Investing in brand building is just for big business, right? For many small business owners, spending time and money defining their brand is an after-thought. And not a budget priority.
But there’s a strong case for investing early. Now, more than ever. Telling your brand story, across all areas of your business, is not a nice-to-have. It’s a make or break. And here’s why.
Brand expert, Lisa Burns, shares her insights on how small business owners can take a fresh look at their brand and stand-out in a sea of sameness.
Caught in the headlights of a pandemic
Perhaps you’ve been ‘caught in the headlights’ since COVID-19 insidiously crept onto your small business doorstep. You’ve realised that your digital marketing falls way short of where it should be, in this online world we’ve all been propelled into.
Without a strong brand identity, it’s even harder to stand out in a noisy digital world.
With so many digital channels at our fingertips, a strong brand is more important than ever to get cut-through and resonate with an audience.
Brand vs branding. And small business vs big business.
Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. (Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon)
It’s your reputation. Brand is how your audience perceives you, your small business personality or identity. It’s the sum of all the parts.
Branding, on the other hand, is all about the execution points, such as colours, logos, website copy, the way customer service people speak with people and social media posts.
Is brand and branding more important for larger organisations?
Branding expert Lisa Burns tells us that brand and branding is equally important, regardless of the size of the business. It’s just as important for Amazon, as it is for say, Bubble and Squeak Dry Cleaners in your local town.
The difference is in how deep you go.
If you’re a larger business, you’d have frameworks and guides for internal culture and communications. These would be more extensive than what’s needed for a small business. But small business still needs to have consistency, a voice and personality. A much simpler guide can help frame that.
Why brand is important for a small business
A brand builds trust. More so, consistent branding builds trust. Working from within a framework, there’s a lot of upsides to being consistent with your brand.
Other upsides to a well-defined, clear brand that Lisa shares are:
- Branding creates clarity for your customers
- Branding resonates with your audience
- Branding points to what you’re offering
It’s incredibly hard for small business to cut through and reach and their audience. Advertising budgets are an unlikely option for most, so organic or *free* communications are the main platforms. And that’s where everyone is. It’s noisy.
Common triggers that force a small business to stop and rethink their brand are:
- An increase in competition
- A downturn in business
- A change in business direction
Branding is a key lever to help you stand out in a sea of sameness. And it impacts your bottom line.
What a ‘good brand’ looks like
Lisa’s 4 elements of a ‘good’ brand are:
- Appropriate – your brand personality matches what you’re offering and resonates with your audience. It’s not loud and vibrant when your audience is seeking calm and reassurance, in the case of a counsellor vs a cocktail bar.
- Memorable – your brand strikes a chord, and it’s clever in its simplicity
- Distinctive – your brand is instantly recognisable. You’ve created brand equity, investment in an asset and you won’t be mistaken with your competitors
- Consistent – throughout everything you do, say and visually present, your brand personality is reinforced.
And these elements flow through all of your execution points.
How to DIY your own brand
There’s lots of areas for you to ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) your small business brand, such as building your brand toolkit. But take note – there’s parts you shouldn’t. More on that later.
“You’ve got to do the legwork in understanding your audience, as a starting point”, Lisa suggests. “It takes times. Gather as much research as you can.”
Research to build your brand toolkit includes:
- Identify the pain points of your audience – what are you trying to solve?
- Take a look at your competitors and see how they’re approaching this. Why do people use their services? What would you do differently?
- Ask your customers about what their experience was like working with or buying from you? What went well and what could be improved?
- Read your customer reviews and those of your competitors. Look for common words and phrases, such as ‘easy to work with’, ‘speedy’, ‘convenient’, ‘friendly’. What does your audience value? Tuck them away in your brand toolbox.
- Screenshot your competitors websites and logos. What are they projecting? What are the themes? How do they use colours, images and words?
- Consider your tone of voice and how you want to sound, verbally and visually. Tone of voice also influences your choice of colours. If you’re vibrant and dynamic, think strong, bright colours. Or if you’re calm and warm, think soft, earthy tones. How do you want your audience to feel?
Once you’ve built your brand toolkit, how do you translate all of this in a verbal and visual way?
The picture or brand story is created in the strategy.
Brand bits NOT to DIY
“Don’t DIY the strategy”, advises Lisa. Using an analogy of building a house without and architect, Lisa warns against jumping into execution without a solid framework to use as your guide.
“An expert is going to build the most effective and targeted framework for you to build on. It’s saving you time and makes sure you get straight to what it is you’re trying to do.”
What does a brand framework include?
Lisa says that aside from collecting common words and phrases to place in your brand toolkit, a framework describes your brand as a personality, and gives you a guide for consistency throughout all your communications, visually and verbally.
A framework also gives you a reference point for making any design or marketing decisions.
Many small businesses forge into execution without a framework, armed only with a logo and a free Canva account.
Without something to guide you, the temptation is to use generic templates (and look the same everyone else) or to keep trying different approaches, causing inconsistency and confusion.
Execution needs an expert to ensure you get longevity. Lisa says, “Time and time again I see companies that have cut corners and had to fix it later. Rather than investing upfront and using that core identity system for the next 5 or 10 years.”
Lisa refers to a core identity system and investing there to get longevity and avoid brand embarrassment. The investment might seem a lot at the time, but the trade-off is not having to fix it later and potentially spending more.
“Invest in the architect before you build”, says Lisa.
The end result is a brand that
- is bland
- builds zero brand equity
- is mistaken for their competition
- can create confusion and mistrust
- has no longevity
- simply doesn’t resonate with your audience
- is missing out on business opportunities.
Is there a place for DIY’ing your own design?
Yes. But within the parameters of your expertly built framework.
There’s lots of tools for non-graphic designers, such as Canva, pre-templated websites such as WIX and Squarespace that make execution easy for anyone with limited design skills.
When it’s a good idea to inject ‘you’ into your brand. And when it’s not.
Personal branding is widely used in small business, aided by social media. But execution can fall short.
The first question Lisa suggests in uncovering the ‘you’ in your brand is “what’s your reason for doing what you do?”
There’s often a story to tell.
And if there is, there’s a connection between you and your brand that’s worth drawing.
Say you’re a florist. Is there an emotional connection to flowers, that either you have personally, or because of the way it makes your audience feel? There’s a strong emotional connection with flowers. They bring joy, happiness, consolation for grief, celebration.
By looking through the lens of your audience, your brand goes beyond you, the small business owner, and begins to resonate with your audience.
How could that be reflected in your brand personality?
For a service-based business, Lisa says there’s still an emotional connection. “Ultimately, you’re making someone’s life easier, guiding and helping them. There’s a connection to a pain point or benefit, and often it is an emotional connection. So dig into that.”
Lisa says that the question of whether or not to inject ‘you’ into your brand largely depends on your audience and your offering. And if there’s an appropriate connection with your story, or personality.
“If you love making home brew in your spare time, and you’re the manager of a car dealership, there’s probably not a good connection there.”
Lisa adds “But if you love to tinker with vintage cars, there is a connection. Sharing a story like this will show how passionate you are about what you do, beyond the transactional element.”
So if there is a connection, then how then do you inject ‘you’?
By crafting stories.
Lisa says that practically applying it can be very difficult. Even harder when you, as the small business owner, is trying to do this him/herself. “Stepping back and seeing the connection from a visual perspective is difficult. It’s like trying to read the label from within the bottle”, says Lisa.
Look towards your word and image bank you’re now building in your brand toolkit.
Lisa advises that a marketing strategist or brand expert will ask you the right questions and listen. Then draw out what’s important, what’s useable, what’s not, and create a framework for how your brand comes together and tells your story.
As a side note, when was the last time you looked at your About page and how well it portrays your brand? Given that for most websites, it’s the second most visited page, it’s worth investing in.
Telling your story through your brand
Here’s Lisa’s top 4 tips for telling your story and getting excited about your brand:
- Take the time to research. Build your brand toolkit. Don’t make assumptions – it’s worth building that bank of knowledge
- Find how to differentiate. Tip: It may be in your story
- Build trust through clarity and consistency. Creating clarity gets cut-through. It ensures you’re easily understood and have a better chance of resonating with your audience
- When you need help, get help. Your future self will thank you.
And most important of all, don’t be mistaken for your competitors.
But that’s another story.
Get in touch to see how Amy can help you.