There’s no business that isn’t familiar with this paradox: when there’s no budget, you do everything by yourself and hope for the best. On the other hand, you have to grow in order to eventually have a budget, and organic growth is heavily influenced by the quality of your branding.
It’s not easy, being a small business. Along with the wish to realize your vision and reach as many people as possible, there are the everyday realities, which, for most, means doing everything possible to improve the flow of profit gather momentum going forward. It’s hard to think in the long term when you’re just trying to survive.
But even when you have a budget to invest, most companies choose to put it into short-term initiatives (sales, ad campaigns, customers, etc.). They almost never think straight away about investing at least part of the budget in branding and thinking ahead.
Is branding a luxury?
Branding for small businesses is seen by many as a luxury. They’re entirely right… and yet not completely right at the same time, and we’ll explain why soon. First, we should say that branding is not necessarily what you think it is. When we say “branding” we aren’t just talking about a logo and other graphic elements, but the construction of an entire identity. This identity is your brand’s path and it has to be clear to you and your customers in order to create organic growth for your brand over time.
The branding must be adapted to the business. There’s usually no point in performing a $30,000 branding process for a company that consists of one person. On the other hand, even one person needs to invest in some kind of branding, and preferably not the most basic kind. Everyone needs branding that will outline their path and their identity. The question of what’s right for you depends largely on where you are as a company and how connected you are to it.
When is branding right for a small business?
Not every kind of branding is right for every business. In early stages, for example, when you are the brand and business is conducted within a circle of people that are all close to you, you can absolutely get by on your own, or with very basic branding.
More than a few of these young businesses come to us for full branding services, and something we have to tell them that there’s really no point at the moment, just because everything could change the very next day. It’s better to wait with complex processes until your business has a few more miles on it – when you understand a little better what you want to do with your business, what kind of customers you want, if you’re sure you have the right products and more. So many things can change along the way.
If that sounds like where you are, you don’t need branding but rather a few design elements that can act as a sort of calling card.
When things work well, you reach the point where you’ve grown a little, you employ a few more people and you’re trying to reach a slightly larger audience. This is the time for branding. After you’ve got some distance and you know yourself and your business a bit better. Most important is that you are no longer personally behind every engagement with your customers. That’s when you know you need airtight branding that expresses the character and essence of what you want to contribute to the world, the market and lives of your customers.
The difference between branding and a logo
And now we’ve come to the real meaning of branding – not the design of graphic materials, but the complete definition of your identity as it is and should be manifested in all aspects of your company, from the graphic materials and choice of language (including what can be read between the lines), to the product itself, the package it’s wrapped in and the experience that comes with it (the service). Take note that this is not just about the quality of your products and services, but how you brand them. For example, let’s say you decided to include a greeting card of some kind with every purchase. Should you write on it, “We’re delighted that you updated your wardrobe with our amazing jeans,” or “We’re so jealous you’ve updated your wardrobe with our amazing jeans?” There are an infinite number of ways to communicate every message. To pick the right way, your identity, as established in the branding process, should be the deciding factor behind every decision. That’s how you create a unified brand with a strong, memorable presence. When every element of your business sends out a slightly different message, the best you’ll get is customers who had an ok experience, not a great one.
The investment pays off: The impact of true branding
Many businesses aren’t even aware of this part, but it’s relevant for large as well as small business branding. Beyond graphics, a true and in-depth branding process has a direct impact on your business. In other words, in order to know where you’re headed, you need to know who you are first. When that becomes clear to your, customers will follow you.
Good branding can help small businesses redefine their products, pricing, target audience and sometimes put the business back on the track to success. Rebranding the business graphically won’t fix it or increase returns over time, and what’s more, it’s a very expensive Band-Aid. Good branding puts the business in order, fastens it down, revives it and allows it to direct everything with eyes facing forward to the right kind of success – success that is right for you, your business and your customers.
This has a significant impact on sales as well. A large part of your marketing efforts is the need to explain your product again and again, time after time, to different customers. When you have no specific or clear branding, the sales process will be less efficient and you’ll need to invest more to reach the goals you need to reach. This investment in branding is simply an investment in your asset that yields returns over time as your customers connect to your product and search for it, without you needed to reach out to them of your own initiative.
Small tips for the road
There’s no doubt that branding is best with the help of the professional, but if you’ve decided to go it on your own, here are a few important notes for the process:
- First and foremost, try to understand what you’re doing, who you’re trying to reach and what exact need you are trying to fulfill for them.
- Your external identity can be expressed through values. It’s important that you choose a few that show the content of your character as a brand and the feeling you want it to communicate.
- From the business side, try to imagine your business in a few years and the directions it might grow in. What are your aspirations for the business? How many employees do you plan to have? What kind of customers will you be working with and what will your sales cycle look like? The brand you create needs to direct or indirectly answer all these questions.
- Write a lot. Write about who you are, what you’re doing, where you’re trying to get to, how much you want to work in a week and anything else you can think of so you have it in front of your eyes. It may not actually be wise to use it afterwards, but when you put your thoughts to paper, you are instinctually organizing them, and organization is an important part of the branding process. The more you write, the more specifically you can imagine and the easier it will be to reach your goals.
- If you’ve decided to get started with branding, do so only when you are ready to commit to the process and the time it requires. Branding is a long, in-depth process that includes a lot of picky annoyances to get to the essence of your company. Your commitment, your openness, homework – these are all critical to the success of the process.
- Do you have a brand portfolio in your hands? Great. But the process doesn’t end here – it’s just beginning! From here begins assimilation and this part is on you. This is also a process that takes a few months and requires attention, depth and a lot of patience. Turning written values into something that the business can live and breathe is a process. Don’t rush to assimilate everything in a month, because it won’t work.
- Include your team in the process – they’ll appreciate it. They’ll see things that you hadn’t thought of and they will be part of the brand. In the end, they are the ones who need to act according to the values you established and show them to the rest of the world.
- If you’re missing specific things, you can always recruit the help of professionals for specific aspects to complete whatever you’re missing.