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4 Inexpensive branding strategies for small businesses

Branding: that’s something that only huge companies, like McDonalds and Apple do, right? Not necessarily.

Many small business owners mistakenly believe that branding costs a lot of money. And certainly, there are agencies that will help you build your brand for a staggeringly high price that most small businesses simply can’t afford. But branding agencies don’t have a corner on the market.

Good branding is for everybody and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Especially in the digital age, there’s plenty you can do to make your business memorable. These 4 branding strategies can help your small business go from idea to successful reality.

1. Figure out your brand identity

All illustrations in this article by Emanuela for 99designs

Branding is more than just the logo that you put on your business cards. It’s everything you stand for: your customers, your reputation, your look, your feel. In short, your story. The first step to branding your small business is understanding who you are. And best of all, this branding strategy is totally free!

So what is your story? Ask yourself these 3 questions to get started:

What makes you different?

Something sets apart your business from others doing the same thing. What is it? Maybe it’s that the items you sell are lovingly handmade. Maybe your business has been in the family for several generations. Maybe all your products are eco-friendly. It doesn’t have to be something huge and game changing, just authentically you. A great example of this is Ben & Jerry’s. There are a couple things that make them different:

  1. They give all of their flavors fun, punny names

  2. Their company mission has three parts. Not only are they committed to creating fantastic ice cream, but they are also committed to sustainable growth and social outreach.

photos via Ben & Jerry’s

Whatever it is, this key differentiation is what’s going to help you stand out, and is definitely something you want to build into your brand identity. You’ll draw attention and build trust simply by being your authentic self.

Who are your customers?

It may sound simple, but many businesses haven’t thought out who their target audience is. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to provide a great product or service: you have to know who you’re trying to sell it to. How old are they? What’s their income? Gender? When would they use your product and why?

Once you’ve figured out your target market, you’ll be in a much better position to decide what your brand should look and feel like. Remember, you’re not cutting people out. Instead, you’re pinpointing your ideal customer—the people most likely to purchase your product or service—and figuring out how to best grab their attention. You’re looking for your 1000 True Fans. They’re out there somewhere, and you just need to figure out who they are and how to reach them.

What’s your mission?

Now that you have a better understanding of who you are, compile all that brainstorming into a 1-3 sentence mission statement. This should be a concise statement that captures the essence of not only what you do, but why you do it. It should act as a guiding light going forward. Whenever you’re stuck with a tough decision, look back at your mission statement and it can help you make the right choice.

2) Make your brand memorable

What’s the difference between Airbnb and VRBO? They both do very similar things: they connect travelers with individual property owners who are looking to rent out their home. But even though VRBO has been around several years longer, it’s much more likely that you’ve heard of Airbnb. What has set them apart? They’ve made their brand memorable. Their name is unique, catchy and captures not only what they do but their spirit. Their look is friendly, and their app and website clean and easy-to use. Compare these to VRBO, whose name and logo is an acronym that doesn’t give you any more information.

You can make your brand memorable (and for cheap!) by paying attention to a couple key details.

Spend some time on your name

You only have one chance to make a first impression—and for many customers, your business’ name is that impression. In a startup-flooded marketplace, getting your name right can be the key to your success, while a bad name can doom your chances with new customers.

These days, it’s not just enough to think of a good name, you also have to claim it as a unique domain name. Before you settle on anything, search to see if available to buy. Also think about how your URL will look when it’s displayed. Here are a few examples of businesses that failed to step back and see their domain names as others would read them, with unintentionally hilarious results.

You also want to turn up in customers’ searches. Pickles may be an adorable name for your baby clothing company, but you’ll probably never end up on the front page of a google search for “pickles.” Is that okay with you?

A few other common naming conventions to avoid:

  1. Acronyms and initials. This kind of name causes trouble with SEO ranking. It’s also very difficult to convey a company message in 3 letters. (Yeah yeah, IBM has done it, but if you want to keep your branding budget low this probably isn’t the best strategy.)

  2. Puns. Are you considering a play on words or familiar catch phrases? You might want to think twice about that. The name may sound snappy now, but problems can arise when you try to branch into other markets where the pun no longer makes sense, or just isn’t funny. (And really, do you want to make any percentage of your customers groan when they think about your name?)

  3. Dull descriptions. A name that simply describes what you do isn’t forward-thinking and won’t give you freedom to move into new markets down the road.

Naming is fun, and very personal, but it’s also very important, which can be stressful. It’s something you can take on by yourself, but there are resources out there to help (even on a budget). Companies like Naming Force and Squadhelp will allow you to crowd source ideas for the perfect business name.

Define your brand’s look

Once you’ve got your name and story nailed down you can start thinking about what your brand looks like. These two things are prerequisites because they will guide what you want your brand to look like.

A logo will likely be the cornerstone of your visual branding strategy. We usually recommend it as a starting point for all of your other visuals. Just remember to take in mind all of the different instances you might need it: on your product packaging, website, business cards, app icon, etc. You’ll want something that you can use anywhere and that will grow with you into the future.

Unless you are a designer or have a background in design, we’d highly recommend you pay someone to create your logo. Good news, it doesn’t have to be expensive! There are several options out there. We’d recommend a logo design contest (but we admit we might be biased). You can also consider a logo maker or freelance designer. We wrote an article to help you pick the best option for you.

Find your voice

Voice is something that is easily overlooked, but if you’ve got a knack for words can help make your brand incredibly memorable. Groupon built their brand on a fat tortoise-shell cat that got the final, sassy word on all of the deals offered on their website. And Dollar Shave Club used a pithy voice and sense of irreverent humor to create a viral video that launched their company into a major player.