Your brand is part of the identity of your business. It includes not just the visual styling of your business materials and products, but the way your business communicates, the values associated with you and your promises to customers. The best brands are aesthetically pleasing, consistent with the business culture, in line with customer attitudes and highly recognisable. Every business builds its brand in a unique way using their own symbolism, colour palette and key messages.
What is branding?
Examples of branding are all around us, but the concept is broad and encapsulates both the active decisions a business makes in differentiating and identifying itself, as well as the reputation and the conversation that grow around the business. When people say they are determining their brand, they often mean only:
An aesthetic style or visual identity
A voice (or consistent communication style)
An offer to potential customers (sometimes conceptualised as a point of difference or unique selling proposition)
In the broader sense, branding consists of all the tangible and intangible elements which create an identity that customers can form a relationship with. This doesn't just mean the sign which is in front of your office or the logo on your business card, it also means the quality of the chairs in your meeting room, how your staff dresses, their phone manner, how promptly you pay your bills and how you treat employees – the list goes on. Every interaction a potential or existing customer has with your business helps to shape their image of your product or service – if they relate to your brand, believe in your goals and like your product, they will spread the word far and wide. But beware, if you are trying to build a respectable brand, you can undo years of hard work with a single offensive tweet or careless oversight.
What questions will help me create and grow my brand?
Who are my main audience and what do they like? What role am I offering to play in their lives?
How do we want to be seen and how can we represent ourselves and act in accordance with that perception?
What does my business do? Can I represent this with visual elements?
How am I different to the competition? How can I communicate this in the smallest number of words?
Do I have a distinctive name which is appropriate for my business?
What aesthetic is most appropriate for my business, audience and price point?
What unique words or phrases could I associate with my brand?
Does any part of my business currently undermine the perceptions I am trying to create?
What are the biggest branding pitfalls for new businesses and small businesses?
The biggest 2 mistakes are the easiest to make, especially on your first business:
Spending too much
Spending too little
Depending on your industry, your marketplace and your current business position, your branding will have very different demands. Some new businesses invest in a comprehensive suite of branding materials when a simple logo, a DIY website and a business card would have sufficed, wasting valuable capital that could have gone towards purchasing stock, investing in equipment or running advertisements. Long term, branding is absolutely vital to the success of your business, but in the early stages of a new venture (especially an untested one) the priority should be on establishing cash-flow through customer acquisition and investing in assets that build the capacity of the business. If the budget is available, having a top-of-the-line brand on day one is a great advantage when it comes to getting people through the door, but if your services and products don't measure up you are inviting negative reviews.
On the other hand, many new businesses start with the bare minimum to keep costs down, and then fail to update, expand and improve their materials as their business grows. The result is an established business which continues to trade with insufficient or amateur branding materials, sending a message to their customers and competitors alike that they either lack resources, lack knowledge or simply don't care about the presentation of the business – perceptions that are guaranteed to carry over into the perception of your products and services.
Other branding pitfalls include:
Trying to be everything to everyone
Failing to clearly communicate your business purpose
Being too clever at the cost of clarity
Making decisions based on personal taste alone (without regard for the target audience or business purpose)
Being inconsistent or changing the brand too frequently
Copying an existing brand (which can be an intellectual property infringement)