One of the issues in small business marketing that’s often most puzzling to small business owners is the topic of “building your brand.” There are a lot of misconceptions out there about small businesses and branding; many people seem to think that only big companies have a “brand,” think that “your brand is just your logo and tagline,” or think that creating a brand “just happens” naturally.

The truth is, building your company’s brand is a strategic process that happens over time. Your company’s brand is not just your logo; it’s the full summation of your customer’s experience with and connection to your company – your brand is about trust; it’s about keeping promises; it’s about being recognized and memorable in a crowded market for doing what you do best in a way that is unique and valuable to your customers.

The most valuable brands are worth billions of dollars due to the extra trust that customers have for those little logos, and the extra price premium that customers are willing to pay for a certain brand name. But for small businesses, building a brand doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated; it just requires some careful strategic thinking and some open communication with your customers to figure out why they buy from you, why they trust you, and what your company really stands for and does best.

To help you build an awesome brand, we’ve written this guide, broken down into six chapters:

  1. Build a brand on budget

  2. Choosing value props

  3. Build your brand story

  4. Creating a logo

  5. Green your brand

  6. Branding mistakes

Building your brand on a budget.

Small business owners don’t have big company budgets for brand awareness advertising and fancy logo design. So how can small business owners build a brand without spending lots of money?

We talked with some small business owners and marketing experts to get some key insights on how small business owners should focus on these four priorities in building a brand for their companies.

  1. Know your mission.

Sissy Lappin is the co-founder of ListingDoor, a real estate website that helps homeowners list their homes as “For Sale by Owner” without having to hire a real estate broker (or lose a big percentage of their home equity to real estate commissions).

Sissy says that her company’s brand is rooted in a sense of mission – knowing why they’re in business, and who they’re trying to help.

“We want to be known as the company that tells the truth and is on the side of the homeowner, which is something the real estate industry is not known for,” says Sissy. “The highest priority in creating your brand should be to focus on your reason ‘why.’ At ListingDoor we advocate for the homeowner to keep their hard-earned equity and not lose it to a real estate commission. Everyone else is advocating to take a piece of their equity pie.”

As part of the process of creating a brand for ListingDoor, Sissy and her team worked on a tagline that could succinctly explain the mission and advantage of doing business with their company.

“The tagline was the hardest part,” says Sissy. “We worked hard to reduce it to a few simple words. We worked on it for days and had papers taped all over the office. I hope we got it right! We chose: ListingDoor – Selling Your Home Made Simple – Confidence Included. We added ‘confidence included’ to our tagline because we realized some people do not realize that a manicurist goes to school four times longer than a real estate agent. Nothing against manicurists, but they are not taking 6 percent of your home’s value.”

ListingDoor is a unique example of how a small business brand can carve out a niche by emphasizing its unique sense of mission – they are trying to bring positive changes to the way their industry operates while giving people new options to solve the problem of selling a home. This sense of mission is immediately apparent just from seeing their brand tagline.

  1. Focus on customer experience.

Your brand isn’t what you say about yourself. It’s what your customers believe to be true about your company based on their experience. Rodger Roeser, founder and president of The Eisen Agency in Cincinnati, Ohio, says that small businesses need to focus on the big picture of your company’s customer experience before you start to worry about designing a logo or creating a catchy tagline.

“The first area of branding by any business should be operational branding, not spending money on fancy stuff, but rather making absolutely certain that the customer experience is branded in such a fashion that is consistent with what leadership is attempting to convey,” Rodger says.

“Leadership needs to sit down and clearly discuss what their vision is for the business, determine which brand archetype it wishes to be and how to live that brand through the experience and through the eyes of the customer. And it needs to be consistent throughout the whole of the operation.”

Rodger says to ask yourself, “Are you determined to be the inexpensive lunch place or the best burger in town place? Is your law firm designed to be viewed as ambulance chasers, or as experts helping people and business? Whatever ‘it’ is, that needs to be predetermined and clearly spelled out that this is our brand. Then, from that brand, select three brand pillars that your business is going to live by or own through their proactive actions.”

Building a brand requires some upfront work, strategic thinking and decision-making – your brand cannot try to be all things to all people. You need to focus on a few key differentiating factors that make your company stand out from the competition. And your brand has to be authentic – you might want to believe that your company stands for certain attributes, but if the market doesn’t believe it, your brand messages won’t resonate.

Brand strategy requires self-awareness and a willingness to accept certain inconvenient or even harsh truths about the limitations of your company – even if you think your business has certain strengths or does certain things really well, if your customers don’t agree, you might need to emphasize different strengths in identifying and promoting your brand.

“Once you have a crystal clear understanding of who you are to the customer, then you can consider sharing that brand conversation,” Rodger says. “After all, how can you make a logo or design a tagline before you have a clear picture as to who you are? That logo should be a reflection and reinforcement as to who you are, and that brand will then dictate color choices, tagline and a host of the proactive items. Focus on operational branding before you even begin to focus on the proactive piece.”

  1. Be consistent in your visual presentation.

One of the important elements of building a brand is consistency: You want every customer to recognize your logo, have a similar (positive) customer experience and remember your brand in a crowded market. Brian Gatti, partner with Inspire Business Concepts, says that simplicity and consistency can go a long way to help establish a brand.

“Be consistent and avoid being too clever,” Brian says. “Typographic logos with a graphical embellishment or two is an excellent way to develop something appealing, visually distinct and avoids the risk of looking amateurish. If you decide that your company font is Apple’s Garamond and your colors are red and black, stick to that.”

  1. But be prepared to evolve.

But at the same time, even while you should try to keep it simple and consistent when establishing a brand, you also need to be ready to evolve your brand over time as your company changes.

Brian also says that brand strategy is not a one-time thing – it needs to be revisited.

“Working on your brand should be done over and over again,” he says. “Companies evolve over time. What was important to you and what differentiated you from the competition is different now. Look at any of the major brands. Apple went from being a personal computer company to a cell phone company. GE went from making appliances to global heavy industry and energy.”

This evolution is limited to large companies, Brian says.

“Even with small businesses this is true. If you’re an accountant and you’ve expanded to helping people understand tax planning, you’re really not just an accountant anymore. You’re a tax planner. You’ve evolved. What was important to you is different. What set you apart from the competition is different,” he says. “Ultimately, we’d recommend no less than every six months, revisit and refine your brand. It will keep your message consistent and reflect when you do change.”

Choosing brand value props for your business.

Consumers have more choices than ever in today’s marketplace, and you as a business owner face a sea of competitors vying for their business at every turn. Luckily, you can set your brand apart from the crowd by establishing winning brand value propositions and effectively communicating them to capture your share of the market.

  1. What is a brand value proposition?

Your brand value proposition (BVP) is simply the reason people should pay attention to your brand and buy from you. It clearly and succinctly communicates the benefits and values that your business promises to deliver to your customers, those which raise you above your competition.

Once you have developed strong value propositions, they serve as effective foundations upon which to build your marketing strategies and messages. It’s important to note: A brand value proposition is not a tagline or a slogan. Those marketing elements can support and reinforce your BVP, but they aren’t the same thing.

  1. Answer the who, why and what.

As you begin defining your value proposition, ask yourself these foundational questions:

  • Who are your customers/clients?

Target those who want the specific value you’re offering, because not everyone values the same things. You can use different tactics to identify and learn about the customers you want to attract, including primary and secondary research, surveys, online tracking, focus groups and social media.

Once you have basic information about who they are, identify and document what’s important to them, how they benefit from doing business with you, their purchasing habits – anything that will help you target your value proposition messaging in a way they will understand and act upon.

  • Why should they trust you?

Your target market must understand and have confidence in the reason why your product is better than anyone else’s; they need to know why they should trust you. Don’t just say you’re the best, the fastest or the most effective. You have to back up those claims or they aren’t worth much.

Ways to substantiate your value proposition could be with proven statistics (“95% success rate!”), studies (“Independent study shows 9-in-10 improved”) or client/expert testimonials that make your case for you.

  • What benefits/values does your product/service bring to your target customers?

Evaluate your product’s strengths to identify the results that a potential customer will get by buying and using what you’re selling. You may offer many things that are similar to your competitors but work to find and communicate at least one thing you do better.

If you don’t take time to ferret out the points that make you more desirable than the next guy, potential customers will gloss right over you and buy from the business that does a better job communicating their value.

  1. Pulling it all together.

Once you have answered these questions, write your value proposition in easy-to-understand, jargon-free language that can be read in just a few seconds. Here is a simple, fill-in-the-blank template to get you on the right track:

“For [your target customer] who [specific buying needs and requirements], we provide [solution name or brand description] that [benefits and values to customers]. Unlike our competitors who simply offer [what they offer], [Company Name] [better approach, solution, functions, benefits] that [offers a better customer experience].”

Let’s say you own a pet store that provides brand name food, litter, toys, etc. as well as locally made toys and organic pet food. Here’s an example of what you could say:

“For the pet owner who only wants the best for their fur baby, we provide a wide variety of items for your furry loved ones: from toys and treats to food and vitamins. Unlike our competitors who simply offer brand names, [Company Name] is dedicated to the wellness of your pet while also being dedicated to other local businesses. That’s why we offer locally made toys and treats as well as organic pet food for your furry friends. Feel free to take a dog/cat treat or two at the check-out counter as well!”

Once you’ve chosen your company’s brand value propositions, you can start to build your brand story.

Building your brand story as a business.

We’re all exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of brands each and every day, and many are permanently etched into our brains. In an instant, we can identify the Apple logo, Nike’s swoosh and the Mercedes’ emblem gracing the hood of that shiny new sedan. There is no disputing the impact of a strong brand. Yet, for many small business owners, branding is often thought of as a mere logo or tagline.

The reality is that businesses of all sizes, from solo entrepreneurs to multi-national corporations, have the ability to create a comprehensive brand story that can help to identify and differentiate them from their competitors. If the story is told effectively, a brand is invaluable to a business by swaying the decision-making of both target prospects and existing customers.

Like with larger companies, small businesses need to think beyond the logo when it comes to branding. Yes, a logo, a tagline and brand colors are still important, but that’s just the start. A strong brand is communicated via all visuals, messaging and positioning.

With this broader definition of branding, we decided to ask some industry professionals for their best branding tips for small business owners. Here’s what they had to say: 

  1. It starts with a great name.

Perhaps the most obvious and important component of your brand is your business’s name. The days of simply going with “A-1 Business”, so that you’re at the front of the phone book are long gone. Today, much more thought needs to go into choosing the name that will represent your business.

Bill Fish, president of ReputationManagement.com, believes that a business’s name needs to accurately describe its products or services.

“Unless you’re a Fortune 500 company, i.e. Apple, you aren’t going to be a household name,” says Bill. “So, the proper description of what you sell is key. This may be difficult these days with people who are squatting on many domain names, but it’s worth the investment to have a quality name, as well as a URL.”

For Bernie Clark, co-founder of digital marketing firm Majux, a business’s URL needs to be taken into consideration when choosing an effective brand-driven name.

“Ideally a business’ brand name should be the URL,” says Bernie. “Five letter domains are ideal but hard to find. There is a substantial drop-off of traffic if you have a long, complicated domain name. If you are able to obtain the URL for your business name, it can be incorporated into your branding, which will increase your visibility and value.”

  1. A picture says a thousand words.

Along with a memorable name, visuals play a highly important role in your brand story. This definitely includes your logo. However, every image you use in your online and offline marketing efforts must support what your brand represents.

Choosing the right images requires an investment in time, attention and money. A well-designed logo is a one-time investment that will only increase in value over time. Likewise, quality images on your website, social channels and print collateral can communicate a tremendous amount about your brand.

“The psychology behind visual branding is very well-known and continually proven throughout the business world,” says Mitch Dowell of Branding Experiences. “Make sure that the visual experience that you build around your brand leverages colors, shapes and fonts that are known to connect with target audiences in your industry. The very first thing that a target audience sees and experiences should not be the very last thing that you choose to invest your time and attention to.”

Lead graphic designer for Shutterstock’s blog, Jordan Roland, also stresses the importance of aligning images with a brand.

“First you need to establish your brand voice, who you are and what you want to say. Once you have figured these things out, you can much more effectively choose images that support your brand,” Jordan says. “The most effective images are those that are inspirational and engage your audience in some way.”

  1. Keep your story clear and consistent.

The best stories, including brand stories, are those that are simple and straightforward. Audiences will quickly lose interest with a brand that is constantly changing or has a message that is overly complex. In many ways, it can be more difficult to continuously manage a brand story so that it stays on point. This requires both discipline and a careful eye for detail.

According to Apryl Delancey, president and C.E.O. of Social Age Media, “Businesses need to develop a clear elevator pitch that communicates exactly what the brand is all about. A business also needs to stay in their own lane. You can’t create a strong brand by trying to be everything to everyone. Once you’re clear in your own identity, it’s a lot easier to build a cohesive brand story that makes sense to your customers.”

Erin Wasson, VP of Marketing at UrbanBound agrees with Apryl that consistency is vital to the success of a brand story and takes it a step further by suggesting that specific strategies need to be in place to maintain it.

“I have found that a key component to maintaining brand design consistency is having the proper resources available to anyone who will be using your company’s branding,” says Erin.

“Whether it’s an official style guide or a collection of typefaces, color swatches or logo options, some form of support needs to be in place before handing off the marketing reigns to other people. This ensures that your branding is safe whether it’s in the hands of a senior art director working on a major ad campaign or a marketing intern on Twitter. Visual consistency is often undervalued, but it’s a crucial aspect of building consumer trust in your brand.”

All of these marketing professionals agree that a brand story is vital for a small business to achieve long-term success. While it takes time, energy and effort to build a successful story, it becomes one of the most important assets a business can have.

What would Apple be without that logo? Who would buy Nike shoes without that swoosh? Is a Mercedes as appealing without the hood emblem? How is your brand’s story being told? With a great name, some memorable images and a clear message, you can create a brand that adds ongoing value to your business.

How to create a logo for your business

We’ve talked about how building a brand is more than just choosing a logo, but your business’ logo still matters. Good logo design can help a small business stand out from the competition, attract interest from prospective customers and concisely communicate the company’s personality, values and key selling points. Even if your business logo never becomes as famous as the Nike “swoosh,” it still serves as a valuable component of your marketing efforts, and it’s worth doing well.

We talked with some graphic designers and marketing experts about how small business owners can make the most of their logo designs:

  1. Make it meaningful.

Too many companies – big and small – have bland, indistinct logos. If you’re going to invest in a logo design, make sure it actually conveys a clear message about your brand.

Shari Nomady, co-founder of X! Promos, Inc., says that small business logos should deliver a quick, high-impact message about what your company does and why it matters.

“I call it the 5/10 logo test,” Shari says. “In five minutes, can 10 people tell you what your business is if you just show them the logo? Or can they tell you five characteristics about your company just by looking at the logo? If not, you’re not on track.”

X! Promos has a simple but clear logo – it’s a letter “X” with an exclamation mark, and the X is tilted in a way that conveys excitement and motion.

“Just from looking at our logo, it’s clear that we do promotions,” Shari says. “The X! adds some personality. We want our logo to convey the message that we are fun, exciting and can be extreme, and you can expect excellent results.”

  1. Be unique.

Another common logo design mistake is to try too hard to emulate or imitate a larger company’s logo. Don’t feel like you have to try to look “bigger” than you actually are. Sometimes being a small business can offer unique competitive advantages – besides, you should always try to be yourself in order to build trust with customers. Michelle Ruiz, founder and designer at Insite Creative, says that small business owners need to embrace their own uniqueness.

“Although it sounds like an obvious point, being unique is an important part of a logo,” Michelle says. “The problem is, often times small businesses will try to emulate a larger business. By using a similar logo or color scheme, you’re not setting yourself apart from the competition. For example, when the Pepsi brand started, they tried to be similar to and emulate the Coca-Cola logo, but Coca-Cola was the original and has stuck to their logo from the start. Pepsi is the one who ended up having to change in order to stand out as a unique brand.”

Michelle says that one of her favorite examples of a unique logo is the Goodwill logo.

“It’s simple, recognizable and just clever enough to manage to be a letter ‘g’ and a smiley face at the same time,” Michelle says.

  1. Create an emotional connection.

The best logos create a specific feeling or emotional connection with the viewer. A good logo design can help set the mood for your prospective customer and guide their thought process in the right direction to be ready to buy from you.

Michael Carroll, creative director at digital marketing firm Kaleidico, says that the best logos convey emotions in a simple way.

“Great design emotes, or expresses, with color, line movement and font treatment,” he says. “The most important thing to remember is that a logo is not a system for delivering information, it is a mechanism for evoking an emotion. It sounds crazy, but ask yourself: ‘How do I want my customer to feel when they look at my logo?’”

Michael says that one of his favorite logo designs is the old Netflix logo because it created a specific emotional impact that is directly related to watching movies.

“When I look at the Netflix logo, how it floats and fans out like the rich fabric of a red movie curtain, I get the exact same feeling I do when I settle into my chair at a movie theatre,” Michael says. “There is anticipation, relaxation, and most importantly, happiness. The Netflix logo is simple but brilliant. It feels.”

  1. Create a story that lasts.

Rachel Hunter, designer with Meta Pixel Solutions, says that the best logos have a way of creating an instant connection, while also making an enduring appeal to the brand’s overall story.

“The logos that stick with us speak of the brand they represent in a way that creates an instant connection,” Rachel says. “Some do this with simplicity like the Nike Swoosh or the Target target. Others make this connection with a memorable design element, like the arrow contained in the ‘E’ and the ‘X’ on the FedEx logo, or with appropriate colors, as seen in the colors of the Dunkin Donuts logo. The logos that resonate with me have all unnecessary elements removed. They all show a strong brand understanding.”

Rachel says that one of her favorite logos is the NASA logo for America’s space program, and she also enjoys the various craft beer logos appearing around the country.

“I love the NASA logo,” Rachel says. “It’s changed several times since 1958, but it’s retained a tech-nerd vibe throughout that I find appealing. It’s American but not governmental. When I see it, I feel inspired. I also enjoy the surge of local brewery logos that have cropped up over the last few years with a common theme of fun, local pride and craft. For example, the logo of the Snowy Mountain Brewery – it makes me want to go there and drink their beer. I see a community and a place, not just a beer logo.”

  1. Make it mobile friendly.

One technical detail that small businesses need to keep in mind is that your logo needs to be mobile friendly. Most people are going to visit your website for the first time and get their first impression of your logo via mobile phone – so your logo needs to look good on small screens.

Alan Canton, managing partner at design firm NewMedia Create, says that small business owners need to keep the technical specifications of mobile phones in mind.

“Make sure your logo looks good at 350 pixels wide,” he says. “The reason is 350 pixels is about the width of most phones. Also, especially in the era of mobile-first web design, you don’t necessarily need a graphic for your logo anymore. A huge number of businesses are using text logos because they load much faster on mobile devices and there is no design cost.”

Alan says that if small businesses want to get a low-cost logo, they can start by choosing a cool font for their company name by using Google Fonts.

Logo design can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. Small businesses need to choose a logo that best represents their company’s values and personality while still being unique and authentic. Whether you find inspiration from big company logos and clever design elements or choose a low-cost logo design that looks good on mobile device screens, your logo needs to be integrated in support of your overall brand strategy.

How to make your brand greener.

Your choices will be talked about on social media, whether or not you want them to be.

If there was ever a slam-dunk method for directing the social media conversation in your favor, it’s sharing your green business practices online. But even this relatively simple path has better and worse practices. Here are 11 do’s and don’ts of greening your business’s brand.

  1. Do use pictures.

Photos and videos generate more than 60 percent more engagement than text alone. Green initiatives and practices have great potential for striking images like before/after shots, graphs that represent effectiveness or simply beautiful nature photos. Keep a camera with you while you set up your environmentally-friendly adoptions and keep images and video as part of your regular social media rotation.

  1. Don’t underestimate your audience.

In the 1990s, companies could stick a picture of a leaf on their packaging and claim environmental responsibility when the only change they made was sticking a picture of a leaf on their packaging. This is the internet age. People have facts available, and they aren’t afraid to use them. Cheesy, half-hearted or deceptive green-bragging will be found out, and the internet will make you famous for it – and not in a good way.

  1. Do engage around green topics.

Those that you post, and those that others posts. Be especially engaged with thought leaders for green movements in your community. If you can get those people to mention you and your brand favorably, their followers will do much of your job for you. Remember, the real power of social media for any message isn’t in you talking about you. It’s in other people talking about you favorably.

  1. Don’t ignore your fan base as a resource.

Organize online events, green flash mobs, clean-up days and meetups about environmental issues, using your social media presence as a hub for the efforts. Ironically, as people become more electronically connected they crave more and more the concrete connection of IRL relationships. If you connect passionate people via your environmentally-friendly social media presence, you turn passionate people into passionate clients – and those are the best kind of clients.

  1. Do brag about other companies.

The 1-to-10 ration applies here just as much as it does in other social media initiatives. For every post you make about how awesome your business is, green-wise, post ten things about how awesome somebody else is doing or great advice about how your customers can go green, or about environmental statistics.

  1. Don’t put off responding to sticky questions.

If somebody engages with you, especially in a way that feels like an accusation or uncomfortable question, jump on it right away. Answer sincerely and openly and provide links to supporting evidence. Silence may be golden in some aspects of life, but silence from a company on the internet is often equated with guilt. Be transparent and engaged, and the web will often forgive small mistakes and misunderstandings.

  1. Do address your past misdeeds.

The internet has a long memory. If your brand had less-than-green practices in a former life, somebody will mention it at some point. Make sure that somebody is you, so you can control the opening tone of the conversation. Post loud and proud about what was going on before, what you’re doing to fix it and the story of how you came to change your ways. Invite questions and conversation about your environmental underdog comeback-kid story.

  1. Don’t lose your main message.

You haven’t converted your company to all green, all the time. You’ve adopted green practices to make your business more efficient and become an environmentally responsible organization. Mention your new ways – or your long-standing traditions – as part of an overall social media marketing strategy. Don’t make it your main pillar unless it actually is the core of what your business does.

  1. Do consider a change to your profile.

Branding, including green branding, is a matter of establishing a publicly understood shorthand. The Nike swoosh communicates a variety of ideas, as does the Visa logo and the Coca-Cola symbol. You can make the shorthand for your company include environmental responsibility by making a couple of changes to either your logo or the images on your social media page. An image of a clean river in your banner, or a leaf on your logo, gets the message across in a way that people will process unconsciously whenever they see your page. Just remember the first don’t listed above and be sure to back up the claims you make.

  1. Don’t buy engagement.

Purchasing likes and shares is still a service independent companies and even Facebook offer, but they’re never worth the investment. Most come from mills where employees like hundreds of pages per hour, then never think about or engage with that brand again. Though it might be tempting to turn your first few green posts into a hugely liked power play, this isn’t how to do it. At best, you get a brief spike with no real effect. At worst, you get caught and the internet decides you’re a phony about everything…including your green efforts. If you want your post to get more visibility, consider creating it as a sponsored post instead. But never purchases likes, shares, follows or comments.

  1. Do include real-life reminders.

Social media is powerful and increasingly takes up more and more social time for people each year, but you can’t make all of your green reminders part of your social media engagement. A simple green option in your store like on-site packaging recycling, a refill station for reusable water bottles or an option to add $2.00 to the bill to plant a tree, underscores your message in ways that people will remember. Bonus points for organizing this in ways that encourage customers to share the experience on their own social media feeds.

Branding mistakes your business should avoid.

Appropriately branding your business can be tricky, but some mistakes are just plain dumb. Too many small businesses trip themselves up by making simple mistakes with their brand strategy – and without a compelling, coherent story about what your brand is and why it matters to customers, your business will struggle to stand out from the competition.

Let’s look at four no-brainers that brands need to stop doing immediately:

  1. Focusing too much on one social media channel.

Many small businesses have limited time and limited budgets to promote their brand, so they tend to focus on one social media channel. But this can be a mistake if you end up putting all of your efforts into one place.

John Rampton, Founder and CEO of Due.com, says, “I love focusing and I think everyone should focus to build their product and service, but if you focus too much on Twitter, for example, and don’t do anything else, you may miss out on other opportunities.”

John says to use what he calls the “75 percent rule.”

“75 percent of your time and branding should be on what makes you 90 percent of the money you make. The other 25 percent should be equally dispersed into the rest of the areas of your business.”

  1. Trying to be too clever.

Some small businesses embrace their smallness – they’re happy to be small businesses, their brands are simple and clear, and they want to attract customers who want to support small businesses. But other small business owners make the mistake of trying to say a bit too much – telling a convoluted story with their logo or brand or trying to look “bigger” than they actually are in a way that’s not authentic.

Brian Gatti (from earlier!) says that complicated logos and obscure branding strategies can often backfire for small businesses.

“If your logo requires a story to explain it or your tagline is obscure, you’ll likely turn people off,” Brian says. “The reality is that for most businesses your customers aren’t interested in you being overly clever – they want to know you’re going to solve their problem. For example, with your logo design, don’t start throwing random colors in. It will create a disconcerting experience and may actually turn people off.”

  1. Ignoring the product and customer experience.

Another common branding mistake is thinking that your brand is the same as your logo. Linda Pophal, content marketing expert with Strategic Communications, LLC, says that many small business owners get preoccupied with the visual elements of the brand – the logo, the colors, the tagline – and forget about the broader picture of what the brand really means in terms of products, services and customer experiences.

“Building and managing a strong brand takes considerable time and effort, and it’s not just about a great logo,” Linda says. “It’s about having a strong product or service that meets the needs of a target audience, that represents value to them and that ensures a positive experience at every touchpoint.”

“Building that brand will involve focusing on product attributes such as packaging and distribution, staff attributes, especially in service organizations where the staff is the product, pricing issues and promotion. All of these elements must work together to help influence consumer perception.”

  1. Not being different enough.

Another big mistake is to make your brand too much like someone else’s existing brand – not only from a copyright infringement standpoint but because it’ll hurt your business by not letting your unique differentiators stand out.

“It’s a mistake to follow too closely in the footsteps of other businesses,” says Jenifer Daniels of Good+SmartCo. “While it is valuable to conduct competitor research, small business owners can find themselves unknowingly replicating their business models and brand promise.”

Instead of accidentally copying someone else, small business owners should make added effort to think hard about their company and what it’s unique selling points really are.

“Focus on your unique value proposition,” Jenifer says. “This will ultimately create a unique brand identity look and feel.”

Some of the biggest brand strategy mistakes include unwittingly copying the competition, trying to be too “unique” in a way that’s not authentic, focusing too much on one promotional channel and not including your specific product strengths and overall customer experience as part of your brand. Branding is more than creating a logo – it’s about telling a coherent, compelling, believable story that reminds your customers of why they want to keep buying from you.

Back to top