Are you thinking about starting your own business, either from scratch or by converting a hobby into a business venture?

There are steps you can take early on to define your brand and your audience that do not take extensive resources. It can start with one of the most important decisions - what name will you use? Over time, you can refine, revise and expand your brand strategy as your business grows.

What Is a Brand for a Small Business?

A brand is many things, including physical objects, concepts and ideas. Collectively, these elements come to represent your business, its products and services, and your values.

A brand has the following core elements:

  • Definition. What your business is, what you offer for products or services and to which customers. It's also a definition of who you are as a brand
  • Values. What ideals your brand represents and what it stands for, whether it's quality products, sustainable business practices or services that make an impact. You want your customers to share these values, which will attract them to your brand
  • Promise. What are you guaranteeing to your customers? The promise should be a deeply held belief of everyone in the organization and come through in messaging
  • Identity. This represents the visual elements that comprise your brand, including your logo, graphics, colors, fonts, words and images used in marketing, communication, signage, websites and other materials
  • Differentiation. This idea embodies how your products and services offer a unique value proposition to your customers that's different from your competitors. It lets you form a unique selling proposition for your products and services
  • Position. Where does your brand fall in the marketplace? This concept is particularly critical when there are many competitors. It helps customers gauge the quality and prices to expect when shopping at your business
  • Messaging. How do you talk about your brand? The messaging encompasses everything from the tagline you use, the way you speak to customers in ads and posts, and the key messages you're trying to convey
  • Experience. The brand experience is the way in which your customers interact with and experience your business through interactions with employees and the use of your products and services. Their brand experience helps to develop your reputation and can have powerful consequences - positively or negatively - in how people talk about your brand

The Advantages of Branding

Branding is a vital component of any business strategy. Here are the key advantages to developing a brand and using it every day in your business.

Building Recognition

Especially for a new business, you need customers to know you exist. A memorable brand helps customers and prospects recognize your business. That's why the brand identity - colors, logo and graphics - needs to be consistent and persistent when used in ads and marketing. It also separates you from your competitors.

Creating Loyal Customers

Loyalty starts when customers can recognize a product or service and want to buy from the same company again and again. Loyalty is earned when a brand hits all the right notes when it comes to customer engagement. Having a clear brand that aligns with what customers want and need creates repeat, loyal and enthusiastic customers.

Maintaining Consistency

A consistent brand helps the business maintain consistency in its public and internal presence, from marketing messaging to internal documents and even employee orientation. Having a consistent brand presence and expression means that all stakeholders, from customers to employees to the general public, are hearing the same message each time.

Creating Credibility and Trust

A strong brand establishes a foundation for your business. It is the bedrock around which you build the rest of your business. It can act as the inspiration and impetus for your marketing and the consistency that's necessary for effective communication across channels and constituencies. That credibility evolves into trust over time.

Strengthening Employee Engagement

Employees want to work for businesses they believe in. When your brand is true to the way you operate, it makes people more willing to work, collaborate and partner with co-workers. Employee engagement is an important measure of how well employees are committed to the company. It plays a major role in employee retention and turnover rates. Conversely, when the brand that's presented externally is not as consistently modeled internally, employee morale and engagement will plummet.

Tips for Building Your Brand on a Budget

New business owners may not have the financial resources to invest in brand development. However, there are important steps you can take to begin developing a strong brand.

Tip #1: Create Your Identity and Voice

Start by writing down what makes your brand uniquely yours. Here, you need to think about what's important for your customers to hear about your brand and why it is what it is. Be introspective here while considering what makes your brand unique, what sets it apart and what you and your company value.

Create statements that reflect these core principles. A mission statement, vision statement and values statement will show what you are, what you aspire to be and how you complete your work.

From there, you can begin to develop the key messages that will be used for different customer groups. You may not use the same voice with each segment - some may be cheerier and casual and others may be more formal. But the core messages will remain the same in each.

Tip #2: Write Your Brand's Story

When someone asks you what your company does, what will you say? Having a brand story is an important way to define your brand. Here are some key questions you can ask to flesh out your story:

  • What problem does my brand's products or services solve?
  • Why does my brand want to solve this problem? Is there a personal component to it?
  • What is my brand doing right now to solve this problem?
  • What does my brand want to do to solve this problem in the future?

Answering those four questions clearly defines a narrative of why your brand matters.

Tip #3: Leverage Social Media

Social media is relatively free and a great way to build a presence. Establishing accounts for your brand on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok and other popular platforms is the first step. Know which platforms your likely customers will use and focus your energy there. Scary Mommy is a brand that steadily has grown its Instagram following to over 2.6 million to support its parenting, motherhood and lifestyle brand.

One of the most important factors of having a social media presence is to be consistent in creating relevant content that attracts viewers to your site.

Tip #4: Develop Your Brand Personality

Are you going to be serious or silly, profound or persnickety, or some of each? No matter the path you pick, you want a brand personality to match. That means having the tone in your story, marketing, brand identity elements and messaging to match. Take, for example, Starbucks. It appeals to a wide swath of customers by building a personality built on sophistication, excitement and authenticity, with an air of West Coast cool.

Tip #5: Build Your Brand Identity Assets

It's never too early to create the visual assets that will define your brand. Having a great logo, fonts and colors can go a long way towards defining your brand.

The journey to a strong brand is one of evolution, patience and thoughtful development. By understanding the components of a great brand and building them, you will be positioned for great success.