- Create your brand identity by designing a logo, establishing brand guidelines, and developing a brand voice and personality
- Use brand positioning to differentiate yourself from your competitors on factors like price, quality, and customer experience
- Build your presence online and reach new customers with content marketing, digital advertising, and other small business branding strategies
Some of the most recognizable brands are famous around the world while others have developed a strong local identity. Fortunately, you don’t need deep pockets or global reach to create a memorable brand identity. You just have to know your company’s mission, identify your target audience, and set an effective marketing strategy.
Learn how to stand out in your industry and attract potential customers with these top branding ideas for small businesses. But first, get to know the differences between branding, marketing, and advertising.
Branding vs. marketing vs. advertising
Branding, marketing, and advertising often get used interchangeably, but each term refers to something slightly different.
- Branding is the process of developing a consistent business identity, from your logo to your mission statement
- Marketing is your overall strategy for getting your brand in front of your target audience
- Advertising refers to specific paid, promotional campaigns, such as digital ads
You can market and advertise your business without a consistent brand, but you may struggle to make a lasting impression or form an emotional connection with customers.
A strong identity allows you to build up brand awareness over time so that new and returning customers easily recognize you and know what you stand for. You’ll still have to inform customers about new products or services, but you won’t have to introduce yourself as the new business on the block (or the internet).
Myths about small business branding
We’re all familiar with the concept of branding—we know which brands we love and which brands we avoid. But when it comes to branding ideas for a small business of your own, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or confused by all the information out there.
Here are three myths to get out of the way before you embark on your branding journey.
When you hear that Pepsi spent $1 million on a new logo—and the BBC spent $1.8 million—you might start to think that branding is only for the big leagues.
But branding your business isn’t about coming up with the most unique or expensive logo—some of the most effective branding strategies don’t cost a dime. Creating a business tagline, writing a mission statement, and developing a brand voice can all be done for little to no budget and can be just as effective as a fancy, new logo design.
Hiring a professional graphic designer and copywriter to create a high-quality logo and tagline may be worth the investment. However, if you don’t have the budget for it, there are plenty of DIY small business branding strategies you can implement in-house (more on these branding ideas for small businesses later).
It’s only for new businesses
Some small business owners have the impression that branding is only important when starting a new business—and that once you’ve developed a loyal customer base, you won’t need to spend as much time communicating your brand identity.
But branding is a continuous process: Your business offerings may change, market conditions may shift, and even style preferences and conventions may change. Allowing your brand to evolve along with your business and industry shows that you’re paying attention to what your customers want and aren’t stuck in the past.
Even if you have substantial brand recognition, it’s always a good idea to periodically review your brand guidelines and make sure they’re still a fit for your target market.
It’s a shortcut to success
Building a successful brand takes time, and simply coming up with an eye-catching logo or a distinct visual identity doesn’t mean you’ll achieve overnight success. Business cards, content marketing, and online advertising can help you get your brand name out there right away, but it’s what’s behind the messaging that will help you grow a loyal following: the customer experience.
As you build your brand, your target customers will come to associate your logo, color palette, and visual identity with the type of experience they had with your business. You’ll know it’s working when customers are inspired to leave reviews, tell their friends and family members about you, and come back to try out new products or services.
6 steps to branding your small business
Whether you’re launching a new business, rebranding an existing one, or simply checking on the health of your brand, these branding tips for small businesses can help you reach your ideal customer. Follow these six steps and learn how to brand your small business without spending a lot of money.
1. Do market research
The first step in small business branding is to find out what you’re up against. Ideally, you’ll do this even before you name your business. But if you already have a logo or brand name set in stone, that’s okay; you can work with what you’ve got.
Find out what branding ideas have already been used by other businesses in your industry and geographic area. Is another business already using the same animal as a mascot? Has your brand name already been claimed on social media platforms?
Your branding ideas don’t have to be entirely unique, especially if you’re in a competitive market or a specific geographic area. But they should be original enough that they don’t infringe on trademarks or copyrights while still adhering to industry conventions.
Learn how to do competitor analysis in five simple steps so you can distinguish yourself from your competitors and identify your ideal customers.
2. Identify your brand story
Creating a brand identity for small business starts with introspection. If you aren’t clear on what your brand stands for, you’ll have a hard time conveying it to customers.
This step is easy if you’ve built your small business from the ground up. If you’re an avid gardener who opens a plant shop committed to sourcing beautiful, sustainable greenery for clients, your brand’s story and personality will largely align with your own background and philosophy.
Even if you didn’t start your small business yourself, it’s important to establish your unique value proposition. What sets it apart from other businesses in this industry?
Write down as much as you can about your brand’s history and personality. Use these ideas to craft a slogan, tagline, or mission statement. Later, you’ll use these ideas to develop your brand’s visual identity and other branding elements.
3. Create your brand assets
Next it’s time to create your brand assets. Many small business owners focus on logo design, but there’s more to effective branding than that. Developing your brand identity involves choosing your brand colors, fonts, and even which typography you’ll use for different types of marketing.
A key part of asset creation is documenting the process. If the graphic designer who creates your logo isn’t available for future projects, you may struggle to create new marketing materials that match the original design.
Take the opportunity to create a style guide or brand guidelines that you can refer to in the future. That way, all of your marketing materials will be consistent. Everything from your business cards to your social media posts should match.
4. Develop your brand voice
The next step in the branding process is to establish your brand voice. This refers to the tone of voice you use in your advertisements and other marketing materials, as well as how you communicate with customers online and in person.
Your brand personality will depend on your industry and the demographics of your target audience. A clothing brand that is marketing to Gen-Z customers might use slang or emojis while a lawyer or accounting entrepreneur might avoid them.
Your brand voice extends to all of the employees of your company. Establish the tone of voice you want for everything from your social media pages to responses to customer reviews on Yelp.
By establishing clear guidelines and using approved templates for common interactions, small businesses can show off their brand personality and improve their brand positioning through authentic and genuine communications.
5. Grow your online presence
Once you have a consistent brand message and personality, you can roll out your brand across multiple marketing channels. Both online and brick-and-mortar businesses can benefit from digital marketing strategies like online advertising and content marketing.
Start by launching a business website and adding your business to third-party online platforms like Yelp for more exposure. After you add or claim your free Yelp Business Page, you can then log in to fill out your page with helpful information—from your operating hours to your specialties. The more info you share, the more likely you’ll get found by potential customers who are searching on Yelp. In fact, businesses with a photo, website, phone number, and business hours listed on their Yelp Business Page averaged 7.6x more page views per month than businesses without that content.
Extend your reach further by participating in promotional interviews with local internet personalities, getting on local “best-of” lists, and coming up with other creative branding ideas. The more you get your brand image out there, the more people will become familiar with the visual elements of your brand and form positive associations with it—increasing your chances of customer loyalty.
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6. Make changes over time
Small business branding and marketing isn’t a one-time process, so track results of your marketing campaigns to see if your brand personality is resonating. Keep an eye on customer feedback since suggestions from past customers can help shape the direction of your business and your branding. For example, elements of your brand voice may resonate well in one market but not so much in a different region or demographic. By listening to and incorporating feedback, you can ensure your marketing efforts are effective across all environments.
Always be on the lookout for more memorable branding ideas for your business. Refresh your logo and brand assets every few years, and consider a complete redesign if you expand into a new industry or move into a new market.
What is brand positioning?
Sometimes, the best marketing tips in the world aren’t enough to help you break out in a competitive industry. That’s where brand positioning comes in. Brand positioning is the process of distinguishing your brand from your competitors by focusing on a particular niche in the market rather than simply being one option among many.
Here are a few ways you could position your small business’s products or services through brand positioning.
Branding yourself based on quality can be a great way to build a reputation for reliability—even if customers on a budget choose your competitors.
Apple became the most valuable company in the world by positioning itself as the go-to computer for students, creatives, and professionals. Despite an abundance of cheap PC alternatives, Apple retains its market share by promising a premium experience with a team of experts on hand at its iconic “Genius Bar” to troubleshoot any issues.
Even the secondhand market furthers the Apple brand since refurbished products are primarily sold by authorized resellers who carry the Apple logo.
Boutique brand positioning is similar to premium branding but with a focus on providing a chic or aspirational experience. Boutique brands tend to cater to fewer customers, but they make a profit by positioning themselves at a higher price point in the market.
Today’s boutique brands include clothing retailers, hotel chains, movie theaters, and even airlines. Bangkok Airways describes itself as “Asia’s boutique airline.” Despite being more expensive than its competitors, it distinguishes itself with free meals on flights and branded airport lounges that are exclusively for its customers.
At the other end of the spectrum are brands that position themselves as budget-friendly or affordable. For every premium or boutique brand, there’s a less expensive alternative that provides a similar product or service—without all the bells and whistles.
Imperfect Foods promotes itself as a grocery delivery service that offers low-cost produce that would likely go to waste. Rather than compete with higher-end meal kits like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, Imperfect Foods appeals to budget-conscious shoppers who want to do something good for the environment.
If you want to advertise your small business as a budget-friendly option, use words like “no-frills” or “economy” rather than “cheap” or “inexpensive.”
If your small business can’t differentiate itself on price or quality, consider positioning your brand as the more convenient option.
With millions of Airbnb units around the world and the traditional hotel industry still going strong, hospitality may seem like a tapped-out market. Sonder managed to differentiate itself by providing a more flexible and convenient user experience.
Sonder promises “hotel amenities without hotel formality,” allowing guests to skip the lobby with a personalized check-in code. Guests also get access to a neighborhood guide and can request more towels or a late checkout directly in the app.
Some brands stray from conventional wisdom when it comes to voice and put their offbeat personality front and center. Who Gives A Crap is a paper goods brand that delivers 100% bamboo toilet paper to customers.
Rather than sticking to traditional brand messaging, the company’s boxes carry slogans like “Hey delivery person! Thanks for lugging around 48 rolls of TP for us. You’re the best!” The company also includes a bright red “Emergency Roll” in every box.
Snarky or casual branding can be a risky move, but it can pay off for small businesses who want to quickly build rapport with customers.
3 branding ideas for small businesses
Branding and marketing for small businesses is more of an art than a science. While it’s important to know how to market your business and attract new customers, it’s just as important to get creative and think outside the box. Here are three branding ideas for small businesses that you may not have considered before.
Partnering with other local businesses can be a great way to get your brand name out there and benefit from the reputation of an established brand. Even major brands like Apple enter into marketing partnerships from time to time.
Co-branding involves the marketing of a new offering that benefits from the brand recognition of both co-branding partners. The Taco Bell Doritos Locos Taco combines the brand recognition of Doritos and Taco Bell, while the Alaska Airlines credit card is a co-branding opportunity between Alaska Air and Visa.
Consider approaching another small business that has a similar personality or mission statement and caters to a similar demographic, but offers a different product or service. Work with them to launch a new product or service that combines the best parts of both businesses. For example, ice cream shop Salt & Straw partners with local food brands to “upcycle” their excess ingredients into new ice cream flavors.
Alternatively, you could work with an established company that offers ready-to-go, co-branding opportunities. KeepCup makes it easy to co-brand by allowing coffee shops and other businesses to add their own name and logo to the outside of their reusable coffee cups.
Content marketing is a branding strategy for small businesses that aims to attract your target audience by providing useful or informative content for free.
Let’s say you’re an accountant and you want to win accounting leads and drive growth. You could pay for online advertising—or you could share some of your expertise for free. Your content marketing plan could take the form of an e-book, video tutorial, or even a series of blog posts.
Not everyone who benefits from your content will turn into a paying customer, but some of them will remember your brand the next time they need an accountant.
Online advertising can help get your branding materials in front of a new audience who might not encounter them otherwise. Many online ads appear directly on the sites that your potential customers are already using, such as search engines, social media networks, and business platforms like Yelp.
To give you more creative reign (and to go easier on your budget), consider self-service advertising. Get access to easy-to-use tools that will help you create, run, and manage your own digital advertising campaigns without a salesperson, publisher, or long negotiation period.
You’ll have full control of what your ads look like as well as where and how often they appear. The more places your brand name and logo appears, the more familiar you’ll be to customers when they’re searching for a professional in your industry.
For example, when you use self serve with Yelp Ads, your business page is placed in key places on Yelp.com and the Yelp mobile app, such as above or below relevant search results in the “Sponsored Results” sections and on your competitors’ pages—helping you get discovered even more by potential customers searching for the services you offer.
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Whether you’re a local business, a startup, or an entrepreneur, knowing how to brand a small business will help you stand out from your competitors. Small business branding includes designing a logo, developing a brand voice, and even choosing the fonts and colors on your business cards, letterhead, and marketing materials.
Once you have a strong brand identity, you can use small business marketing strategies like content marketing and digital advertising to build brand awareness. Dig into these online marketing tips to increase sales and take your brand to the next level.
The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.