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Branding 101: A Beginners Guide for Small Business Owners

Branding 101 and basics

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Do you wonder why some businesses perform better than others, even when they offer similar products and services and invest the same marketing effort? Well, the answer is simply branding.

When you build a strong brand, you stay unique, stand out from your competition, and build customer loyalty and trust.

In this branding 101 guide, I’ll discuss some branding basics, from helping you understand branding and its associated terms to the steps you need to take to build a solid and effective brand. Even more, you’ll get valuable tips on how to make your brand stand out with ease.

What is branding?

Branding involves crafting a unique product, service, business, or personal identity.

It is everything you or your company does to look different and stand out from competitors. As an individual, that personality that comes to the mind of your friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and even strangers who bump into you is your brand.

It is somewhat different for a business, as branding in business involves a couple of other things, as I’ll discuss in this branding 101 guide.

Branding involves creating and managing an individual's or business's perception and reputation in the minds of their friends, acquaintances, customers, and target audience. Share on X

What is branding in business?

Branding in business refers to the process of creating a unique and distinctive identity for a company, product, or service.

If you want to build a brand for your small business, you have to first identify your unique value proposition: how are you different?

You establish that by combining your mission, vision, purpose, and competitive positioning with your brand elements such as logos, color palettes, taglines, typography, etc.,

This helps you distinguish your brand from its competitors and build a strong emotional connection with your target audience.

Branding helps you build trust and establish a strong, positive reputation in the market. Trust and reputation are among the strongest assets of an intentional business, as they help you acquire new customers and enjoy quality referrals.

Small business branding for beginners involves understanding that branding goes beyond a logo and color palette. It involves the overall reputation, perception, and emotional connection that people have in their minds about your brand.

Having a fine logo and designs of the same color isn't all branding entails. There is much more. Branding involves everything that influences how people feel about your brand. Share on X

Branding 101 - A Beginner's Guide for Small Business Owners

Why is branding important?

Branding helps you create a distinctive identity, establish trust and loyalty, command premium prices, and stay competitive. When done right, it plays a crucial role in the overall success of your business. Here are some key reasons why branding is important for your business:

1. Branding increases recognition

Solid branding makes your business recognizable and memorable in the minds of your target audience. It enables your customers to recognize your business by merely sighting your logo, hearing your tagline, or coming across your brand colors.

By associating these branding elements with your business, you increase its recognition, enabling it to attract newer customers and increase engagement on all marketing channels.

2. Branding enhances differentiation

The business world has become more competitive than ever. Businesses are raising product and service qualities, prioritizing customer satisfaction, and creating new and exciting customer experiences, making it increasingly difficult for others to compete simply by providing quality products.

Branding stands you out in such a competitive atmosphere, highlighting for your customers what makes your brand different and better than your competitors.

3. Branding establishes trust and credibility

People only do business with companies they know, trust, and like. Solid branding makes it easier for you to earn the trust of your target audience.

By building a brand that emotionally connects with your audience, tries consistently to answer their most troubling questions, and provides solutions to their problems, you establish trust and credibility.

Your customers and target audience won’t hesitate to buy your products, even if they’re priced higher than your competitors, simply because they trust your brand.

4. Branding elevates your products’ perceived value

Effective branding can elevate how your customers perceive the value of your products and services, making it easy for them to pay a premium for your offerings.

Branding presents your products as the ultimate solution to your customers simply by associating them with quality, innovation, and other positive attributes.

5. Branding facilitates expansion and diversification

If you’re looking to expand into a new market or diversify your product line, branding is your most valuable asset for pulling it off.

Branding goes ahead of everyone and everything to introduce your products to these new markets before you eventually introduce the products. With a strong brand reputation and perception, consumers are likelier to try your new offerings, as they associate your brand with quality.

There are many other reasons why branding is important to your business, from helping you retain customers to acquiring new customers, promoting employee and customer satisfaction, and helping you stay consistent in all your marketing efforts.

Branding terms you should know

Understanding the different branding 101 terms is a perfect beginner guide to branding your business effectively. Here are some terms to keep in mind:

Brand management

Brand management is the process of analyzing, planning, building, and rebuilding a business’s reputation and perception over time. It begins with an analysis of the current perception of the brand and then lays out plans for how to change or strengthen that perception.

Every brand management activity aims to enhance customer loyalty, create a competitive advantage, and drive long-term success.

Brand identity

Brand identity refers to a collection of your brand’s visual and verbal elements, such as the logo, color palette, design, typography, tone, messaging, etc., that give your brand a distinctive and recognizable image across all materials and channels.

One of the essential branding 101 tips for beginners is to create a strong brand identity from the word go.

A strong and well-defined identity gives your target audience a visual and verbal representation of your brand’s values, personality, and positioning.

Brand strategy

Building a business that stands the test of time requires a strong branding strategy. This refers to the plans or guidelines put in place to inform a brand’s development, presentation, and management.

It involves identifying your brand’s purpose, target audience, unique value proposition, and overall personality and using them to create a memorable experience with your target audience.

Brand image

Brand image refers to how your prospects and customers perceive your brand. To your target audience, this image is shaped by your brand elements, including your logo, design, messaging, and even more public opinion and media coverage of your brand.

However, for your customers, this image goes beyond those elements to their actual experiences with your brand.

This perception evolves and can be managed or influenced with a comprehensive brand management strategy.

Brand imagery

Brand imagery is the visual representation of your brand. It is different from brand image.

While brand image refers to the mental or psychological perception of your brand by your target audience, brand imagery refers to the physical appearance of your brand.

It includes logos, photographs, website images, print materials, social media content, etc., that shape the perception of prospects and customers about your brand.

Brand story

Your brand story is compelling background information about why you’re in business and the values, purpose, and long-term missions and vision that matter to you.

Creating a compelling brand story from the onset is a crucial branding step for beginners, as it helps them stir the right emotions and get their target audience attached to their brand.

Brand values

Just as humans have values guiding their communication, behavior, and reactions to issues, brands also have values guiding their operations. Brand values are the core principles, beliefs, and ethical standards that guide your brand’s decisions, actions, and reactions.

These values play a vital role in shaping your brand’s identity, culture, and actions and ensure it creates a positive perception in the minds of your prospects, customers, and even employees.

Brand purpose

Apart from making profits, can you state another reason why your brand exists? That’s your brand’s purpose. It refers to the core reason, beyond business goals and objectives, that your brand is in business.

In a survey by CBInsights, 35% of brands fail due to a lack of brand purpose, as they’re fulfilling no strong market need.

Related: Brand purpose examples

Brand promise

A brand promise is a statement that expresses a brand’s commitment to its customers.

Your brand promise should entail the values you’re offering, the authenticity of your products or services, the experience your customers should expect, and how consistently they should expect these things.

Brand messaging

Brand messaging refers to how your brand communicates its values, purpose, and identity. This involves using brand adjectives, visual elements, stories, etc., to communicate in a way that resonates with the target audience.

Brand messaging is one of the core branding basics every business or individual looking to build a strong brand identity should embrace, as it is vital to building a solid emotional connection with the target audience.

Brand pillars

Brand pillars are the attributes that define your brand’s identity and personality.

Setting your brand pillars from the onset informs your operations, guides your employees, and easily builds trust and reputation.

Brand awareness

Brand awareness refers to how your prospects and customers recognize your brand. A strong brand is known even by those who are not its direct customers.

Brands like Apple, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Spotify, McDonald’s, etc., don’t need their brand name written in full before people can recognize them, as only their logo, icon, brand adjectives, etc., can do the job.

Brand tone of voice

Your brand’s tone of voice refers to how you consistently use verbal and written communication to express your brand’s identity. It comprises the style, language, and overall character you use to engage with your audience and convey your message.

Do you sound conversational, friendly, authoritative, or professional but friendly? Whichever one you choose must properly depict your brand’s values and personality.

Brand loyalty

Every business strives to earn the trust and loyalty of its customers, and the ones that successfully do this gain a competitive edge in their industry.

Brand loyalty refers to the commitment or preference of your brand over your competitors by your customers. Brand loyalty determines why someone would always choose company A over company B.

Brand vision

Brand vision refers to a brand’s long-term goal.

It helps them shape brand identity, personality, and operations toward achieving the goal.

Brand design

Brand design refers to the process of creating the visual elements that represent a brand’s identity, giving it a unified look across all channels.

It includes elements such as the logo, color palette, typography, imagery, and photography and is a key concept in every branding 101 discussion.

A robust brand design helps a brand stand out from the crowd and create a memorable visual presence. You should always have a brand kit to guide the design and overall imagery of the brand.

Brand equity

Brand equity is the value and reputation that a brand has built over time.

It occurs when a brand consistently delivers high-value products and services to its customers, shaping their perceptions and experiences with the brand over time.

Brand guidelines

Brand guidelines, also known as brand style guides, are manuals instructing the use and presentation of a brand’s visual and verbal identity across all channels.

They contain vital information on the use of logos, color palettes, typography, and other brand elements by employees, stakeholders, and freelancers.

Rebranding

Rebranding is the process of giving your business a facelift. That involves recreating or updating the different elements of your brand, including the name, logo, messaging, etc.

Businesses rebrand for various reasons, from appealing to a new audience, adapting to changing market trends, changing negative brand perspectives, or portraying a major shift or change in the brand’s mission or values.

Brand color palette

A brand color palette is a selection of a set of colors that represents your brand’s personality. Selecting a set of colors to match your brand’s messaging is one of the core branding 101 basics you should implement early in the business.

The colors that make up your brand’s color palette are determined by the emotions you want to invoke in your customers.

Brand DNA

Your brand’s DNA comprises the core values and characteristics that define your brand’s identity and personality. These unique traits and attributes make your brand recognizable and memorable to your target audience.

They entail your brand’s purpose, promise, positioning, values, story, products, and services.

Competitive positioning

Understanding competitive positioning is one of the best guides to branding you’ll get as a beginner or startup, as it determines how your customers will recognize you in a crowded market.

Competitive positioning is a strategic way of making your brand stand out and easily recognizable. You can do this by adequately understanding the attributes and factors that set your brand apart from your competitors and leveraging them to drive sales and loyalty.

Competitive positioning begins with a study of your target market and industry. It involves your unique value proposition, pricing strategy, communication and messaging, and other things that differentiate your brand from others.

Unique value proposition

Your unique value proposition (UVP) is a statement that clearly communicates the benefits your prospects can get from your brand, product, or service. It communicates those values unique to your brand and is enough to draw customers your way.

Most captivating UVPs are powerful words weaved into short sentences that grab attention, inspire deep thought, and clearly state the value the customers should expect.

You can see a clear example in Apple’s iPhone’s “The experience is the product” or Uber’s “The smartest way to get around.”

Logo

A logo is a simple, unique graphic or symbol identifying a brand, its products, or services. It is the visual representation of your brand and one of the first things customers notice when engaging with it.

Well-designed logos attract attention and concisely explain what a brand, product, or service does without leaving the audience in doubt.

Brand font

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a font is a set of printed letters, numbers, and other symbols of the same style. Do you want your brand texts bold and italicized, or do you want them plain and straight?

Whichever one you choose, once you’re talking about text styles and sizes, you’re discussing fonts.

Buyer persona

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer. It looks at your ideal customer’s behaviors, needs, preferences, demographics, pain points, buyer journey, and other unique attributes.

A buyer persona helps you accurately craft your offers and brand message to meet the needs of your target audience.

Most branding 101 programs would ask you to begin your brand building by creating a buyer persona, and rightly so.

Brand tagline

A brand tagline is a slogan or motto that captures your brand’s identity, personality, or value proposition concisely and enticingly. Typical examples are Nike’s “just do it,” Apple’s “think different,” Coca-Cola’s “open happiness,” and Levi’s “quality never goes out of style.”

Brand personality

Brand personality refers to the human-like attributes of a brand. These attributes help a brand strike an emotional connection with its target audience.

The five brand personality traits are sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness. Learn them, adopt what works for your brand, and you’ll get your customers’ long-term loyalty.

How to build a strong brand for your business

Here are some essential steps to guide your branding efforts:

1. Define your brand identity

To build a strong brand, you must start by defining your brand values, mission, vision, personality, and unique value proposition.

Defining these important characteristics helps you understand what differentiates your business from similar businesses, enabling you to build a brand that competes favorably.

2. Research your target audience

Once you’ve defined your brand identity, go on to research your target audience. Most branding 101 programs would ask you to create a buyer persona, and that’s perfect. Creating a buyer persona helps you understand your target audience’s demographics, pain points, needs, and preferences.

It guides you to build your brand in a way that appeals to and resonates deeply with your ideal customers.

Building a strong brand without a deep understanding of your target audience is almost impossible. In fact, this is an essential guide for branding that, when done properly, can propel your business to success.

3. Study your competitors

While research on your target audience will give you insights into what needs to be addressed, research on your competitors will give you insights on how to beat your competition.

Study your competitors, figure out how they’re meeting the needs and preferences of your target audience, look out for lapses, and develop a stronger approach.

Understudying your competition helps you create a unique UVP and gain valuable customers.

4. Develop a brand strategy

With the information gathered from defining your brand identity and studying your target audience and competitors, develop a strong brand strategy that guarantees results.

This involves identifying your current position in the market, what needs to be done to get you ahead of your competitors, and how you need to do it.

Create and align your brand elements with your defined values, mission, and UVP. Furthermore, define your marketing and communication channels, and set guidelines for using your brand assets across all platforms.

5. Create a compelling brand narrative

People love stories. They want to know why you set about doing what you’re doing. Did you have an experience that drove you down this path? Did you have a burning desire to help your target audience solve their problems?

People want to know all these things; they want to know if you’ve been in their shoes and felt what they’re feeling or if you are compassionate about their struggles and want to help out. And telling them would create the emotional connection you need to drive your brand to success.

Customers are emotional beings. The more they feel emotionally attached to your brand story, the more likely the conversions you'll get from them. Share on X
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6. Establish a strong online presence

It’s a digital world; all brands, even the ones with the strongest offline roots, strive to create a strong online identity. If your vision is to create a brand that can be recognized globally, like Coca-Cola, Apple, Levi’s, Louis Vuitton, etc., you must take your business online.

You can start by creating a website and setting up accounts on key social media platforms.

Perform keyword research and know what your audience is searching for and how they’re searching for it. Use comprehensive content briefs and outlines to create valuable content that resonates deeply with your target audience and helps you rank at the top of search engine result pages (SERPs).

7. Be consistent

Consistency is vital to success in business branding, and no basic branding guide for beginners will miss it. Unlike other quick-fix brand engagement strategies, branding aims to give you a strong presence over a long period of time.

Therefore, you must ensure that your brand strategy is consistent and that you consistently evolve your branding to meet current market trends.

Check out my post on the branding checklist to help you develop and grow your small business brand.

How to Build a Small Brand for Your Business

Tips to build a small business brand

Here are some branding basic tips to help you build your small business brand:

1. Build great products and services

No matter how much time, effort, and resources you put into building your brand elements and assets, if you don’t invest in the quality of your products or services, you’ll end up with a weak, untrusted brand.

Your products and services are at the core of your operations. You want to leave a positive, lasting impression in the minds of your target audience each time they receive your services.

2. Choose a recognizable name and logo

Your business name and logo are among the first things your target audience will notice about your brand. Therefore, you must create them to be easily recognizable.

A business name that’s difficult to pronounce or a logo that doesn’t create instant appeal will lose your audience’s attention faster than it gets it.

You must also create your logo and choose a name that reflects your business and its core offerings. This makes your brand memorable.

3. Keep your promises

Promises are debts, and your customers will walk away if you don’t fulfill them. In contrast, you’ll get loyal customers and brand advocates by keeping your promises. Therefore, you must prioritize never failing on any promise to your customers.

4. Be obsessed with your customers

Your customers are your number one priority; everything else is secondary. You must be immersed in your customers’ daily lives to understand their needs and preferences and how to solve them. By prioritizing your customers’ happiness, you’re building a brand that doesn’t struggle to retain customers and attract referrals.

5. Build a community

You must intentionally build a community of loyal customers and interested prospects. This is a valuable guide to branding for beginners who don’t have the resources to compete with the big guns in advertising.

When these two populations mingle, it becomes easier for you to convert new prospects.

Tips to Build a Small Business Brand

Top solid brand examples for small businesses

While you can see many big companies doing great things with branding, small businesses also leverage branding to establish a unique identity, build customer trust and loyalty, and compete effectively in their market. Here are some small businesses with solid branding you can draw inspiration from:

Partake

Partake is a small business brand that produces allergen-free snacks for children. All their products are free of the top 9 allergens: peanuts, eggs, dairy, soy, tree nuts, sesame, fish, wheat, and shellfish.

You can learn a lot from how partake goes about their branding.

Hiki

Hiki is another small business you can draw branding inspiration from. It’s a personal care company that produces deodorants, and other products people use to address sweat-related smells. You can learn from how Hiki handles its messaging across social media platforms.

Omsom

Omsom has a sharp, irresistible brand color that makes you want to know what their brand is all about. Even their brand name, a Vietnamese phrase “Om som,” translates as noisy, rambunctious, or riotous. You’ll be interested to know that Omsom is a brand focused on bringing undiluted Asian flavors to the world through their delicacies.

Kido

Kido is a purpose-driven boutique brand with the mission to make children of color and kids with disabilities feel loved and represented. You can draw inspiration from Kido to make your brand purpose-driven.

AfroPick

AfroPick is another small business brand doing amazing things with its branding strategy. Their uniquely designed hair combs are more than just tools for taking care of your natural hair. They symbolize the unity, strength, and heritage of the Afro community.

Studying these brands and applying some of their branding strategies will only help you build a more solid brand.

Branding 101 frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What should you keep in mind when building a brand?

When building a brand, you must look beyond the potential benefits and channel your thoughts toward creating a business that solves a major problem for your target audience.

This requires your customers to be at the core of your thoughts when defining your identity, searching for a UVP, crafting your brand messaging, and delivering an overall customer experience.

Is branding different from marketing? Which comes first?

Branding and marketing are two different yet related concepts in business.

While branding subtly builds a brand that is recognizable and acceptable to the target audience, marketing takes a more persuasive approach by telling them why they need a brand’s products or services right now and not tomorrow.

Branding comes before marketing, as it helps businesses define their mission, values, identity, personality, and core offerings. Marketing comes into play when a brand has been established, as it helps promote the brand and its offerings to the target audience.

What’s the difference between a brand and a business?

Though they’re used interchangeably, a brand differs distinctly from a business.

A business is a tangible entity that carries out commercial activities, while a brand is an intangible perception and identity customers associate with a business.

Can a company have multiple brands?

Yes, a company can have multiple brands targeting different markets. This is known as multi-branding or brand portfolio management. It’s an effective branding strategy that allows companies to target different customer segments, expand into new markets, and diversify their products and services.

For example, P&G, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nestle, and Apple have multiple brands under their portfolio.

Is branding different for small vs. large companies?

Branding can be different for small and large companies and for many reasons. Large and small companies have different goals, structures, and even resources.

While branding principles remain the same for small and large companies, especially in the areas of differentiation, consistency, and building customer trust, both categories of companies approach branding differently due to their unique circumstances and capabilities.

What makes a strong brand?

A strong brand has many attributes and qualities that differentiates it from the competitors, makes it resonate with customers and enables it contribute business success. Some of these key attributes are:

  • A clear brand identity
  • A strong, unique value proposition
  • Consistency
  • Strong emotional connection
  • Quality and reliability
  • A purpose beyond making profits, etc.

Conclusion of the branding 101 guide

Building a strong brand takes time and effort; however, its benefits are invaluable.

Understanding the key terms and steps in building a strong brand is vital to building a business that fulfills its goals while solving the needs of its target audience.

Ready to take that bold step and create a solid brand? Share in the comments if you would add more points to this branding 101 guide for small business owners.

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