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Behind every successful business is a rock solid brand – an intentional, consistent approach to how that business does, well, business. There are a lot of loose meanings behind the word “brand,” but this definition from Forbes online contributor, Jerry McLaughlin sums it up well: “Put simply, your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.” Think of the Coca-Cola brand. If you’ve spent any amount of time in the southern United States, you’ve probably noticed that it’s not uncommon for someone who wants a carbonated beverage to ask for a “Coke” rather than “soda” or “pop.” It doesn’t even actually have to be from the Coca-Cola brand – that brand has become synonymous with a product, even though they are far from the only company that produces it. That’s some really powerful branding. Of course, Coca-Cola has the benefit of being a 125+ year old company, so they’ve had some time to build up an empirical brand. So, how does the concept of branding translate for a small, local business?
A brand starts the way most things start – with a single idea. Once you’ve got something to go off of – whether that’s a name, a mission statement, or simply a product, you’ll want to put together a branding guide to help you organize and build out what your brand will look like as a whole. A branding guide is basically your Scout Guide handbook to what your brand does and doesn’t do, say, look like, or sound like. A complete branding guide will include details on your brand story, brand voice, logo, color palette, typography, and imagery – these six components are the embodiment of your business as a whole. There are infinite ways to go about building a branding guide – but this post goes into detail and shows some awesome examples.

Two of the key ingredients to any successful brand are consistency and graphic design, and they go hand in hand. Whether or not an advertisement says the word NIKE (in their very specific font, mind you) across the top, you’d likely be able to pick that trademark “swoosh” logo out of a lineup. That logo only appears in certain colors, on certain background colors, and in very precise sizes and ratios – if it wasn’t just exactly the right size and shape, anyone who’s not been under a rock for a few years would be able to tell something was off – you don’t have to be a graphic designer to recognize design and branding in everyday life. This is, however, a good time to note that if you’re not a graphic designer, you should at least find one to ask advice – you’ll thank us later. This level of consistency should apply to all those factors you detail out in your branding guide. Creating rules about how and where your logo does and does not appear is extremely important, not only in regards to brand recognition but also in a legal sense – using a million different versions of a single trademarked logo can put your business at risk of losing your trademark, or being blatantly copied. Sticking to a specific color scheme is an irreplaceable step in gaining brand recognition – if your favorite football team stepped out on the field in an array of pastel colors, or if Pepsi abandoned their royal blue cans for neon green, we’d all be super confused.

But branding doesn’t stop at a logo, font, and color scheme. You’ve also got to think about yourself and your employees as representatives of the brand. You have to give your brand a voice, and that voice is used in person, online, and in print. Do you have an elevator pitch? You need one. You’ll use the same 20-30 second pitch over and over again to give the first impression of your entire business – so it needs to be memorable and interesting. When you give that elevator pitch in person, you’ll hand them a business card – what does that look like? It should make sense with what your website looks like, and it should also be easily distinguishable from all the other business cards being handed out constantly. An expensive looking business card gives the impression of a thoughtful, successful entity. Your brand voice also encompasses any kind of written communication from your business to anyone else. How does your business communicate with customers online, what kind of things does your business say in Facebook posts or on a billboard? Do you have a strictly-business tone, or is your business a little more laid back and casual? These are all questions that your branding guide should answer – and there are rarely obvious right answers and wrong answers. The brand that you build can (and will) evolve, but a solid basis at the beginning gives your business something to rely on over time.

Right now, your business may just be you, your cat, and a computer in your living room (or a garage). As they say, Apple wasn’t built in a day (or something like that). Even if you’ve already had your business for awhile and it’s so far lacking in the brand department, don’t be discouraged. It’s never too late to build a brand. Even the most successful companies reconsider and rebrand, sometimes over and over again. If the goal is to grow your business, the first step to build your brand.