How to define your small business’ brand

Establishing a brand is a key aspect of marketing your products or services these days. In an age where consumers are overwhelmed with choice, it isn’t easy to secure client or customer loyalty, but the companies that do give themselves a huge advantage. In fact, despite the wealth of choices out there, customer loyalty is alive and well - a US study found that 84% of adults are loyal to retailers and 82% are loyal to product-brands. While earning loyalty isn’t always straightforward, the rewards are significant.

But building a brand identity - one that goes beyond products and a shopfront to create a story which customers can relate to - isn’t as easy as a colour scheme and a logo. It encompasses the emotional connections you create with your target market, in just the same way that the best stories we enjoy reading are those that make us invested in the plot and the characters.

If your brand is built on values that your customers share, they are far more likely to trust you and remain loyal to you. So how do you show those values and build a relationship in an authentic way? It’s not as simple as bombarding them with adverts - though experiencing a brand through multiple different touch points is good for brand recognition, instead consumers are looking for real value in their relationships with businesses.

Modern consumers want to engage with brands; according to some research, 62% said social media interactions with a brand would increase their chances of becoming a customer. And if they’re going to interact with you, you have to ensure that the experience is a positive one.

Small businesses may be reading this warily, but fear not. Establishing a strong brand identity needn’t take massive resources at this stage. Once sales skyrocket and you launch internationally, things may change… For now, we’ll look at some simple ways to define your brand identity and use that to relate to your customers.

Identify what makes your brand different

What makes your company special? What do you add to your customers’ lives that others don’t? While most questions like this tie to your products, some do so more than others. Ask yourself what the demand for your products or services is, and where it comes from.

Do you have a unique competitive advantage, a “secret ingredient”? If so, great. Build on the unique aspect that gives your brand. If not, don’t worry. Not every company does something completely innovative. But think about what can you offer that the competition does not? Maybe you have the best customer service of all your local competitors, or have an inclusive hiring policy, or source everything from trusted nearby farms.

However you can differentiate yourself, do so. It’s worth bearing in mind that some advantages are more sustainable than others. If you’re the cheapest, you’ve lost that as soon as someone else slashes their prices. If you’re the best in terms of quality or innovation, or you're the only one that has a certain story, that’s much harder to replicate.

A great example is The Honest Company, a beauty and baby product company launched in 2011 by film star Jessica Alba. It was built on the idea of providing effective products without the masses of harsh, harmful, and synthetic ingredients prevalent in most other brands. Guided by Alba’s experiences shopping for her own children, The Honest Company has grown from a 17-product range to a $1.7bn valuation and continues to thrive because it continues to be the leader in delivering what it promises customers.

Commit to your brand’s values

The Honest Company is a great example of the part that values have to play in a brand’s identity. They can determine what your unique angle or competitive advantage is through what you choose to focus on. Holding these values dear and keeping them in mind will aid decision-making and attract like-minded customers.

It’s not enough to know what you stand for: you have to capture it! Write down what values you think are important for your company and make these a daily focus. Having a visual reminder of what’s influencing your decisions will help you to stay focused.

Check out the competition

It can be difficult to compete for market share, especially as a newer or smaller company competing with established brands and big names. This is why creating and securing a niche market is often a more profitable route. But if this isn’t possible, market research is a key way to determine how to position your own brand to stand out from the competition.

Identify who your main competitors are and what unique selling points (USPs) they are emphasising for their own businesses. There may be room to present a compelling alternative to what they are offering. If they’re a larger business, customers may be missing a more personal touch that allows them to connect to real people instead of a faceless corporate image.

Look for customer pain points that your competition are addressing, and how they are attracting people in the market. Then do the opposite. What aren’t they covering? What are their weaknesses?

Define your ideal buyer personas

While there are plenty of tips and tricks available for this process online, there are a few key aspects to cover here. The first is the rationale behind the process - why do you need to know who your ideal customer is anyway?

Knowing your ideal customer gives you direction. It allows you to understand where best to focus your time and efforts across the business, be it promotional activities, product development, or recruitment.

The reason for this is the first step of the persona creation process: using market research and real existing customer data. If you know that 70% of your customer base are male, then it’s easy to see that a masculine promotion is likely to do better with your existing customers. Equally, unless you have an inherently-male product, you can expect easier new customer growth by targeting women instead.

Always be aware of how your buyer personas relate to your brand’s USP. What do they struggle with? How do you solve their problems? What else could you do to help make their lives easier?

You’ll find that these personas start out as fairly rough drafts, perhaps targeting the two or three main demographics prevalent among your customers. That’s fine. This is an iterative process and you may find yourself cycling through these first four steps several times to hone in on exactly who you’re catering for and what you’re offering. The important thing is to get a rough idea early on. This will help you focus your marketing efforts, which is especially important when budgets are limited. Focused emails targeting specific personas have been shown to drive up to 18 times more revenue than general ones, so can you really afford not to get to know your ideal customers?

Again, it’s worth emphasising that completing this step may then lead to revisions of your USP or further competitor research as you unearth new facts about your brand and the market. Proceed to the final step once you’re confident in what you know.

Create marketing collateral

With research in place, you’re in a position to create the more tangible aspects of your brands. All the previous steps will feed into the decisions that follow as you consider what will help to emphasise your unique nature, convey your values, differentiate yourself from the competition, and appeal to your ideal buyers. Among the things you may consider at this stage are your logo, colour scheme, and brand tone of voice. These three are the first steps to then create further material. How does your ideal buyer want and expect to be spoken to? What’s important and appealing to them that you can showcase in your branding?

With the cornerstones in place, you can move on to creating websites, emails, advertisements, displays, and more. The more closely you can tie each of these to the steps above, the more successful they’ll be. Best of luck with your own branding efforts!

About the author

Jake Waller is a wordsmith who plies his trade here at Findmyshift. He uses his background in engineering to simplify complex topics for a variety of tech firms. When not writing for Findmyshift he blogs under a pseudonym at My Name is Skylance and has a passion for creative writing and editing, about which he's always talking on Twitter.