Whether you’re starting a new small business or looking to refine the identity of an established one, chances are you’ve heard the word “branding.” Branding can sometimes be an elusive term, meaning different things to different audiences. Some will say that a brand is a logo or a tagline— others will say it’s the colors selected to represent the business. While these explanations are not incorrect, they do not provide the whole picture. Before you can establish credibility as a brand, it’s best to appropriately define the term, then dig into how to grow!

Branding is the visual and emotional representation, as well as workflow, of your business. It’s your business’ strategy, combined with visual elements (e.g., logo, tagline, color palette, typography, etc.), working together to create an emotional experience for your audience. For example, when you pass by an Apple store, you instinctively know what the company stands for, what your experience with their products are going to be, and what your experience in the store is going to be like. What a powerful message to understand in the few moments it took you to pass by the store! A well-executed brand can do the same thing for you!

This is Step #1 in your business’ brand strategy: identifying core audiences. Ask yourself: Who is my business/product/service for? How does it help them? Why should these individuals care about it? Getting specific and digging deep into understanding your audience(s) is critical groundwork to lay, as all visuals and content creation stem from this thorough understanding.

An important side note: when identifying your core audiences, remember to go through the exercise for your customers and your employees. It is critical to inquire and listen to the feedback provided by your customers — they can give you a real-time response to what your business’ brand is communicating. Your employees can provide a very similar response, with the added benefit of learning whether the brand’s core values are being represented internally. You want to make sure your customers AND your employees are talking about your business/product/service from the same playbook.

Step #2 is doing extensive research on your competition. It’s important to have a great product/service, but that is nothing without understanding what other great products/services are already out there for your customers. Review your competitor’s quality issues, product capabilities, and how they’re talking to the market — look at how they’re representing themselves. All this information will help you discover how you’re different and help you get really clear on your “why!”

Lastly, Step #3 is designing your brand in an authentic way. Take all the information you acquired from the previous two steps and make it come to life! This step is often supported by a visual communications firm or a branding agency— however, you can do this step yourself if you wish! A very helpful tool to use in this step is a mood board! Use platforms such as Pinterest or Canva, pull together images that speak to the data you’ve collected and put it all in one spot. After you’ve done this, look at the visuals and see what common themes are present.

Building a recognizable brand takes time, but it is a rewarding process when done thoughtfully and intentionally. If you get stuck, the team at the Michigan Small Business Development Center is here to help! Whether you just have a few questions, or need hands-on guidance, let us be your guide.

Contact us here to get started!


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