You’d have to look hard to find someone who doesn’t recognize McDonald’s golden arches, Apple’s bitten apple, or Nike’s swoosh logo. Consumers easily associate these brand logos with their respective industries—fast food, technology, and sporting goods. From the “feel-good” food of McDonald’s to the innovative high-performance of Nike, the messaging is clear and focused.
Although each stands for something different, they all share the basic tenets of strong branding—know your target audience, build customer loyalty, and establish a brand voice, personality, and core values. Creating a rock solid brand is an essential part of building any successful business—even a small business.
What is branding?
Branding is providing a strategic and consistent identity to products, services, and other public-facing materials so they are instantly recognizable by customers (and the larger public). Think of branding as your company’s calling card. It makes your business stand out from the competition. Good versions of it provide a promise in clear and impactful terms that is communicated across all brand assets. Elements of strong branding include:
- Logo. This is your company’s visual identity—it communicates what the company does and stands for. It can be a combination of symbols, brand colors, and other brand identifiers, and may be a customer’s first impression.
- Company name. A unique name that is easy to pronounce and spell, and works with your logo to convey the company’s message and product to new and existing customers.
- Tagline. A tagline is a memorable catchphrase that communicates your company’s mission, while a slogan is an impactful phrase that communicates your product.
- Voice or tone. Your company’s brand voice communicates your values and reaches out to your target customer in a way that will resonate with them and build brand recognition.
An effective and successful brand attracts potential customers and builds brand loyalty—and can even command higher prices than competitors.
Five benefits of a strong brand
Many small businesses start out by creating a new product or delivering an original service. But creating good branding and putting it into action early has measurable benefits.
1. Stands out from the competition
Distinguishing your company from competitors that offer something similar can be the difference between attracting a new customer or losing their interest.
2. Builds trust
A visible brand that has good reviews leads to more sales because it’s trusted. Building a brand customers trust improves the bottom line. According to audience measurement and analytics firm Nielsen, 85% of consumer purchases in more than 80 categories involved a name they already knew, with 22% expressing anxiety about trying a new brand.
3. Encourages customer loyalty
What does loyalty mean for businesses: repeat sales and less customer attrition, also known as “churn.” Customers who trust your business are more loyal and build the brand’s value, or brand equity. They are less likely to cancel and renew, in favor of continued spending at your store or site.
4. Attracts talent
Companies with strong brands not only attract customers but also qualified employees who see strong brands as stable and dependable. Those with a great product but a weak employer brand—such as reviews of poor workplace environments or even CEOs with negative reputations—have to work harder to attract talent, and may also lose potential customers who don’t feel the company’s values are aligned with their own.
Because a strong brand can encourage repeat sales, customer loyalty, and steady business, it can also impact a company’s bottom line. In 2022, brands that topped the Prophet Brand Relevance Index grew 133% more revenue than S&P 500 companies.
How to develop a brand for your business in eight steps
Now that you know the elements of a strong brand, where do you start? Developing a business brand comes down to these eight steps:
1. Determine your goals
Beyond such product goals as “create the best-tasting gluten-free pancake mix” or “invent and produce a windshield wiper that doesn’t leave streaks,” companies often set brand goals. For instance, a company might want to increase customer retention or create a premium brand that commands higher prices than the competition. Understanding your own brand development goals can be the foundation of a brand strategy.
2. Know your audience
Understanding your target customer is key to creating a brand that resonates with them—and part of that process is marketing your business through the channels they use, such as social media and emailed newsletters. By conducting market research, you can uncover customer preferences and interests, and how those customers consume information. Surveying current customers can reveal their needs or pain points, and which of your competitors they might buy from.
3. Establish your unique value proposition
A unique value proposition, or UVP, is your product’s competitive advantage and describes specifically how your product or service solves your customers’ pain points better than the competition. Companies with a UVP know who the competition is, what motivates their customers to buy, and what they can provide that other companies don’t. A UVP isn’t just a list of features, but a short description of how the brand is unique and provides value.
4. Identify your core values
Customers are increasingly choosing to buy from companies that care about social issues, have a specific mission, and have values that align with their own, according to research by The Harris Poll for Google Cloud. Listing your core values on your site not only shapes your company’s culture but also influences how customers or investors feel about your brand.
5. Establish a brand voice
A brand’s voice is its unique personality and how the business relates to its customers. A brand voice fosters connection, community, and ultimately, trust, and loyalty. To develop a brand voice, companies must know their customers (and potential customers) by creating a buyer persona. This is a hypothetical customer that a company creates by studying their customers’ demographics, regional locations, and buying patterns. Some companies even create a style guide to specify just what words, tone, and style they will use across all communication. Your brand voice could be charismatic and bold or formal and motivating. Once you’ve established your UVP and core values, you can tell your brand story in this voice with content marketing, and through digital and social marketing efforts.
6. Create brand assets
These are the brand colors, logos, fonts, packaging, slogans, and other elements a company uses to establish its visual identity and shape how its customers see and feel about the brand. Some companies delve into color theory (such as McDonald’s understanding that red stimulates taste buds), while others appeal to what you can do if you use their product—such as how the Nike swoosh connotes speed. A memorable logo and slogan make the brand recognizable—which leads to customer trust.
7. Increase your visibility
Once you establish your customer base, understand the competition, identify your values, and create a strong logo along with memorable assets. You can increase your brand asset’s visibility by using them across social media networks, advertising campaigns, and written communication. Companies can also use search engine optimization (SEO) to improve the visibility of their site and boost its traffic.
8. Reinforce the brand
Strong brands often create brand guidelines that help employees understand how to communicate consistently in the company’s brand voice to increase brand awareness and strengthen the brand in the eyes of its target audience. Companies with strong brands use their logos and assets across all their communication, and consistently deliver on their brand promise, so customers associate a logo and slogan with the quality and uniqueness they’ve advertised.