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Ideas Amplified™ | The Flink Blog

A Helpful Guide To Branding For Small Business Owners.

What branding is, what it isn’t, why you need to prioritize it and how it will transform the way you grow your business. The comprehensive Branding Guide Flink Branding.

Businessman with hand extended in a handshake

In this article, I’d like to clarify what branding is, and how it will transform the way you grow your business. I’ll share how logos, brand identities and brands differ and how our branding process works. Then I’ll discuss the value of branding early in the lifecycle of your firm (when funds are often tightest) and how branding earlier can save you both time and money. Lastly, for those of you who aren’t in a position to invest in professional brand design, I’ll share some low-cost and free brand improvements you can use right away to improve the perceptions of your brand.

Brand Basics.
What is Branding, and Why Should You Care?

“Branding” In Its Most Basic Form, Is How We Present Ourselves.

In its most basic form, branding is how we present ourselves (and our companies). It tells people who we are and what we can do for them. In some ways, it’s like the way people introduce themselves. We’d say “Hi. I’m (name) and I’m a (job name) at (company name) where I do (task one) and (task two) for (client types). I’m married to (partner name) and we have 2 kids (kid one) and (kid two) and live in (place name)” — then we smile and extend a handshake.

Branding Is More Than Logo Placement.

The person above “as a brand” shared a few things about themselves and those details, combined with how they act, form an impression. Their clothes and appearance work similarly to how logos work for companies to set expectations. Those expectations combine with our past experiences to tell us whether we should get closer, or not. Likewise, a brands’ logo and appearance set expectations too. But surface appearances (and logos alone) are not enough to get to know a person, or a brand. We’re unlikely to invite someone new to come home based strictly on their appearance, and we’re unlikely to fall in love with a brand based merely on a logo.

Brands Need To Make Themselves Known.

If logos equalled brands, a new brand would simply require a new logo. But brands become brands when they act and take up space. A new haircut and nice clothes improve your appearance, certainly, but it’s not until that person or company speaks and does things that they form an impression.

For brands, taking action and taking up space can look like making packaged products, a website, designing their offices, stationery and filling social media feeds. It’s in the “doing” that brands develop a tone of voice and a manner that people are drawn to and relate to. So, while logos are a great start to brand-building, logos alone don’t build brands any more than a new wardrobe can substitute for a great personality.

What Is Brand-Building Then?

The difference between logos and brand identities is in the details. To continue with our personified example, your new logo is like a new suit. A “brand identity”, by comparison, is a new wardrobe combined with a personal stylist, and a closet full of accessories. It’s not just a logo, it’s a logo plus a collection of materials, guides and resources that will equip you to take action with your brand in a consistent manner. A brand identity can contain logo usage rules, font families, colours and their equivalents for print, web and promotional purposes, as well as application guidelines for signage, stationery, vehicles, uniforms, websites, social profiles and imagery. Identity packages can vary widely in scope but they all share the same goal of helping you achieve consistent appearance and messaging wherever your brand goes.

How Do I Turn My “Brand Identity” Into A “Brand”? 

Brands are created over time as a company consistently presents itself and behaves in certain ways across all the contacts they have with people. Brands are the collected perceptions we have about a companies and are formed by their identity, user experience, sales process, advertising, messaging, employee behaviour and more. At Flink Branding, we help companies build brand identities, then provide guidance on how they can elaborate on those brand identities to be perceived (branded) in the ways they aspire to.

What Does Your Brand Aspire To Be?

Time for some self-reflection. How well do you know what sets you apart and what people think of you? Here are some questions to consider:

Knowing who you are right now is as important as setting goals for the future. Are you familiar with your origin story, why the company was started and what you hoped to achieve with your new product? 

Memorable brands communicate clearly and are valued by both customers and investors. Companies with clear brand stories have employees who rally around their vision and become invested in their goals, and clarity is key to boosting sales. After all, people won’t buy what they don’t understand.

If you’re uncertain about any of the questions on the list above, take a break and work through them before going any further. Knowing them is foundational to building and moving forward. 

The Brand Building Process.

The Most Important Part of Branding Doesn’t Look Like Design At All. 

Brand development starts with research and understanding. At the heart of a brand is the desire to be known and liked for something more than their competitor. To do this, we must understand our customers at the deepest (non-creepy) level. We need to understand not only their age ranges, gender and location but also the way they think, feel and what they worry about. The better we can know and understand our typical customer, the more likely we can address the things they care about and speak with them on a level they’ll feel is genuine.

Customer Profiles Help Focus Your Messaging.

Once we’ve gathered what information, insights and anecdotes we can about our customers, we create customer profiles to help stand in for the actual customer types. It’s much like practicing a speech and having a friend pretend to be an audience member. Typically called Avatars or Customer Profiles, having 2 or 3 profiles that represent your key customer groups helps sharpen your messaging and ensure you stay focused on their needs over your own.

Positioning Your CPG Brand for Success.

Knowing what your customers want and how to speak with them is still not enough, however. Your brand is not their only choice. We need to consider that our customers have other choices and get acquainted with our competitors messaging as well. One tool we use is the SWOT Analysis; a review of our brand’s current strengths, weaknesses (versus competitors), threats (from competitors, changing market conditions, legislation or trends) and opportunities (where we ask why now is a good time to launch the brand). A SWOT analysis provides a quick snapshot into the world of your brand and helps identify problems and opportunities quickly. 

A simple Brand Positioning Matrix Diagram

Another very helpful tool is the Positioning Matrix; a simple graph where we compare brand perceptions by plotting competitors on an X and Y axis chart. Competitors are placed on the chart relative to each other based on their product category’s two most important attributes, then analyzed. You might, for example, decide that simplicity and price are the two most important customer purchase metrics for a line of measuring tools. In this example, complexity might be the x axis while price is the y axis. Plotting your top 3 or 4 competing brands on the chart might show that few options exist for a low-priced, feature-rich tool. That information then, tells you that with some modifications, your product might fill an unmet market niche.

If this aligns with your business objectives, (remember those?) you now know how to focus your brand’s messaging and might want to consider renaming or adjusting your name to suit this positioning. Low-priced, feature-rich tool, in this example then, becomes the concept to build your brand on.

Alignment Of Goals & Brand Strategy.

In essence, your challenge in successfully branding a new CPG product then, is finding where customer needs align with your ability to meet those needs in ways that your competitors can’t (or aren’t). The research or discovery portion of a branding exercise can be as important, or more important, than the design itself. With the right information, we can strategize and plan to create a brand that delivers what people are looking for. And by positioning that brand effectively, we won’t have to fight as hard to be noticed among the similar claims of our competitors.

Imagine if, back when you launched your first product, you had absolute clarity around what messages would be most effective, how to apply your identity with consistency and had guidelines for taking your brand anywhere (vehicles, uniforms, web, packaging, social etc.). Your ad messaging would be targeted, authentic and your audience would be more receptive. You’d be building a following sooner. Your packaging would hold together as a family, giving you stronger shelf presence and credibility in stores. And you could finally stop chasing after “quick fixes”, YouTube experts’ tactics and off-brand media buys. You could confidently move forward with purpose.

Spending Now To Save In The Long Run.

Branding Is Foundational To Good Business.

We believe that developing your brand should be one of the first things you do as a consumer-focused company, perhaps right after you sign a lease. Prioritizing your brand early will reduce wasted effort, help build your customer base earlier, boost retailer confidence in your professionalism and perceived quality, and provide you with the confidence to do more, sooner. With care and attention, your brand can become, as Forbes famously says “…the single most important investment you can make in your business.”

Developing a brand isn’t overly complicated but it requires an ongoing commitment to ensure you are seen as authentic and that your brand is more than a thin veneer. You’ll need to consider every aspect of your company and align them to the same vision and commitment to consistency both in the way your company looks and acts. Authentically walking in your brand’s shoes can require making changes to customer service, operations, hiring, sales and of course, your marketing.

5 Low-Cost (and No Cost) Brand Improvements.

For some readers, their current business conditions may not allow them to hire a brand design professional. That’s perfectly acceptable. Every business experiences its peaks and valleys. For you, we’ve prepared a short list of 5 things you can do to improve your brand right now.   

1. Messaging That Fits.

When it comes to your brand, packaging and online presence consider the following as you make decisions about your brand. 

There are no “one-size-fits-all customers”. Saying your product appeals to all adults from age 18-70 is not only lazy, it’s probably wrong and that lack of focus will cost you dearly in wasted ad budget and messaging that misses the mark. It seems obvious perhaps, but it’s easy to make a misstep if you just do what “feels right” without considering your buyer. When it comes to your brand, you need to get as specific as possible about who buys from you. 

Gender-Neutral. Are your colours and packaging gender-neutral? If your audience includes both men and women, be aware that you may skew towards one or the other gender with poor colour and design choices? Also consider the increasing use of the gender neutral pronouns “they” when writing if it fits.

Culturally Aware. If you have buyers from other cultures, your design and colour choices may be sending the wrong signals. Did you know for example, that for Japanese people, white can signify Death? Do a some research online to ensure your colours and designs align with your intended meaning and your audience.

Age Appropriate. Millennials, Generation X and Y all have different slang and points of reference. Avoid colloquialisms and slang unless they speak directly to your audience and you don’t need to be understood outside that audience. More importantly, don’t “try to sound hip” or whatever the “word-du-jour-is” unless you and your company are authentically a part of that audience and generation. We all know how cringy it is when Mom decides to work in a few phrases from the latest Spike Lee movie or hip hop tune. Just don’t.

2. Make Usability A Priority. Because It Is.

As we age many of us find ourselves holding things further and further away just to read them. Give people with weaker vision a break by ensuring your type is large enough and your contrast levels are adequate. Design that takes usability into account is more inclusive and websites that work towards greater usability rank better with Google as well. 

Read more about Making The Web Accessible at this link for the Web Accessibility Initiative.

3. Consistency & Repetition Are Good For You.

You’re close to your brand and your messaging. And while you may tire of repeating your core messages, your customers, however, may have only been exposed once or twice. Research has shown that for messages, brands and companies to be remembered, it takes a minimum of 7 exposures. Likely more. So while you may be getting tired of your message and feel the urge to change things up. Don’t. They’ve just noticed you. 

To move from awareness to preference takes far more points of contact, trial and messages than you may believe. Your success depends on your consistency. Be in the same places at the same times with the same messages for the same people. 

4. Customers Remember Brand Experiences More Than Logos.

When it comes to your brand, customer experience is more important than your logo. The way your display, store, offices or booth are presented, the way your team are dressed, the words they use and even their body language, help customer form opinions. 

Take control of your customer’s experience and create a sense of “specialness”.

  • How are your staff dressed? Ideally, a wardrobe that’s on brand would have a feature colour or at least be consistently matching neutrals without loud patterns
  • What do your staff say? Have they been coached about welcoming customers? Offering samples? Do they understand and speak intelligently about the product, it’s flavours and varieties? Have they been coached about avoiding personal chats when customers are around?
  • Do they discuss your specials? Try to up-sell or bundle products? Do they use your slogan (if you have one) correctly and consistently?
  • Are you using branded items like bags, receipts, aprons, pins, hats or other items that help reinforce your brand?

5. BONUS — Data Is Gold. Start Mining Your Own!

Marketing can get a lot easier and less expensive if you develop an email list. Over time and by offering value, your email list can become your media channel. You can stop paying Facebook, Google and the like to post ads for you. And wouldn’t a free way to reach customers be great!? Offer your website visitors coupons, recipes, tips or advice via your email list — but do something. The list you own can help you build your business significantly. Offer something of value. Never sell their names or flood them with emails, and you’ll be able to welcome them back.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR / / / Brent Flink is an award-winning graphic designer, marketer and the founder and Creative Director of Flink Branding, a Vancouver-based food & beverage brand design firm. He specializes in helping food and beverage brands find their authentic voice and build brands that build companies. brent@flink.ca

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