A brand is a company’s name, identity and ethos and is defined as “a class of goods identified by name as the products of a single firm or manufacturer.” In contemporary times, we know a company’s brand represents much more; it’s what people think of a company when they see the logo or its products.

Just because a business is small doesn’t mean it can’t have an impactful brand. Big brands like Starbucks, Apple and Amazon were once just small businesses – both Apple and Amazon started in garages, but have since grown to become billion dollar companies. In 2017, Apple reported just over $229 billion in revenue and Amazon reported nearly $178 billion in revenue

The first step to taking a garage-based start-up to a billion-dollar company is developing a unique brand. Here are five ways to execute successful small business branding:

Construct Your Brand Identity

Once the business is formed and incorporated, owners must think about the brand’s identity. A brand’s identity is what makes the brand unique and sets it apart from the competition. The identity can embody the owner’s personality and core values, and sticking to that can go a long way toward building consumer trust. However, it’s okay to be flexible as the market changes. For example, as millennials gravitate toward healthy eating options, food companies are offering more health-conscious products, which may not have fit with the brand’s identity in the past.

When constructing your brand identity, consider these questions:

  • What does the business provide?
  • What does it stand for?
  • How is it unique from other businesses within the same market?
  • What are the businesses values?
  • How can it align itself with certain social causes that can help grow the company’s brand and marketability?

One example of a unique brand identity is Wendy’s. The national fast food chain has always tried to differentiate itself from its competition with square-shaped hamburgers instead of round ones and their “Always Fresh, Never Frozen” slogan. In 2017, Wendy’s decided to take a unique spin on their social media strategy. Minutes after McDonald’s posted a tweet that stated they were moving toward using fresh beef for its burgers in many of its restaurants, Wendy’s mobilized; they teased McDonald’s for not making it a company-wide decision. In a little more than a day, the tweet garnered upwards of 600 million impressions.

More recently, Wendy’s has embraced a social media policy encouraging snappy, silly responses to customers. Wendy’s social media plan has helped the company differentiate itself from other fast food chains, and in the process, endeared itself to a younger, more inter-connected audience.

It’s important to have a strong brand, but it’s perhaps more important to not be specifically associated with one aspect. In the 1980s, Colgate-Palmolive, well known for its toothpastes and toothbrushes, decided to get into the frozen ready meal industry. The decision was a marketing flop; consumers couldn’t get past the association of the company’s signature minty flavor, and it even reportedly affected sales of Colgate’s toothpaste at the time

Establish Your Brand Voice

The tone and style used in marketing materials across multiple platforms are part of a brand’s voice. Consider whether your business’ tone is professional, casual or even funny, depending on the audience. A business that works mainly B2B (business to business) will likely use a more formal tone than a business geared to teenagers and young adults.

Establishing a brand voice early is vital. One example of excellent brand voice is MailChimp, an e-mail marketing platform. MailChimp connects to consumers online with a personable, chatty voice, and it’s helped the company reach Forbes Cloud 100 list, a list of the top private companies in cloud computing.

One example of MailChimp’s unique and modern brand voice is in its response to users. MailChimp uses colloquial phrases such as “Rock On” and “High Five” to engage with customers using their product, such as when an email marketing campaign is executed. These interactions make MailChimp seem relatable and fun to consumers, which could bring them back for more business in the future.

Of course, companies don’t exclusively have to be funny or witty. Tiffany and Co. describe their voice as personal, simple and elegant, like their products. A solopreneur’s brand is the company’s reputation, so it’s vital that it be genuine, especially when it comes to voice.  Keeping a unique but consistent voice allows consumers to better trust a brand and get to know it better, which is particularly useful if the business is in a crowded marketplace.

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Develop Buyer Personas

Every business needs to know who its target audience is, and the first step in knowing the audience is developing a buyer persona. When businesses create buyer personas, it helps them better understand their customers. A persona includes information about the buyer’s typical level of education, hobbies, demographics and marital status. In some instances, companies have made life-size cutouts of people to put in the office as a reminder of their target audience.

Creating buyer personas, and more specifically, having a targeted marketing strategy, can deliver successful outcomes. Skytap, a provider of cloud-automated solutions, found that after introducing a marketing strategy targeting a specific audience:

  • Traffic increased 210 percent on the company’s North American website.
  • Organic search traffic increased by 55 percent.
  • Increase of 124 percent in leads, or new customers, from all online and offline platforms.

On the other hand, not taking a detailed look at your company’s target audience can lead to revenue shortfalls. Cintell, a cloud-based customer intelligence platform found in a 2016 study that more than two-thirds (70 percent) of companies who missed revenue goals “did not conduct qualitative persona interviews.” The failure to do market research on the company’s target customer ended up harming the overall business, showing how important targeted content marketing is.

Establish Your Presence Online

To strengthen small business branding, it’s important to establish an online presence. Purchasing a domain so consumers can learn about available products or services isn’t enough; it’s important to create a blog and social media profiles and to post regularly on all of them.

By creating engaging content – even just one post per day – small business owners can build trust with customers and create brand awareness. Demand Gen Report, a B2B marketing company, found that 47 percent of buyers viewed at least three to five pieces of content on a business’ website before reaching out to a sales representative. The same report found that 53 percent of marketers said blogging is the top content priority.

In addition to having a blog and social media presence, online advertising is a small business owner’s bread and butter. Advertising on social media platforms and search engines can help raise brand awareness 46 percent. Small businesses don’t have large stores of capital, so being able to send targeted advertising to customers for a low price is a huge boon. Google Adwords, an online advertising service developed by Google, believes that even in using a conservative estimate, businesses earn an average of $2 in revenue for every $1 in online ad spending. By using online advertising, companies can grow their business.

Small Business Branding Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make

Developing a brand is just the beginning of connecting with customers; small business owners need to market their brand, too. For solopreneurs, it’s important to avoid mistakes that can harm their brand. Lacking authenticity or having a weak social media strategy can have major consequences on any business, and even major multi-national corporations make major blunders. Here are three costly branding mistakes no solopreneur can afford to make:

Lacking Authenticity

Now, more than ever, it’s important to show authenticity to consumers. With millennials entering peak earning years, many businesses are learning that what millennials want is a peek behind the corporate curtain. They want to feel like they can better know the company, its employees and its products, according to multiple studies.  In a public relations crisis, brand trust weakens when companies try to spin news or won’t admit fault.

One example of weakening brand trust through lack of authenticity happened in April 2017, when a passenger aboard a United Airlines flight was forcibly removed. Video of the incident went viral on social media, and the response from United’s CEO Oscar Munoz was criticized as lacking empathy. United Airlines’ stock shed $1.4 billion in market capitalization after the incident, and Munoz lost his chance to become chairman of the company’s board of directors.

Weak Social Media Strategy

Facebook and Twitter have made it infinitely easier to connect business with consumers, and having a detailed social media policy is a step to success in small business branding. Posting often, taking advantage of network tools like Facebook Live and Instagram Story and knowing the company’s audience can help drum up more business and interest in the company.

However, there can be problems when a social media strategy is ignored or not specific enough. Shortly after the death of Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in “Star Wars,” the baked goods chain Cinnabon came under fire after an ill-timed promotion. The company posted a previously-used photo of a cinnamon roll in the shape of Fisher’s iconic hair with a caption that read “RIP Carrie Fisher, you’ll always have the best buns in the galaxy.” In just a few hours, Cinnabon took down the tweet and issued an apology, saying they meant the photo as a tribute. While it’s unclear whether Cinnabon’s brand took a permanent hit, a gaffe like this to a small business can have a lasting impact.

Complicating the Brand

What’s one thing that just about every Fortune 500 company has in common? They have an iconic and simple brand. Solopreneurs may have many ideas of what they’d like their future company’s logo to look like, but when it comes to logos, less is more.

Take Tropicana, for example. The beverage company based in Florida had a simple logo; just its name written in a tropical-style font with a leaf replacing the dot over the letter “i.” The cartons featured a familiar image of an orange with a candy-stripe straw stuck into it. Over time, consumers had learned to trust the brand and love the design. In 2009, the company re-designed the cartons; they replaced the old image with one of a glass of orange juice and changed the font for their logo. Sales dropped 20 percent – a loss of $30 million – and in less than 60 days, Tropicana announced it would return to the old packaging design.

What Small Business CEOs Wish They Knew

Four successful technology CEOs said the best advice they’d give themselves when they were starting their businesses is to be customer obsessed. One CEO, Sandra Kurzig, said that instead of “trying to build everything into the product,” she should have focused on the desires of her customers first and foremost. Having a brand that connects with consumers and putting consumers first can help improve a small business’ bottom line.

Possessing a deep understanding of branding and how it can impact your future company is important to becoming a successful solopreneur. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of 20 percent of small businesses fail in their first year and 50 percent fail by the fifth year. If you want to beat the odds, enroll in Notre Dame of Maryland University’s online bachelor’s degree in business. Our flexible online format allows you to complete your degree on your schedule, and our innovative curriculum focuses on the latest business practices and theories.