How to easily create a brand for your business
Back in 2020, we gave a 60 useful minutes webinar for The Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce as a patron. We’ve updated that talk slightly to share it with more people. Now be warned this article is actually over 8000 words and is very comprehensive, but rather than lock it behind email signup forms we wanted to be able to share it with everyone.
Reading time: 25-30 minutes
In this article, I’ll be talking all about branding for business. If you’re just starting in business and don’t have a formed identity yet, or you’re a long-established business but find your overall presence lacking there’s something for you here. Whether you want to take on these aspects yourself, or you’re in the market to hire someone, it’s always useful to know exactly what you should be getting.
You might not need all aspects, but you can pick and choose what parts are helpful to you or your business.
Below we’ve outlined the parts of this article so you can skip to them easily.
- Branding elements
- Corporate vs personal
- Difference between branding and marketing
- User Profiles
- Brand personality
- Business name
- Your taglines and promises
- Your story
- The message
- The logo
- Putting it together
- Final thoughts
So… what is a brand?
So that we’re all on the same page, I’ll start by defining what branding isn’t.
Contrary to popular belief, a brand isn’t a logo, it isn’t a set of guidelines defining your typefaces and colours and it isn’t a product or a promise. In the words of Marty Neumeier, a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a service, product or company. Your company’s brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what everyone else says it is.
Whatever feeling they have when they see, hear or come into contact with your products, staff or any marketing material is your brand! Have a think for a second, what happens in someone’s mind when they come into contact with you or your business? Will they have good feelings?
I’m going to give a quick overview of some of the elements that go into a successful brand which are in two main parts, Strategy and Expression. These aren’t exhaustive but are some main areas to focus on initially.
Your brand strategy includes all of the internal aspects and positioning of the business that goes on behind the scenes.
The internal brand comprises aspects such as the Purpose and Vision. It’s the way you do business and what you stand for. You’ll also be looking into your Audience, your Competition and your Differentiator to help you define your overall internal brand.
The brand expression is your outward-facing elements and they’re formed from your Personality, your verbal brand and your visual brand. Your personality is how your brand would be viewed if they were a person (or if it’s personal branding you’re looking at then it’s how you want your personality to be seen).
Your Verbal Branding is made up of aspects such as your business name, your taglines and promises as well as your story and how you want your wording to be seen and felt by your customers.
The final aspect is your overall visual brand style which includes the logo, your colours, font choices and any patterns or image styles that you’ll use in your marketing such as your website and any digital or printed material. The visual style of your brand is what most people think of as your actual brand, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg peaking out. It’s what we come to think of visually, but everything else is what makes up how we come to feel about a brand and how we got there.
The overall process of defining your brand is to answer three main questions.
Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter?
Corporate vs personal
Depending on the type of business you have you might be more interested in either corporate or personal branding.
If the business is all about yourself, such as a personal trainer, a photographer or a general freelancer, then you might be more interested in personal branding. It’s essentially very similar except that you and every interaction you make become the brand, and you define it much more on yourself.
In personal branding; photography and video are extremely important to help build trust and relationships. In many cases, the success of a corporate brand can be directly tied to a personal brand as well. For instance, if we think of Apple, they are the corporate brand and people are extremely loyal to them, but their success is also in part due to the personal brand of Steve Jobs. Manchester United have a Great world brand, but for many, it was intrinsically linked to Fergie.
If your business is wider than yourself, then the brand is still informed by the company owners, but the brand itself has the personality and the reputation. Directors and staff may change, but the brand essentially remains, as long as the core attributes and personality is adhered to. A company brand in comparison to a personal brand is what makes a business sellable. No one wants to buy a business that dies if the owner leaves or the customers follow the owner into a new venture. If you have a business brand you also get more leeway in terms of allowing others to take over in your stead. For instance, you may be a photographer but you also hire other photographers who act under your name. If I hire a person for a job specifically then I expect that person to complete the job, if I hire from a company I can expect anyone to turn up and I’ll be more open to this. You have to look at how your business will act not just now but in the future.
Difference between branding and marketing
A lot of people work successfully in marketing and branding together, but they have key differences. I like to think of it as, branding is your house, it’s the foundations, the bricks and mortar, and marketing is the for sale sign and the general work of the estate agent. Neither work particularly well without the other.
You can put a For Sale sign up everywhere that you can think of, and get as many people as possible to your door to view your handy work. But if the brickwork is shoddy, then you won’t get the price you’d hoped for, if you get a sale at all. Or you can build the most beautiful house in the world, but if you don’t actively tell anyone it’s for sale and entice people to come and view it, you’ll be lucky to sell it or even get it looked at.
Branding is the groundwork, marketing is getting the message out. Branding is trust-building, marketing is selling. Branding nurtures, marketing attracts.
I’ve seen it said that you don’t need to worry about branding unless your company is worth over 50 million pounds and for anything less you need to work on marketing. Now I’m a brand guy at heart, but that always seems incredibly short-sighted. With decent branding behind your business, you can automatically increase the quality of your marketing and foster long term relationships, that’s assuming you’re in the market for repeat business, but who isn’t?
Today is about getting your house in order and creating a pull, rather than actively pushing your business.
You might have started your business because you were good at a specific job and decided you should make the money from your skills. However, the best brands have a wider purpose. There’s an excellent book called “start with why”, which isn’t exactly about branding but aligns with the overall idea of branding. Businesses need to define what they do and how they’ll do it, but they also need to look at why they do it. You don’t have to have an over the top purpose, but if you’ve got a purpose that you can show, it’ll be really helpful in attracting your tribe.
Do you help people aside from just making a profit? Your purpose can be anything that resonates with you or your customers. For instance, you might give a certain amount of time to helping a disadvantaged group in your community, or you might donate to a specific charity, you might run workshops or donate equipment.
The important thing is that it’s genuine and suits your business. The key isn’t to appear like “look at us and how great we are” but instead that you want to highlight the things you care about and get more people involved.
More and more we’re turning into a society that cares about social issues as we get more and more exposed to them. Also, the younger the customer base you deal with, the more likely they are to want to deal with an openly ethical company. As an example, under Breaking Free Design we’ve started a charity lottery, where we give time to a chosen charity once a year to help build their website and online presence. The charities have to align with our values but they aren’t specific to any one area.
We all need to make money, but we can help while we do it.
Whatever you choose to do, you need to be genuine. Donate your skills or services that are relative to your business type. If you’re a photographer, donating your time to building houses in Africa isn’t the best use of your skills. If you’re a personal trainer then giving money to food banks is less relatable than giving your time to help run fitness classes for disabled or disadvantaged kids as an example (though donating to food banks could be excellent for a nutritionist).
I can’t build a house, but I can build a website. There’s less value in giving away time based on skills we don’t possess, so stick to what you’re good at, not just what looks good.
Based on your purpose you should also identify your core values and what you want to stand for. You want to create a brand that other people can identify common values and feelings with. The key is to make the brand purpose and set of core values flow throughout the business. If you state a core value but your staff don’t know about it and don’t stick to it then it won’t be reinforced and won’t help you to create your real following.
If you do it only for show, there won’t be any authenticity and you’ll create a negative effect first. Internalise the purpose and your values first. Remember, we’re judged more by our actions than our words. If you say you stand for diversity and inclusion, but your staff don’t reflect that, you’ll be called out on it.
Remember, business culture is mostly affected by the top so make sure leadership get involved in the process.
Your brand vision is your business’s ambition, it’s your future focused drive, it’s not just a statement for the website. If you do that, it’s a waste of time and you’ll be better spending your time elsewhere.
Your brand vision is where you aspire to be and the impact you want to have. Here we want to create belief in your business. To create your vision statement and ethos you need to look at what you want your future to look like. Where do you want to be, what impact do you want to have and who do you want to affect?
Remember, if it sounds completely realistic then it’s not bold enough. The point here is to have something to aim for as a brand, something people can get behind and get excited about. You might be happy with an extra 10% in profit, but your vision should talk about the effects you’ll have not the money you’ll make.
Your users are going be the ones who’ll define your brand at the end of the day, so it makes sense to get an idea of who they are. You need to ask: who are they, where do they live, what do they care about, what do they love and hate, what do they spend their money on, what do they spend their time on, who do they spend their time with, what do they drive, what do they read and watch on TV and what drives them.
Different people have different levels of brand loyalty. You’ll find most people have purchases where they just look for the most convenient or the cheapest option. But most also have some sort of brand preference, where they’ll choose a business over any other if it’s possible at that moment. In certain circumstances, a lot of people even show complete loyalty, where they’ll only buy that brand and if it isn’t available they’ll wait until it is. The goal of every business is to achieve brand loyalty with our customers, which in turn gives rise to recommendations within friendship and family groups, as well as between colleagues and an eagerness for our future products and services.
People get a lot less excited by the idea of a product or service itself these days, they get excited by the idea of what that thing can do for their own life. This is different for everyone and depends on who you are and your own experiences, mixed with your wants and needs for life and with your emotional needs. We make choices based on the feeling we get when we see the core message of the brand.
For instance, Nike has played heavily on the athletic go-getter persona, which even if you aren’t an athlete draws you in. The idea of Just Do It is accessible to nearly everyone in some capacity, it’s a mindset that they draw you into. We need to connect the message of the brand with the wants and needs of the customer and resonate with them on an emotional level. Our audiences are busy people who hate to be bombarded by adverts.
When building your audience personas, you’ll need to look at their demographics such as age, gender, job, education, income, location and relationship status. These will help you identify some of their basic needs, based on circumstance, such as how much disposable income they have, where their priorities might lay or how much time they may have.
We also need to look at their behaviours such as their interests, viewing preferences, the clothes they choose, what news they listen to and much more. Any behaviours that stand out for your particular group all help. You want to look into what your customers are feeling and what drives them, what are they excited about and what makes them scared.
You can build these profiles based on your real-life interactions, but also general research into your potential customers, through social media groups and forums to see what they’re discussing and putting out into the world.
The profile isn’t meant to be a catch-all figure, but instead, taking all of your research to find common themes so you can appeal to a set of identified personas, instead of guessing every time.
If you’re an established business you can base this on the interactions you’ve had in the past with your customers and the insights you’ve gained into their lives and what drives them. There’s nothing like a conversation to get to understand someone.
By identifying your core customer base you can also refine where your efforts should be placed for the highest impact and ROI. If you don’t know who your customers are, you won’t know where to find them. It’s also a great idea to make them human and name them. When you’re defining your customers you want to look at your ideal customer. For example, if you sell more of one thing currently, but your real aim is to sell a different and more expensive item, define your customer on the person buying the expensive item, not the realistic customer you currently have on the lower cost item.
Another key aim of the user profile, is to get you out of the mindset of marketing for yourself, by creating an outside persona we can define the business for the customer instead of personal preference and we have a reference to look back at and say, “does this appeal to our users?”
Everytime I start work with a new client; I ask them about their competitors. The number one response I get back is “I don’t have any competition. No one does what I do”. They always believe it, but I’ve never seen it to be true. In the internet fuelled world we live in today there’s almost zero possibility you don’t have competition somewhere. I think most people believe it sounds good to say they don’t have competition so that people think more highly of them, but it isn’t true. If you sell a service that requires your physical presence, it’s most likely someone else offers it in your area even if they aren’t directly targeting them currently. If you sell a product, anyone else in the world can ship it to your clients as well.
You may think your competitors locally aren’t up to the standard you’re working at, which may be a fair assessment, but that doesn’t mean you will automatically take their customers. The world is full of businesses that have a higher share of the market with a product or service that isn’t the best.
When it comes to looking at your competition, you want to see what they do well but you’re really looking for the aspects they’re missing out on, especially the ones that relate to your customers. You need to offer something that isn’t currently on offer or you can end up just looking exactly the same. If you think about any product or service you look for, unless you already have a brand preference you can feel absolutely bombarded by options that all look relatively similar, from ingredients to features or the style in which they talk about their service, such as “giving you peace of mind”, the key is to offer something different and make it blatantly clear, tying it to the emotions and feelings of your audience.
When it comes to actually finding out who your competitors are, you can ask your current clients who they’ve used in the past and why they stopped. Or you can head over to Google and search for your business type with your location and look into the top ranking pages, get a list of as many competitors together as you can, I’d recommend no less than 6 but ideally up to 20. For each competitor, you want to look at a set of criteria and make notes about what they do well and what they’re lacking in as well as how your customers may not be getting the experience they want or need.
Aspects you need to look at are:
- Business name
- Tagline or slogan
- Core message
- What they sell
- What is their differentiator
- Is their position a unique one
- What are their benefits
- What is their story
- Do they have an obvious personality
- Who are they appealing to
- What is their brand voice
- What do people say in reviews
- What is their design experience like
- What image style do they use
- What do you feel about their photography
- Is it a seamless user experience
- what is their content like
- Is their a person you can contact?
- Next slide
Once you’ve gathered enough data on your competitors, you will be able to see gaps and opportunities to create distinction. Looking at their reviews will be especially helpful in identifying what their customers are happy about and not so happy about. The negative reviews are exactly where you can find out what you can do better. A particularly interesting site is GlassDoor.co.uk. Here you can see what the employees themselves think of the company and can gain insights into what the culture is like internally.
What makes you different? If you want to build brand loyalty, you need something that you do differently from your competitors and enhances your customer experience. This doesn’t have to be a big technological innovation, it can be within an experience. If your competitors have a less than friendly welcome to their office, you can differentiate yourself by offering a unique customer experience based on your users wants and styles. If we can help our customers to feel more comfortable when interacting with us then this can be a big differentiator. If your competitors offer a quote or proposal to customers, without a full inspection you can make it clear that you never offer a solution without knowing it will fix the problem. Your difference will depend on your business type but you can identify the biggest differences in your user-profiles and your competitor analysis. It’s easy to be tempted to look at price as your difference, but if you start cheap it’s hard to raise your price, in most cases you don’t want loyalty based on cost. A simple difference can be found in the form of offering guides and free advice based on your service area (like this one).
The people who won’t pay for your service after taking the freebie were never likely to be customers, but they are still likely to share your information with others and recommend you. It’s also a great way to build trust. If you’re a masseuse, then an easy way to stand out could be in the form of offering helpful guides, such as how to ease certain pains. Again the people who take your advice and never pay for your service were never going to, but they are much more likely to trust in you over others.
Do your competitors deliver, do they only work from their premises, are they less flexible than you can be. Think about what they don’t do that you can.
The best brands have a personality all of their own, from an explorer to a caregiver, hero or sage. We can often associate a personality type with brands that we can identify in ourselves or feel we need in our life. The key is to match your brand personality to the needs of your audience. If your audience are risk-takers, you don’t want a brand personality that feels safe. If your audience is looking for reassurance in a troubling time, then maybe you don’t want to come across as a risk-taker.
I would suggest you look into the 12 archetypes theory and align your personalities based on this. You can have multiple personality types just like real people. You can be intellectual and athletic, you can be caring and bold. Remember on some occasions, opposites attract. Your needs don’t always match your everyday personality traits. You need to see yourself in the situations your audience will need you for.
I’m not going to go into too much about the brand name but choosing it is extremely important. If you’re still not sure about your business name or your possibly starting another business, you want to make sure that the brand name has appeal to your customers.
You can go for a descriptive name such as “Phones 4 U” or an origin base such as a place or name like “Hiltons”, a completely made-up word like “Monzo”, you can use alliteration like “PayPal” or playful names like “Yahoo”, you can also be completely random or have a name based on history. The most important aspect is that it fits your overall brand. Burger King and Mcdonalds both have different name styles but are first and second in their market, but their name is backed up by their overall brand, the King and Ronald. The same is true with KFC. If you have a lifeless name it won’t do this for your business. The only aspect I really try to steer people away from is using an acronym as a business name or in its logo. The BBC was known as the British Broadcasting Corporation for years after they started and it was the public who shortened it down first. You need your customers to know you as who you are before you try to shorten it for them. I never use BFD or B3D unless it’s backed up by the full name elsewhere, the website is B3D.co.uk because it’s easier to type and also shows up better in small spaces, but the logo straight away tells you that its Breaking Free Design. Just be careful.
Your taglines and promises
Your tag lines and your promise are going to be backed up by your purpose, your core values, your vision and your differentiator. In as few words as possible, you want to convey your overall brand essence so that it can compound your overall brand in the mind of the viewer. Think Different by Apple was a key stage in their brand development to bring them to where they are, a great tagline or promise can do wonders for the memorability of your brand. Try to be unique and not just go after the same attributes as everyone else, one I love in particular is Stella Artois and Reassuringly Expensive. They knew they were more expensive due to the import tax so they played on it. They made their cost into a selling point. Again Breaking Free Design has the tagline “Break Free from Mediocrity”. Our customers can go anywhere, we only want customers that are ready to really develop something that stands out and truly get behind the design.
As branding develops so does the style of our message. Today brands often benefit from a story, you need to create a story where you become the sidekick to the hero, who is actually your customer. We all want to be the hero of our own story, but most businesses try to be the hero of their clients’ story, If you can create a story for your customers where they can position themselves as the hero they’re much more likely to relive this experience positively and frame you to others as their aid. Position yourself as Gandalf to Frodo.
As an example instead of putting across that you save someone money, it can be reframed as your client found a great deal, it enables them to retell the tale as they were in charge.
Here we aren’t looking for one long story, but one instilled into your overall message and given in bitesize pieces.
If you do have a story behind the brand, inject it into your overall business. Did you face adversity and overcome it? The aim is to create a story that instils an emotional response and allows us to resonate with our audience. If you have a story it’s easier to get across your message in different ways consistently. The key to branding is consistency over time.
Your core message can be positive or negative, you can make a person feel optimism based on using your company or you can make them fearful of not choosing you. If we look at politics we can see that optimism is a great inspiration for increasing your following. Regardless of how you feel about the individuals behind the message they simply worked.
“Make America great again” – Donald trump
“Britain Deserves Better” and “New Labour, New Life for Britain” – Tony Blair
“Hope” and “Yes we can” – Obama
“Taking back control” – Brexit
When looking at the core message you want to identify who you help, what their pain points are, how you do it and what makes you different in the process. The message is backed up by your vision and purpose but is a more outward-facing model aimed at informing your marketing material more heavily. Be positive and be aspirational.
It can be as simple as ours “We help great people, show themselves off in the way they deserve; to gain new customers and succeed now and in the future, by building beautiful and meaningful brands backed up by websites that engage customers and fulfil their needs”. From this, you can then extract simple messages that can be used time and again within your marketing. Such as the aspect of deserving or that the client is great.
Most people think the logo is all-important and needs to reflect everything you do, or can do and have 50 different meanings behind it. But if you take a second to think of your favourite logos I can more or less guarantee most of them say nothing about the business, what it does or how it does it.
Your logo design is essentially like a photo of your face. It acts as a way for us to remember you visually and build trust based on our interactions, but it tells us nothing about your personality or how good you are at a job. In a logo design, we can infer aspects such as trust through general good design. But it’s not the job of the logo to make people love your brand.
It is also important to know that unless you’re Nike or Apple or McDonalds, everyday people aren’t going to really recognise you based on your logo icon alone. Wherever possible, make sure your logo icon (if you have one) is accompanied by the business name. Show them what they need to Google in order to find more from you. It’s also really important that you don’t just have one logo to use in every possible case. You should have a different logo to be used in different scenarios.
For example, you may have a centre-aligned logo, as 99% of the time that is how your material is done. But at some point, you will likely need a left-aligned version. Using a logo out of alignment with the rest of the material is an instant way to reduce the professional feel of your work. You also need a logo that is suited to different situations such as height or width. For instance, a website will usually give you more width than height so a long version of your logo may be most preferable here so it doesn’t get distorted or pixelated and blurry. This also works the opposite way, so if you have a logo design that is left-aligned and runs horizontally, this might not be optimal if you have a long space to work with; such as a banner or DL flyer etc. In this case, you might be better with a logo that is vertically aligned and stacked vertically as well, so the icon on top and the wording underneath. If you’re Facebook or Nike you can afford to get away with just using your icon, but if you get down to small spaces and need people to see and recognise your business, for instance in the header of a social media post, I would suggest opting for your text-based logo design, for Breaking Free Design in social media posts I use the text logo in the left corner and then use the icon to brand extra spaces such as the right of the screen.
Also, make sure you have your logo in different colours and without a background. Every day I see a logo set against a white background and plonked onto a colour or photo background, get your logo as a PNG and you can use it anywhere, even if it does need a container such as a white circle. If you are still looking into a logo or you’re thinking about a redesign, the best advice I can give is to keep it simple and keep it clean.
If possible have a story behind the logo. For instance, the Breaking Free Design logo is the B from the old logo, turned on its side and broken apart, making a bird symbol leaving land. It’s unlikely you’d see that without being told but the main importance is that the symbol is easy to use, distinguishes it from other companies and feels correct to the overall brand. The meaning is the last concern. There are so many times I come across companies with multiple offices and quite a lot of staff, but the logo that gets used wasn’t fit for the job, either looking out of place or blurry, it might not seem like a big deal, but it adds to an idea of lack of care and a feeling of not being professional. Don’t let this be you.
Choice of your type is where a lot of businesses really mess up their visual style early and consistently. It’s also where in bigger businesses, a brands visual style can change (along with colour) with every new creative team or new staff member if they aren’t set in stone.
I see this most often with social media. It’s a beast that needs feeding constantly, so it puts pressure on people to make everything look different to the last, especially with quote based posts. The creator is left to decide on what font matches the feeling they have for the post or that day, instead of following the brand.
Pick 2-3 fonts that you’re going to use for the rest of time, and stick to them, religiously!
It’s better to pick classics that aren’t synonymous with your business yet than it is to pick crazy or exceptionally creative ones. For instance, Helvetica is timeless, it’s used to death, but it’s professional and readable in small and large. It works in both upper and lowercase and works beautifully against any background. Something to note is that fonts can add up and end up costing you a few hundred pounds at least. If you’re just starting out and you’re on a budget, an excellent choice is Google Fonts where many of the fonts are free for commercial use and there are many that are very similar to the more expensive options. For instance, the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce main font is Gotham, which for the whole family can cost you upwards of £400, yet on Google Fonts you can find Montserrat which is very close apart from a few letters and is free for commercial use. Side note, Gotham is a beautiful font!
There are also free for commercial use fonts on websites such as fontspace.com
If you find a font you love for your headers or body text that you’ve decided on, you can find a match for it as the opposite pairing on sites such as fontpair.co, it will show you a match with an example so you can see how they look together.
Always remember, opposites look great together in type. If you have a serif font as your header then a sans serif font as your body text is great. Serif is basically text with the flicks on the end and sans serif means no flicks. So Arial is a sans serif, Times New Roman is a serif. You can in some circumstances have a third font for a specific use such as quotes, buttons or introduction text. But don’t go past these three choices. If you do have to make substitutions in some places such as a website or an app like Canva, always pick a font that matches as close as possible, I would say to have your alternative fonts outlined in a brand guide though, so for instance, if you picked Helvetica, you may say that Arial can be used if the font isn’t available in an app or website.
You may have a logo set in stone with text within it, but you never set in stone how it would appear alongside your text. If so Now is the perfect time to sort this out.
Your colours are similar to your text, in terms of choosing your font and sticking to it. If you have colours set, great, if you don’t, let them be informed by your overall brand decisions so far. Don’t pick colours, pick feelings first. For instance, people often say that red is very passionate and strong but it can also be dangerous, or that blue is the colour of trust and harmony. But it depends on what shade of each that you use. If I use a pale red none of that applies, it may feel more like autumn, or depending on the shade of blue it may feel cold. Work out what feeling you want your brand to portray and then pick colours based on that.
If you want to put across luxury and decadence a gold may be perfect, on the other hand depending on the style of gold chosen you might actually come across cheap. In my experience there aren’t any colours that are particularly off-limits to any sector or business, there are just colours more commonly associated. Such as green for natural or health products, blue and red for banks and so on. But there’s nothing stopping you from going completely against the norm and standing out because of it. Monzo makes a big deal about the colour of their cards and they stand out as an outsider for good reasons helped by it. When you’re deciding your colours you want to make sure you have two or three different but complementary colours. If you picked red as your main colour, you need a contrasting background, so white or black are suited. But then on top of this, you want some shades of red that you can use as well as an outside highlight colour that will stand out as it will be used very sparingly. A little like the additional font we talked about.
If you want to look at colours that match based on your top colour choice, there are palette generators online such as paletton.com where you can find complementary colours to match your main choice.
Along with your images and patterns your colours, text and logo should come together to create an overall visual style that remains consistent, the biggest problem is when you offload different work to different people without a set of guidelines, things can become open to personal preference or interpretation by the designer. For instance, a website can look totally different to your print and those can both look totally different to your social media. Guidelines can help this massively even if it’s just a simple A4 sheet outlining the different colours and fonts to use. In terms of social media, as a lot are done on the fly with a phone a good way to keep them at least fairly consistent is to create a set of Canva templates that overlay your images every time, a bit like a letterhead with its header and footer.
Use a letterhead document in word or Google docs or the like for writing proposals and saving as PDF. It will keep all of your documents branded and consistent. You’ll probably use a lot less letterheaded paper than previously but the design is still really useful for proposals and formal documents you need to save as PDFs. It keeps everything simple and easy to edit and use but stays branded.
The same can apply to PowerPoint presentations, this again is just a simple template made to be easily edited but to stay consistent and keep my brand style in place. From the header sizes to the logo placement.
As a note, PowerPoint or other slide creation tools are excellent for creating social media posts, just set the slide to the same size you want such as 1080px square, then set your header and footer, and you’re free to create slideshows for your Instagram feed and you can offer more content spread out into easy to digest pieces. Remember, simple but polished is better than creative but sloppy.
The whole point of branding is primarily to build relationships and trust without the need for one person to take everything on, if you have an amazing sales and marketing person you don’t want everything to fall apart when they actually start to buy from you, on the same vein you don’t want to have to hold your success to ransom by the efforts of one staff member. As a business, there are numerous ways to foster your brand trust, not only for the clients you’re dealing with but with any potential customers who are interacting with your brand before they contact you.
Whether you’re just starting out or not, trust goes a long way and it can be comprised of many different aspects that you’ll likely know about, yet so many people fall short on these.
The first one is mostly for those just starting, you need an official email address from your own email address.
Gmail and Hotmail are fine for personal use or even for accessing some of the tools you might need such as analytics, but nothing says “I’m not a proper business” like a Gmail address on your marketing or website. If you have a website domain, you can get a free Zoho email address linked to it for you and up to 4 other employees, it’s like Gmail but with your website name. If you don’t have a website address, get one. You can get a domain name for less than £20 per year and your email for free.
The same can be said for your phone number, if you’re not the face of the business, get yourself a landline number. You can pick up a VoIP number for a few pounds per month and get a local number, it adds a level of trust that the business is local and there is an extra level of accountability, it will also help with local search rankings. It can come straight through to your mobile or split across multiple teams so that the first person to answer gets the call.
If you have a website, this can be where trust is made or broken in a lot of cases. Does your website show off who you are, what you do and why it’s important?
There are countless websites out there for businesses that do one thing, but the visual design or wording don’t tell us that. People get very focused on trying to find a stock photo that represents a nice feeling or meaning behind their business and totally dilute or lose any real meaning of the page. I see a lot of websites with lines like “We make your life easy” then a stock photo of someone surfing or sitting in a field of grass. Completely unrelated to the product or service they sell. If you’re going to use stock photos, make sure they represent you and your business as well as any ideas you’re trying to get across. As an example, a solicitor would be better to show an image of client interactions and happy, at ease faces than an ambiguous image.
Where possible I’d recommend getting your photography done professionally.
For those in the North of England, I can highly recommend John Steel Photography, I’ve had my own personal branding photoshoot with him to help with social media personalisation. If you plan ahead of the photos you’ll need you can get yourself a library that will do you for years to come, whether it’s your website or social media or printed material like flyers.
When it comes to your website, even if you don’t get customers directly from it, lots of people will check it out just to see how credible you are or look. If you don’t have the time or resources to make a website at the moment, I’d suggest getting your domain name redirected to a social media page like Twitter or Instagram. If someone types your address from an email you don’t want to lose them or them to see a “This website is parked by GoDaddy”. Just redirect them to somewhere you stay active and if they want to contact you, they can.
If you want to build brand trust, a real killer can be in your online reviews. Google Business is great to have to help your overall SEO, but if you aren’t keeping clients happy then they have the option to tell the world. They can also head over to TrustPilot or your Facebook review page and do the same. If you’re getting good reviews then that’s wonderful, if you don’t have any or very little then you need to actively encourage your customers to leave them.
I’m not talking about asking for fake reviews from friends, I’m talking about getting real reviews from your actual customers. Most people will be happy to do it if you give them the link and tell them it will help your overall SEO. The problem I see though most often and not only from small one-person businesses, is the lack of a response by the business to the review being left. Good or bad, you need to respond, it shows you care about what your customers think or experience. Though I’d say it’s even more important to respond to the negative. If they aren’t happy, reach out under their comment and give them directions on how you can help to rectify their experience. They may not take it, but anyone else viewing that review will see that you were willing to offer a solution. Everyone messes up, great branding isn’t saying you are flawless. It’s a guarantee that if there is a flaw, there’ll also be a solution and that the people behind the business aren’t just going to take your money and run.
In terms of a guarantee, if you can offer a guarantee upfront it can do wonders for the perception of your brand also. It doesn’t always have to be a money-back guarantee, you can make a guarantee based on your ideal clients’ personal issues, but to find these out you need to talk to your potential customers and find out what perceptions they have. I’ve seen builders who offer a guarantee that no one will dirty their home with muddy shoes, they’ll clean up everything before they leave and they’ll never hear swearing by their workers. They found out that these were top concerns after being ripped off, so they implemented them. What are the concerns of your customers and how can you alleviate their worries?
Putting it together
It can seem difficult if you’re not a designer to put together a visual style for your business, but it’s as easy as putting together a mood board. You can do it yourself on PowerPoint or even on an A4 or A3 piece of paper if you prefer, using magazines to cut images out that suit your style, or printing images you find online and piecing them together. If done right, it can help guide the direction of your brand much more than a set of guidelines alone can do. Take what you’ve gathered from your research and set out who the brand is to appeal to and your tone of voice, as well as your visual styles such as fonts and colours. You can take screenshots from font factories and place them in and colour palettes from colour generators.
This isn’t a final piece to be adhered to, it’s just a visual aid in putting the brand together. Preferably you will get this done by a designer but again it’s good to know the basics so you can assess if what they come back with actually suits. It always helps to get a real feel for how things will actually work together. Here are some examples of the style boards I put together when creating a brands visual and verbal style for clients. This isn’t the final style, it’s just a way to get on the same page as the client.
Hopefully you’ve found that of some help but just to recap
A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a service, product or company and it’s much more than just the visual look and feel.
Branding is relationship building while marketing is selling.
You need to define a wider purpose than just making money and create a vision of your future.
Create user profiles to get an insight into who your customers are and Define your competition to Look for gaps in what is currently on offer.
You also need to make your brand as human as you can and A strong business name can do wonders if it matches your overall brand voice and with tag lines that talk to your tribe.
Be the sidekick of the story, not the hero and remember Positivity is your best friend.
The logo isn’t as important as you think it is, but Consistency is king (or queen).
Lastly, It’s all about trust!
If anyone needs any help with the aspects I’m happy to give extra pointers just leave a comment below or head over to the contact page to get in touch.