There is a common misconception that working on your business branding is complicated and expensive. It’s no secret that larger companies spend lots of money to better cultivate and improve their brand image.
As a small business owner, you may even be prioritizing other opportunities for growth over working on your brand image. However, without branding, you may be missing out on the chances to make your brand memorable to your target market.
Working on your branding is a critical step in business development. A strong brand identity allows you to give your business a distinct voice and presence in the marketplace.
What is branding?
Before tackling the ways you can improve your branding, it’s important to better understand what branding is.
Branding, at the core of things, is the representation of your company to its customers and the market. While visual assets like logos are a part of branding, it goes beyond just that. Branding encompasses your company’s mission and values, communication voice, customer experience, and the overall look and feel of your visual assets.
Effective branding not only makes consumers aware of your brand amidst your competitors, but could also drive them to close sales with you over everyone else. The most important things to remember when brand building is to communicate with your company’s mission in mind and to think about your customers.
Ways to elevate your brand image
With the advent of digital marketing and social media, there are plenty of inexpensive resources, tools, and platforms available today. Below are some ways you can elevate your branding without breaking the bank.
1. Establish your brand identity
Your branding efforts need to begin with establishing who your business is as a brand. When defining your brand identity, you can ask yourself questions, such as:
- What do I want to be known for in the market?
- What are the values that my business believes in?
- If I were to define my business in three words, what would they be?
- What problems can my products or services solve?
- Why does my business choose to solve these problems?
The answers to these questions should give you a clearer image of what your brand is about, why it exists, and how people can relate to it. You will need to come back to these answers in order to better incorporate them into each step of the branding process.
2. Research your industry
It’s great to want to stand out in your industry--but it’s just as important to understand what works and what doesn’t. Thorough research gives you a better understanding of which efforts connect better with your target market and the foresight to avoid the pitfalls that similar businesses have fallen into.
Make sure to keep tabs on what your competitors are doing. Take note of the look and feel of their visual assets, where and how they market themselves on social media, and the way they communicate. The goal isn’t to imitate them, but to learn from both their successes and failures and adjust your brand identity accordingly.
3. Create buyer personas
A common mistake that small businesses make is putting too much focus into the kinds of products or services you can offer and too little focus on figuring out who they’re selling these products and services to. The best way you can understand your target market is to create buyer personas.
Buyer personas are a hypothetical representation of your ideal buyer. These personas are based off of data from your business, the industry as a whole, along with some educated guesses. These hypothetical profiles should include their age, profession, income, education, gender, motivations, values, online behavior, and so on.
In creating buyer personas, you’re able to outline the possible challenges that your target market faces and how your business fits into providing a solution. It also gives your business better insight into what type of media they consume and their online habits. This information is critical in coming up with effective marketing strategies and reaching your target audience in the right places.
4. Develop a brand voice
Now that you’ve identified your buyer personas, it’s time to develop the way your brand communicates with them. Coming from your brand identity, your tone of voice in your chosen media platforms--from social media to email marketing to SMS blasts--needs to be consistent and aligned.
Your brand voice comes through in the copy of your content. The kind of language you use and the kind of content you create should be consistent with your values as a business and how you want your target market to see you. In this step, you may need to think about both your brand identity and your buyer personas and how they intersect.
Even if you’ve already established a brand voice earlier on, making it stronger with further improvements can bring more value to your marketing efforts.
5. Build your assets
Once you’ve solidified your brand identity, buyer personas, and brand voice, the next step is to focus on design. Whether you’re a small business or a larger brand, having a consistent yet distinct look and feel is critical for your marketing.
Create a brand style guide to anchor your design strategy. This guide should cover details like brand color palette, fonts, and the general design principles that are in line with your brand’s direction. The style guide allows your team and anyone who works with your brand to stay true to your brand identity.
Other important assets include a logo, business cards, website, and social media designs. Depending on the type of business you have, creating a corporate letterhead or product packaging may also be a must. The idea is to translate your brand identity into easily-recognizable and consistent visuals--otherwise you risk confusing them and losing them to your competitors.
6. Create a marketing plan
It’s very possible to win big with social media marketing--all it takes is the right approach. Think back to your buyer personas and identify what their habits are online and how they engage with social media. From there, you may need to plan for content on one or multiple social media platforms.
Planning and scheduling social media posts reduces the risk of missing opportunities to post and communicate with your target audience. If you’ll be posting on multiple platforms, a marketing plan gives you better control over posting and the freedom to diversify your approach.
Diversifying your approach on various platforms increases your chances of connecting with more potential customers.
Additionally, your marketing plan allows you to build and maintain your presence on these platforms. Irregular posting schedules, too much or too little content, and the quality of content can be red flags for potential customers. A marketing plan enables your business to effectively use content strategies to eliminate these red flags.
7. Start creating content
Content marketing is a great and inexpensive way to get your brand visible to the right people. With the right content, you’re able to demonstrate to your target audience that your brand is the subject matter expert in your industry. This allows you to build trust and credibility with them, increasing the chances of them choosing to do business with you.
In addition to demonstrating your industry expertise, creating content allows you to strengthen your brand. A strong brand voice that shows well in your content further supports your relationship with your potential customers and helps drive business up.
Look back on your buyer personas--what kind of content is relevant to them? Can your content add value to their lives? Once the answer to these questions are clear, the next step is to do your keyword research. With your audience looking for the information you want to provide, it’s a matter of using the right keywords to make sure your content reaches them.
Content creation, while inexpensive, will take time and effort. Integrating this into your marketing plan and schedule will help you stay on top of timing, keeping your content fresh and your sites updated.
8. Prioritize the customer experience
In the market today, it’s no longer enough to have good products or services to stay ahead of your competitors. Specifically, one of the best things that can boost your branding is the way you treat your customers. When your customers can sing nothing but praises about their experience doing business with you, that earns your brand recognition that no money can buy.
Prioritizing the customer experience doesn’t mean simply providing high quality customer service (although that’s also an important part of it). It encompasses creating a fuss-free website that’s easy to navigate, streamlining any processes, and even fostering interactions over social media.
These are just some actions your business can take to demonstrate how your brand cares about its customers, making it easier to get even more customers.
9. Monitor your branding efforts
Whether you’re working from home or in a space with a team, your branding efforts aren’t something you can just set up and leave alone. Like with every significant change you make to your business, you’ll need to keep an eye on how well these changes are received.
Social listening tools like Google Alerts, Mention, and Hootsuite can give you insight into what your customer base is saying about you and your brand. Not only are you able to view these conversations, but you may also find opportunities to improve customer relationships and your brand image.
Survey tools can also help you gauge how your customer base is receiving your changes. After seeking feedback from your customers, it’s also important to listen to their thoughts and make the necessary changes. Not only does this make customers feel like their opinions are valuable, but this allows you to take a step in the right direction for your brand.
In this digital age, it’s become much easier to grow your business via the internet. Improving your brand is a necessary step in reaching your target market and setting your business apart from your competitors.
The key to doing this is to keep your customers in mind--how you can better engage with them and nurture relationships with them. With patience and dedication, you can level up your brand identity without having to spend a fortune on it.
Lou Zandrian Lobrin is Marketing & Sustainability Manager of Esquire Financing, a lending firm offering non-collateral business loans to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). He enjoys travelling, cultural immersion and meeting new people outside work.