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How to Brand Your Small Business

Kody Wirth

13 min. read

Updated January 5, 2024

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Creating a solid and memorable brand is difficult, but it’s the best way to establish a reputation and connect with customers.

Think of it like you’re crafting the story of your company. Establishing a narrative, name, and visuals you and your customers believe in.

Even if you don’t believe you are the creative type—creating a brand can be a simple process if you break it down into simple steps and exercises. 

1. Understand your target audience and competitors

Before developing your brand—you need to conduct market research. You must know your target market, competitors, and how your business fits the current market landscape. 

This information will help you understand:

  • Audience preferences: What are your customers’ needs, pain points, and desires? What visual elements and messaging resonate with them? What brands do they already connect with?
  • Competitor positioning: Analyze how competitors position themselves in the market. What are they promising customers? Do they say they’re the best? Cheapest? Fastest? Knowing their position will help you identify gaps or opportunities in the market.
  • Visual identity: Look at your competitor’s visual branding, including logos, color schemes, typography, and imagery. What do you think works? What could you do better or differently to stand out?
  • Legal availability: Check trademark databases to ensure your potential brand name and logo are not already in use.

Market research helps you think critically about your branding ideas. You’ll eliminate options already taken or not connecting with customers. And you’ll be far more informed about the direction of your branding efforts. 

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2. Define your brand focus and personality

Your products and services won’t be for everyone. Your brand should reflect that by having a clear focus and personality that your target audience can identify with. 

Here are a few ways to define your brand’s personality, tone, and focus.

  • Word association

Hone your brand’s personality in 3-5 words to create a short brand statement. Is it welcoming and personable? Educational and informative? A little silly and mischievous?

Those few words form your brand statement—describing your brand in its simplest form and helping inform your voice and tone. If you need help figuring out where to start, try to define your audience first and see if those exact words fit your brand. 

You must define why your business is valuable if you haven’t done this already. What makes it different from competitors? What problem does it solve for your customers?

You need to know the benefits you provide and how your offerings are better than what is currently out there. If you don’t, or can’t explain it in just a few sentences, you’ll have a tough time pulling customers away from your competitors.

Remember—keep your audience in mind throughout this process. The last thing you want is to develop a brand that alienates or completely misses connecting with your customers. 

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3. Choose your business name

A good business name is:

  • Available
  • Unique
  • Memorable
  • Difficult to imitate 
  • Broad enough to grow with your business

Coming up with a name that meets the criteria above is easier said than done. While there’s no exact process, you can try one of the following exercises.

Combine two words

These snappy brand names help explain the product (once you understand it) and are difficult to replicate. Try using a few words from your previous brand exercise and see if they work together.

Examples:

  • Facebook
  • Snapchat
  • Skillshare
  • LivePlan 

Claim a common word

Can your business redefine a word? Evolve a term to represent your product or service or serve as a metaphor for functionality? Maybe even be turned into a verb, like Slack?

Examples:

  • Apple
  • Uber
  • Basecamp
  • Amazon

Use acronyms or abbreviations

Can’t land on a simple one-word business name? Try an acronym. You can alter words by removing vowels for the same effect. 

Examples:

  • CVS
  • AT&T 
  • Tumblr

Make something up

Inventing a name requires more effort up front—but can ultimately be a highly “own-able” and potentially profitable decision. 

Examples:

  • Zappos
  • Fandango

Check if your name works

Once you have a few names in mind, follow these questions.

  1. Is it distinctive?

Will your name stand out from the crowd, especially your competitors?

  1. Is it short and snappy?

Is your name short enough to be easily recalled by potential customers and referring partners?

  1. Is it easy to spell and pronounce?

Will people be able to spell the name after hearing it spoken? Will they be able to pronounce it?

  1. Is it likable?

Will you enjoy using the name? Will your customers enjoy using the name?

  1. Is it protectable?

Your best bet is to hire a trademark attorney to protect your name. But, if you can’t afford an attorney, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see if the name is available.

  1. Can you get the URL?

Is the URL available? Ideally, the URL is the same as the name. If not, make sure the URL at least makes sense.

Landing on the right name can seem like an endless exercise. The final choice is a leap of faith. Don’t overthink it—choose a name that you believe fits your business and make it yours.  

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4. Write your slogan

A tagline or slogan is a short phrase that describes or instills a feeling for your product or service—similar to your value proposition

Your tagline will often be placed alongside your logo, within ads, in social bios, and anywhere else it seems relevant. It should be short (one sentence max), memorable, and if you can, it should also convey a light call to action for your customers.

Now, your tagline can change over time as your business grows. You may find that your value proposition changes or matures or that your original take doesn’t reflect your brand. 

So, don’t get too hung up on this, and keep iterating and testing different statements and phrases.

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5. Figure out your look 

With a name in place, you must visually anchor your brand with colors and typography. 

Remember, these components are often the most emotional for customers and play into purchasing psychology.

Choosing colors

Your colors should convey a feeling. While this is subjective, there are reasons why specific industries often gravitate toward similar color combos. 

Fast food, for example, will often utilize a combination of yellow and red to emphasize excitement, warmth, and play into your hunger. 

Building a system of brand colors that includes core colors and bold accents is essential. You need to consider the legibility of white and black text over your color choices and follow ADA compliance

Tip: Try to have several shades within your pallet to use in different branding situations to make this much more manageable.

Choosing fonts

Typography is a subtle but highly influential way to convey your brand message. 

Example:

A modern sans-serif type tells the world you’re innovative and ready to find unexpected solutions. A traditional serif type tells the world you’re dependable and trustworthy. 

Find websites, print ads, and brochures of companies with a brand similar to yours and look at the fonts they selected.

Remember, you’ll want to use a font that can be adapted into multiple sizes and weights (thickness and styling) to differentiate between headers and body text. 

Collect brand images

Photography can truly capture the imagination—and wallets—of potential customers. You can use this imagery in promotional materials, on your website, and other branding materials.

Browse a few photography sites like Getty or iStock and start building a collection of photographs representing your brand. Plug in the keywords from your word association exercise and see what happens. 

Just be sure your photo use is consistent. Additionally, it may be wise to eventually hire a photographer or take photos yourself to create exclusive imagery for your business.

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Logo design is likely the first thing that comes to mind for business branding—but it should be handled toward the end of the design process. 

It’s just too easy to create a lovely-looking visual without connection to your brand’s core message. And now you have a name, font, color options, and reference images to guide the look of your logo. 

As you start designing it, consider where your logo will be present and how easy it will be to scale to different sizes. You may need multiple variations that work for unique sizing or layout needs.

Tip: If you’re not sure where to start, take your name and turn it into a wordmark—a unique typographic treatment of the text. Then, explore a smaller icon that can work alongside it. 

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7. Identify what branding assets you need

You must do more than just develop your brand elements and call it a day. You need to figure out what digital and physical assets it needs to be adapted to. This includes:

  • Webpages
  • Social media posts
  • Digital ads
  • Video assets
  • Business cards
  • Apparel
  • Print ads
  • Email headers
  • Window decals

And that’s just a few general categories. 

You don’t need an exhaustive list to start. It may make more sense to break each asset into individual projects you can prioritize based on business needs. 

You’ll likely want to look at adapting your branding to your website first and then go from there.

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8. Establish brand guidelines

To make your branding official, you need to document your brand’s basics and how it should be treated when displayed across different mediums.

More than likely, you will only have some possibilities covered at first. But this establishes a source of truth to reference when new visuals need to be created.

It may be best to work with a design firm or hire a designer to help finalize your guidelines. But if you want to give it a shot yourself, start by checking out guidelines from other companies.

9. Apply your brand and track its impact

Lastly, it’s time to bring your brand to market. Apply the variations you created to your website, social media, advertisements, and any other necessary location. Be sure your branding is consistent and creates a unified experience at every possible touchpoint.

You’ll know if your brand is sticking with customers if you see:

  • Loyalty: Customers choose your brand over others.
  • Attachment: Customers come back to your business.
  • Community: Individuals connect around the usage of your brand.
  • Engagement: People talking about your business.

All this can be difficult to track and understand. At the start, pay attention and try to pick up what is being said about your business. More than likely, if you see an influx of customers who consistently use and talk about your company—you’re on the right track.

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Why you need to brand your business

A brand builds credibility and trust

If you want people to trust you can deliver, you must look the part. 

A strong brand stands out in the marketplace, making it easily recognizable and building consumer credibility. This familiarity fosters trust and increases the likelihood of customer loyalty.

A brand makes you memorable

A memorable brand carves out a unique space in the consumer’s mind. It’s not just about recognition; it’s about being the first business they think of in your industry—ensuring you’re their primary choice.

A brand separates you from the competition

Beyond just differentiation, a brand provides a competitive shield. It encapsulates the unique story, values, and promises that competitors can’t replicate, giving you a sustainable advantage.

Go out and build your brand

There it is! All of the steps to craft your brand story.  

Don’t worry if you find yourself revisiting steps. You may decide only to realize later that it’s not compatible with other design elements of your business.

Check out our complete marketing guide to learn how to incorporate your brand with the rest of your marketing materials.

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Content Author: Kody Wirth

Kody Wirth

Kody Wirth is a content writer and SEO specialist for Palo Alto Software—the creator's of Bplans and LivePlan. He has 3+ years experience covering small business topics and runs a part-time content writing service in his spare time.