Business Resource Center

Branding for Small Business

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Research on consumer culture shows that 83% of millennials think it's important for the businesses they buy from to align with their values.

1. Determine your audience

When starting the branding process, the first step is to work out who your audience is. It's a mistake to try to be all things to all people. Some of the most successful companies specialize in particular audiences. For example, fashion retailers that offer tween fashion won't have the same approach as retailers targeting an older market.

That's why it's important to identify your customer persona. At the start, you may have to do market research to identify typical customers for businesses like yours. But after you've been in business for a while, you can create personas based on your actual customer data. Many businesses have several customer personas.

For each customer persona, it's important to think about your customers' age, gender, education, income, likely pain points, goals, and motivations -- and the content or people that influence them. That will help you build up a picture of who you are targeting with your brand. Understanding your customers will also help you with marketing and advertising. You can create a customer persona for free with this template from Hootsuite.2

2. Craft a mission statement

Research from the 5W Public Relations 2020 Report3 on consumer culture shows that 83% of millennials think it's important for the businesses they buy from to align with their values. That's why it's important to showcase your values via your mission statement.

Your mission statement says your goals and your values or why you exist. For example, one of Google's is to "deliver the most relevant and reliable information available."

A good mission statement is short and clear, like these examples from Hubspot.4 Your mission statement helps your target customers understand why they should choose you instead of another brand. As such, it's a key part of your brand identity.

As a starting point, think about what your customers will gain from your product or service, focusing on benefits rather than features. Features are the factual characteristics of your product or service, while benefits are the reasons your customers want what you're offering. For example, if you're selling water bottles, insulation and firmly sealed lid are features. The benefits are keeping your drink hot (or cold) and preventing spills. You might be excited about the features, but your customers will love the benefits.

Another benefit of a well-thought-out mission statement is that it makes it easy for those within the company to work out whether a particular product, service, or venture matches your mission.

3. Develop brand voice and tone

Your brand voice is how you communicate with customers on your website, email newsletter, social media profiles, and printed material. It may vary according to your target audience and industry. For example, a company catering to college students will use a different brand voice than one targeting the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

A clear brand voice gives your brand consistency and makes it recognizable. Think of it as giving your company a personality. In addition, there's the brand tone, which can vary. Just as people change their tone when they're delivering good news or bad news, companies change their brand tone according to the message they're delivering.

To get started with creating your brand voice, review the values in your mission statement, and see what type of personality makes sense for your business. You can also survey your target audience for insight into how they see you.

CoSchedule5 recommends a "we're this, not that" exercise, to help you to figure out what brand voice best reflects your values. Once you have decided, you can use this to guide all your marketing, advertising, and communications.

4. Create your brand message

Your brand message reflects your value proposition for your target audience. It's also a way to inspire and motivate both customers and employees. There are two types of brand messages: taglines and slogans.

The first is a tagline, which is usually short, like Nike's "Just Do It." If you're creating a permanent tagline, it may incorporate items like your audience, your product positioning and key benefits, and your brand personality.

The second is a slogan, which businesses create for particular marketing campaigns. Nike ran a "Play Inside, Play for the World" campaign7 to encourage people to stay inside during the COVID-19 pandemic. Slogans can be different from each other and from the tagline but they still need to consistently reflect the brand's mission and values.

5. Determine visual identity

While people often think of visual identity as synonymous with branding, it isn't. It's important to have the other pieces in place first, so your visual identity truly reflects your business. Font, color, and image choices will change according to your brand personality and the audience you serve.

For example, do you want to use a trustworthy blue, or a vibrant red as your base color?8 Will your content be in traditional or modern fonts? Will you use illustrations or photos? And how will you put everything together to get the effect you want? Get your branding right and you can reap the rewards of recognition, revenue, and trust.

Important disclosure information

This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.

  1. Allie Decker, "The Ultimate Branding Guide for 2020," Hubspot, updated 16 December, 2019, accessed July 27, 2020. Back
  2. Christina Newberry, "How to Create a Buyer Persona (Includes Free Persona Template), " Hootsuite, published July 15, 2020, accessed July 27, 2020. Back
  3. 5W Public Relations, "Consumer Culture (5W PR 2020 Report)," accessed July 27, 2020. Back
  4. Lindsay Kolowich, "17 Truly Inspiring Company Vision and Mission Statement Examples," Hubspot, updated July 14, 2020, accessed July 27, 2020. Back
  5. Nathan Ellering, "How to Define Your Unique Brand Voice," CoSchedule, accessed July 27, 2020. Back
  6. Nikki Gilliland, "How Nike is striking the right tone with its response to Covid-19," Econsultancy, published April 15, 2020, accessed July 28, 2020. Back
  7. Canva, "How to build your brand identity," accessed July 27, 2020. Back