This week in my day job I got talking to someone outside of the marketing team, and it became apparent that they simply didn't really know what a brand was. They thought it was our logo, the mark that we use on everything from posters to our website. I suppose I take for granted my understanding of what a brand is but it got me thinking - why should they know any different? Cue another (long!) marketing tips blog...
The logo is the main thing that all the big companies shout about, and protect, so it's not surprising that people think this is the key thing to a successful brand. But any good marketing professional will tell you this is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything you do contributes to your brand, whether it is the tone of your customer service, the style in which you tweet, the images you use (over and above your logo) or the quality of your wares - it all combines to establish a personality and reputation - this is your brand! So, here's some of my tips on what to consider for building your small business' brand identity.
Logo / name
This is a good place to start simply because of the misconception around what makes a brand. In reality this is of course as important as all the other elements. Established companies protect their name, and supporting graphics for a reason. It's usually the first thing that a customer will come into a contact with, and is a visual way that helps them recognise that they are dealing with the same business. So consistency is key.
Use your chosen name across everything you do so your clients become confident with your business. There is no point being known for good customer service on your website and then using twitter to promote your business if they look totally different so no one makes the connection. It doesn't have to cost much more than time to come up with a great name and something visual to support it. A simply logo created with a nice font, or a photo taken creatively from your mobile phone can often be enough. One of the key factors of success is getting customers to recognise you in an instance whatever the touch point is, so think about how you're going to go achieve this.
Again your use of colours will help build up a brand identify so think about how these can work in your favour. Different colours resonate with different types of people so think about how this can contribute to what you're trying to say about your business. For me I picked purple because it is my favourite colour - that is as good as reason as any - and there are positive psychological reasons why this is a good choice for a fashion / gift type business. People will often associate the colour with high quality, elegance and luxury. Likewise, blue is often linked with calm and trustworthy brands, green with natural products, orange is seen as energetic - so there is plenty of choice. And of course while you have a preferred colour pallet its ok to mix it up now and again. For example, we all know red shouts SALE!
The tone of voice by which you conduct your correspondence is increasingly important as email and social media have become prominent tools for customer service, as more and more business is conducted online. When you are chatting on social media remember not to alienate potential customers by being too familiar and pushy, or on the flip-side abrupt or, dare I say it, rude. In most cases swearing and negativity should be avoided on business accounts. So, if you wouldn't say something in front of a person in real life, don't publish it online, as it may get misinterpreted, or worst lose you a sale.
Every business is different so think about how you want to come across. Do you want to sound friendly, knowledgable, high brow, independent, national, local, big, small - anything goes, and it could be a combination of things. The main thing is to keep the tone consistent and approachable. If I was to offer any advice I would suggest you find a tone that is natural to you. If you find it easy to write and aren't trying too hard, then it is more likely to come across as genuine, and trustworthy.
Copyright and image choice
Not to be confused with copywriting above! This note is regarding the use of already protected trademarks and photographs. Most people know that they shouldn't be crafting items using cartoon characters, football crests, famous movie quotes or other people's patterns to name a few. Re-sellers will also know they aren't suppose to stock items without licenses for brands such as Disney or any other household name.
What's more it's best practice to avoid simply googling and using photos without checking the rights because quite likely you are simply stealing from another small business. Photographers need to make money too and this is why they list their photos with stock image websites. Usually it is a nominal fee of a few pounds to use an image, and you'll receive it in high quality which is going to be more beneficial to your business anyway. Yes, you're going to want to pick strong images that represent your business but just because you found them on google doesn't make them a free for all (the same applies for fonts!). If you can't afford to invest in stock photography make sure you look for zero creative commons licensed images - these are free to use and usually still great quality. Perfect for things like blogging.
Probably the most important thing to remember is YOU are your brand, whether it's just you or an entire work force. These days customers love to know what happens behind the scenes so striking a good balance between professionalism and the human side of what you do will make them resonate with your company. Don't be afraid to let them see a glimpse behind the shop window - show them work in progress even if it isn't perfect, talk about your husband, or the cat that sits on your keyboard when you're trying to tweet, crack a joke, share your achievements - simply be yourself. OK you might need to tone down some things and not over share, but on the whole if a customer enjoys reading and seeing what you and your business are up to they're more likely to remember when they are ready to buy.
And on that note I'll sign off. I think from the length of this blog I've proved that a brand is more than just your logo but if you always put the customer in the heart of every decision and you simply remember to ask yourself "how would my customer interpret this?", then you can't really go wrong.