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Marketing 101 for small business: branding

Brands are intangible, indispensable and crucial to the success of your business. Few modern businesses can succeed without conscientiously building their brand. Your brand allows your business to be immediately recognizable as unique to your customers and prospects in a crowded marketplace.

Brand basics

Your brand demonstrates how people should perceive your business, like what they can expect and what they're willing to pay for its services.

Your brand should separate you from your competition and invite customers to make a deeper connection with your business. It should create trust and tell a unique and memorable story. Your brand’s identity should be something your customers can identify with—or even see themselves in.

Think of the biggest brands you know. You can probably come up with a few adjectives for each company and describe it as if it were a person or character.

For example, you might say Tim Hortons evokes Canadiana, WestJet Airlines evokes friendliness (and humour with its annual April Fools’ pranks) and the tentree clothing brand evokes sustainability.

A brand is the sum of what customers think of a business. What do they expect of your business? How do they perceive its actions? What are they willing to pay?

Building a brand is about understanding the demographic you can most likely sell to and then crafting a voice that resonates with them. It’s about the emotion that’s attached to that product or service.

But what’s the clearest way to cut through all the noise?

Brand building: step by step

Building a brand is similar to building a house—you need to start with a strong foundation.

The customer experience with your business will continue to contribute to this, so it’s important for your company to meet or surpass expectations.

How to build your brand:

  1. Identify your audience:
    Using your market research, you should build a solid understanding of who your customers are and what they’re looking for. This includes identifying their pain points, demographics and other key information.
  2. Develop the core of your brand: 
    This is your brand’s ideology, purpose for existing and the feelings it inspires. If you’re having trouble, try using the exercise mentioned above and imagine your brand as a person—an individual with their own tastes, voice, history, dreams and fears. Try writing some notes about them with details like: 
    - Favourite foods, bands or hobbies
    - Demographic information like age, gender and occupation
    - Buying habits
  3. Create your brand statements
    Brand statements are one-sentence manifestos of your brand. These are key to brand trust, and it’s important to recognize the importance of integrity in these statements and declarations. 
    Brainstorm your business’ values, hone in on keywords and develop a sentence from that. Compare your values to your audience's values and find the most obvious connection.
    Think of Nike’s “Just do it” and the ambitious feelings it inspires. Even ATB’s own tagline, “Powering possibility” uses two commanding words to communicate its mission.
  4. Create your brand identity
    Constructing your business’ identity  goes beyond your logo and includes your brand colours, fonts, website, packaging, messaging and any other marketing, advertising or promotional materials that you develop.
    There are many affordable online tools, such as Canva, that small business owners can use to create a basic brand kit. You may want to consider hiring an agency or creative team to support you in building your brand kit to ensure it’s professional, polished, memorable, recognizable and user-friendly. It’s important to remember that the best brands are often simple. Focusing on simplicity allows you to easily control the brand and ensure consistency.


Brand considerations

  • Create a voice for your business based on your core elements. Is your business fancy? Country? Casual? Funny? Your voice should reflect this and be used on all communications internally and externally.
  • Be consistent. Brands take time to grow in the minds of customers.
  • Remember and deliver on your brand promise. For example, if being environmentally friendly is part of your brand, use reusable garbage bags instead of plastic or offer a glass of water instead of a bottle in meetings. The last thing you want is for your customer to see your brand promise as insincere or a marketing gimmick.
  • When you're training new employees, make sure they understand the brand, its voice and your customer experience. They have a role to play in helping you deliver a consistent experience for your clients.