built upon over time and the same approach can be followed as you create a brand so that it’s not an overwhelming endeavor. Here are key steps to getting started on building a brand for your small business:

1. The first thing you should do is create a brand platform. This should be created by someone internal or external in a marketing strategy or communications role. This process will involve discussions, questions, interviews, and research to uncover what the company stands for and why it’s different.

2. The second thing to do is to create a brand guideline document. This is something that can be added to over time. At the start, it should be one document that is easily accessible to employees and vendors that shows your logo, font, and colors. As you build out your visual and written style, you can add in imagery direction, icons, and lexicon.

3. The third thing you should do is think about how you are going to measure the success of your branding. One of the easiest ways to do that is by tracking increases in web traffic over time, especially traffic that is coming from a direct link or search terms with your brand name in it. Access this data from Google Analytics and take note of where you are just before you launch your brand so that you can compare to it over time.

4. Next, you need to communicate your brand with your employees. Even better, get them involved when you are developing your brand by involving them in interviews or surveys related to the brand platform development or ask them for feedback on the brand guidelines.

5. Now you need to express your brand to customers and prospects. Conduct an audit of every touchpoint a prospect or customer interacts with when they buy from you. This can be physical or digital, like product packaging or a video, or it can be the people who interface with customers like customer service or sales. Everything and everyone should be communicating in a way that is consistent with the brand platform and brand guidelines.

6. As you hire new people or create new content, you now have branding documents to help onboard people and create communications. Reference those to make sure you are being consistent as you grow and scale.

If you want your company to grow over the long-term, putting in the time and investment to develop a brand is an important step. The process of developing the brand will help you focus on the heart of what your company stands for, making it easier to communicate to employees and customers. This will help you hire people with a shared mindset who will represent the business you’ve created. And it will showcase to customers your company’s purpose and why they should be buying from you.


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