Branding 101 for Small Business

Having a consistent image for your business is critical for your future growth, but how do you know where to start?
November 14, 2012

Not every business owner will agree on what branding means, but there's no question that it is a crucial concept to success in the small business arena. 

Many people mistakenly think that a brand is the company logo, the fact that you use red and black on all communications, or even a mascot. In fact, branding is how all of the parts of a company work together to create an image. 

"Brand might be thought of as the organization's personality and encompasses elements of its product or service: its pricing, its distribution channels and, of course, its promotion," says Linda Pophal of Strategic Communications, LLC. “All of these elements must work together, consistently, to develop and maintain a strong brand. Importantly, strong brands can take years to create and can be destroyed in an instant.”

Envision Your Brand

Brainstorm about what makes your company different from the competitors and what compliments you typically receive from your customers. Is your company “hip” or do you represent a more nostalgic time? Are you a bit quirky or is traditional more the style of the company?

Three years ago, Evolutions, an Annapolis, Maryland-based health club, experienced a slowdown due to the recession and began working with Quintain Marketing to re-brand their business. Staff asked members of the health club what words came to mind when they thought of Evolutions and then used the results of “warm, welcoming, relaxing, calming, family, supportive” to focus their branding efforts. 

Pick a Place to Start

Creating a brand can be overwhelming. Find an element of your brand that you can use as the cornerstone and build all of your marketing and business elements from there. Many companies start with a logo that represents their niche or personality while others find that starting with a tagline works best.

Evolutions used their new tagline “don't just get in shape...evolve” as a starting point and then built other elements of their branding around the slogan. The company made many changes, including switching their colors from black and red to warmer colors (sage green and gold), launching a radio campaign of Zen moments and began including a personal letter from the owner in the weekly newsletter. After the re-branding exercise, the health-club began adding new customers and increasing revenues.

You can even use something as simple as the name of your company to build your brand around. Darlene Tenes, owner of Hispanic lifestyle company CasaQ, used the name of her company to establish meaning and her ties to the Hispanic heritage – the Q stands for querida, which together means loving home. “CasaQ orange is a rich coral color that stands out from other brands and has a Latino flavor. I wanted people to be able to spot my packaging and know instantly that the orange box was a CasaQ product, much like a Tiffany blue box,” says Tenes. 

Be Consistent

Once you have your starting element, determine the rest of the design specifics such as colors, logo, website and tagline. Be consistent with your design elements on all marketing materials, including social media, but even more importantly, with feel and flair of all communications. If your brand image is quirky and fun, then even the writing style in your newsletter and your office décor should reflect this image.   

“By having a consistent brand–logo, colors, typography, etc.–you get to leverage your marketing within your market,” says Jayme Pretzloff, marketing director for Minneapolis-based Wixon Jewelers. She says their customers eagerly anticipate their print materials because they are always “humongous” ads with a play on words in the message. “We also try and focus on a single piece of jewelry in our advertisements as well, because it helps us leverage our ad space and spotlights a single idea,” says Pretzloff. 

Remember the Little Things

It’s often the little touches that help solidify a brand in a consumer’s mind.  Make sure that all of your employees include your tagline as their email signature and link to your website. Next time you are purchasing couches for your lobby, consider about how they add or detract from the overall brand. And even think about the brand image when selecting company uniforms.

Once you have successfully created a brand, each time you have to make a decision, no matter how small, ask yourself if it contributes to the brand. If it does, then move forward. But if the answer is no, then take a moment to make another choice that will positively add to the image of your buisness that you have created.

Read more posts about branding

Jennifer Gregory is a journalist with over 17 years professional writing experience. Jennifer blogs via

Photo: Getty Images