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Think of branding as you would meeting someone on a blind date. You dress to make a specific impression. You communicate in a way that makes the other person interested in knowing more. And, if things work out, you may nudge your way toward a second date.
This is also the heart of branding, because with branding, you give someone an experience of your company that establishes a clear picture of who you are and ultimately engages that someone -- now a "customer" -- enough to buy your goods and services.
Many entrepreneurs ignore branding because they consider it too expensive or don’t think they'll need it until they reach a specific growth point. The truth is, however, that the longer you wait to brand, the more confusion you'll create in the marketplace. So, instead, start with the basics and use the many free or inexpensive branding tools that won’t break the bank but will have a drive revenue.
Create a brand style guide.
A brand style guide establishes guidelines that define your brand and how it will be shared with the marketplace. Similar to a marketing plan, a style guide assures a consistent company presence across every engagement so that your brand becomes recognizable to current and potential customers.
A brand style guide can be as complex or limited as you choose, and for most small businesses and startups should cover:
- Mission and vision
- Competitive analysis
- Target audience
- Creative guidelines
Establishing your brand style guide requires time and effort, but no money unless you choose to hire a consultant. There are also several free examples of brand style guides that can provide inspiration.
Design your logo.
Design your logo using your brand style guide. Your logo will appear on everything from business cards to your website, so it needs to visually encapsulate your brand. For assistance, check out the free or inexpensive logo-making websites, like AI logo designer by Designhill, or Sothink Logo Maker. Both provide quality designs for little to no money.
You can also find independent contractors on sites like Fiverr, to design your logo. Before using any of these options, study competitors' logos and logos from businesses that you admire, even if they are in a different industry. Identify the elements you like, and the ones you don’t, and design the logo that best represents your brand and will appeal to your target audience.
Launch your website.
Every business needs a website. Period. Why? A recent study by Deloitte found that small business with a strong digital presence earned twice as much revenue per employee than those without it. Websites generate sales, increase consumer trust and provide a 24/7 online marketing presence, which supports the company’s growth.
The challenge is that developing a website can be expensive, but resources such as Squarespace and WiseIntro can get you on the digital map cheaply, and you can upgrade or redesign your site as your company grows. If you have the funds to splurge on one piece of your branding, this is the place to spend it.
Leverage social media.
Social media sites are free to use and a great way to build your brand. Yes, you can pay to run ads and access high-level analytics, but you don’t need to start there right out of the box. Effective social media leveraging requires a professional and consistent presence. Start by conducting research to determine which social media channels are most likely to reach your target market and industry influencers.
Next, use free resources, such as Canva, to give your posts the branded look you need for a small-time investment but no financial outlay. Finally, utilize an editorial calendar to remind you to upload fresh information to these sites on a scheduled basis. Think outside the marketing box, and truly enhance your brand by sharing information about your mission and vision in ways that also highlight your personality.
Start a blog.
Blogging is another excellent way to establish your brand and engage your audience. This is where branding your voice is critical. Be intentional and consistent in your tone and communication process. Establish your expertise in your industry, discuss trends or other information relevant to your target audience and share stories about your company and staff to personalize your relationship with customers.
This is also a great opportunity to connect with other experts or influences by offering them opportunities to guest blog or request to curate their content on your site. The key to branding is to deliver fresh content on a consistent basis that will bring your audience back for more. There are several free and inexpensive blogging platforms, such as WordPress, that can get you up and running in minutes.
Your brand is the foundation of your business. but you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to establish and support it. The brand style guide should inform every aspect of your professional engagements, from your logo to your blog, to clearly and consistently communicate who you are to your target audience. A strong brand will provide financial returns, so get started today.
Ever hear of a brand style guide? That's the very first thing you'll need.