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Keys to Branding Your Small Business

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During the 19th and early 20th centuries, a rancher would mark his cattle with a brand. This brand, depicting an image unique to his ranch, distinguished his cattle from another's in the event of a broken fence. Branding, in today's modern marketing world operates much the same way. It seeks to distinguish a product or service from the competition and create a lasting impression in a prospect's mind.

Pay dear attention to your branding programs from the outset, because they work to strengthen the "link of trust" between your company and its buyers.

Shaping Your Brand Image

To start, consider first the personality of your company. Is it sexy or sweet? Tough or tender? Is it more like John Wayne? George Clooney? Andy Griffith?

And if you think all this is hooey, consider these questions: Do Marlboros really taste better than other cigarettes? Is H&R Block superior to the tax accountant down the street? No, but a big reason these companies are leaders is because they have successfully built a personality around their brands.


Name: the First Step

How different would you be if your name were Clem or Matilda? Your company name sets a tone for your brand, right from the start. Names can be generated from invented words (Xerox), initials (IBM) and founder's names (Johnson & Johnson). Some of the best names, though, communicate a benefit (U-Haul or Budget Car Rental).

Logo: Your Company's Symbol

A logo is a distinctive symbol or mark that visually represents your company. To get one that passes muster with the quality police, I recommend hiring a design firm. Because your logo is one of the first visual brand elements your buyers see, put some time and money into it.

If your logo will appear on fax cover sheets, fax it to yourself. If it will appear on billboards, enlarge it to 5 feet and see what it looks like (don't laugh, I actually did this for a client). Put your logo through the quality-checking paces before you use it. You will be glad you did.

Taglines: A Memorable Definition

I am a big believer in taglines. In 10 words or less, a good tagline can communicate the core essence of a brand to the market. And for small businesses, it can be one of the most efficient marketing weapons in their arsenal.

A tagline is simply a short description of a business's reason for being. It could incorporate elements of its expertise, its target audience, even the markets it serves. A tagline can be both direct and subtle—whatever it takes to get the prospect to say to themselves "Oh, I get it."

If you are unfamiliar with taglines, work with a copywriter or marketing consultant. In an hour or two, they can take the core essence of your company's brand and translate it into a memorable and pithy tagline.

Once you have a tagline, always connect it to your logo as a standard practice.  Place the tagline either below your logo or alongside it. But, wherever your logo appears, your tagline should be there with it.

Fonts and Typestyles

Using the proper fonts and typestyles also define your brand. Try to standardize fonts and typestyles that appear routinely in your marketing materials. Use only a select few.

Hint: If you are working with an advertising agency or marketing firm, make sure that their designs use fonts that are readily available. A client of mine once worked with a designer on some marketing materials. The problem was that the designer chose a very creative font that ended up also being hard to find. In the end, the client had to shell out hundreds of dollars to buy the font for its printer.

Colors: Creating a Mood

How do you feel when you walk into a yellow room? When you see a sign with a red background color, what is your first reaction? Colors generate emotional reactions, and it is important to carry that over into your branding program.

So, here is a quick list of common colors and the emotions behind them:

  • Red: Stop, passion
  • Yellow: Caution, cowardice
  • Green: Go, safe
  • White: Purity, virtue
  • Black: Luxury, prestige
  • Blue: Authority, calm
  • Orange: Strength, stimulation
  • Brown: Warmth, comfort

When deciding on a company color, pay attention to the colors used by your competitors. You do not want to shoot yourself in the foot by choosing a color already associated with your competitor.

The Sounds of Your Brand

One company I frequently call on the telephone plays rap over its on-hold system. I don't know about you, but I believe there is more to music than three bad chords and rotten lyrics. I hate being on hold with that company. And their relationship with me suffers ever so slightly each time I call. If your business has on-hold messaging, or your retail store has background music, make sure it is appropriate.

Publish Some Guidelines

As your company grows, consider developing a brand manual. It can be as simple as a three-ring binder that records how you want brand elements to appear. It should cover the use of your logo, type sizes/fonts/styles, guidelines for color or black and white, and where certain brand elements should be located on the page or screen.

This is a great resource for internal staff to follow and can also be used for new employee training.

Remember...

Your brand shows up in a wide variety of marketing vehicles. To help you identify all the places your brand can be found, I have developed a comprehensive Branding Checklist. For a free download, go to www.emergemarketing.com/publications/articles/index.htm 

In the end, hold your branding efforts to the highest standard possible. Spend a little extra to keep your brand high-quality and consistent across your company. Your customers (both current and new) will thank you for it.


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Jay Lipe is the president of Emerge Marketing LLC (www.emergemarketing.com), a firm that helps growing companies develop marketing plans. He is the author of the books The Marketing Toolkit for Growing Businesses (Chammerson Press, 2002) and Stand Out from the Crowd: Secrets to Crafting a Winning Company Identity (Kaplan Publishing, fall 2006).

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