5 tips for successful branding for small businesses

Your branding defines your business. It does. It's about more than knocking up a logo that looks nice. It defines your business, encapsulating everything about you from your ethos to what you do. I've spoken to lots of business owners in the past who believe that branding is something that 'only big businesses do', thinking that it's a horrifically expensive and unnecessary process which requires time and financial resources that they don't have. The reality is that without a strong brand identity, it's really difficult to engage with potential customers, and if you can't do that you'll have a tough time selling. So the question is really this: can you afford not to invest in developing a strong brand identity for your business?

I firmly believe that a strong brand is at the core of all successful businesses, and that the majority of the work needed to establish yours actually happens before anyone starts clicking their mouse. I'd like to share with you my 5 top tips to building a successful brand identity for your business...

1) Find your niche

What's the one thing that your business is excellent at - the thing that makes you so much more brilliant than any of your competitors? It might be that you're particularly knowledgeable in a specific area, offer an incredible level of customer service above and beyond everyone else, or sell a unique product or service. For some businesses, finding a niche is easy whereas for others it can require a certain amount of thought, but I promise it's worth it. For us at Ditto, one of the things that makes us unique is our highly accessible high street studio in Sevenoaks (much more approachable and convenient for our clients than hidden-away offices of other design agencies that you have to make an appointment to visit), and family values which are behind the way we do business. Once you've established what you have that nobody else does, you can go about packaging that up and selling the benefits of your specialism to your clients.

2) Find your business' personality

To me, the personality of the business owner tends to shine through - particularly in the case of smaller businesses. And why shouldn't it? Its your passion and knowledge which drives the business, so it does no harm to let your personality show a little through your businesses' personality. After all, people buy from people, so create a brand personality that people can engage with.

3) Make sure your branding supports the way you want your business to be perceived

When we work on branding projects, we encourage our clients to think aspirationally about their business. Where do you want to be? How would you like to be perceived by potential customers? Yes, your business may currently run from your kitchen table, but don't let that limit you when you think about the future. Think about how you'd like to come across and where you'd like your business to be, and let that ideology shape your brand. We did the same with Ditto, and have grown very nicely into the mould we created when we rebranded a year ago.

4) Create a strong visual identity

This is the bit where we get to be creative and talk about the colour palettes and typography that best represent your business. When we worked on the Leaves Inspired website, we purposefully chose a spring palette and lots of light, fresh colours which perfectly conveyed the fresh starts and air of positivity that Leaves Inspired bring to their clients. In this way, your brand is about more than a logo (although this will probably become a symbol which your business is recognised by) - it's about the colours, fonts and style of presentation which form your visual identity, and that customers can engage with. For this bit, you'll need input from a professional - and as it happens, I know a wonderful design studio in Sevenoaks who specialise in creating powerful branding ;-)

5) Be consistent

You'll have invested a significant amount of time in creating your brand so don't let it go to waste. The key to highly successful brands is that they always remain true to their brand personality, and communicate the same message through every contact they have with potential customers. That doesn't mean that they use the same images or colours every time, but their look, voice and tone will be recognisable. Clothing brand White Stuff are a good example here - they use different words in almost every piece of marketing, but the tone, message and colours will be the same every time. Remember that consistency equals credibility - chopping and changing your message undermines the strength of your brand and unnerves customers.

So now for a bit of homework - make a list of 5 things which make up your brand personality. Take a look at your latest piece of marketing material (could be your business card, a printed advert or your website), and ask yourself (and be honest!) if your marketing supports your brand. How's yours looking? I'd love to hear the challenges you face when working on your brand - how did you go about establishing your identity?