As an entrepreneur, you want your company to stand out. Branding plays a significant role in making a memorable impression on your audience. It can help set you apart from your competitors, attract more clients, and establish a loyal relationship with your target audience. But many new businesses don't have a bunch of money to invest in professional branding services. The whole idea seems overwhelming. Fortunately, the amount of time and money you put into a brand can scale to suit your situation at any given time. You don't need a huge budget to start branding your business, especially if you're starting your business during a downturn. This guide will break down what branding is, why it's important, and how to start developing your professional brand, whether you're just starting out or you're running an established business. What is the role of branding? Branding is a marketing technique that companies use in order to create a recognizable identity through brand assets like business name, logo, fonts, and colours. It's a company's unique identity that both differentiates them from competitors and gives customers something to relate to and recognize. What comes to mind when you think of Disney, Tim Hortons, or Louis Vuitton? These brands are known for more than the products they sell\u2014instead, they've curated a particular visual design, feel, and overall experience that comes to mind when you see their branding. For you, the Disney brand identity is synonymous with "The Happiest Place on Earth" or childhood inspiration and magic, courtesy of their family-friendly films. Tim Hortons could invoke a sense of national pride or bring up the memory of holding a steaming cup of hot chocolate at a hockey game. Louis Vuitton might symbolize luxury and the pinnacle of style. Brand identity is both universal and personal. A brand story is curated to be one way\u2014with specific values and ideals\u2014but it is the ability to evoke a personal connection with customers through effective brand strategy that leads to long-term success and a positive reputation among consumers. So how do these companies inspire an emotional response in their customer base? They use an effective business branding strategy, and you can too! Why is branding important? Branding is important for business for a number of reasons, but these are some of the biggest advantages of building a strong brand: Build credibility and trust You don't need to blow your entire savings on branding services for your business but having poorly designed, inconsistent, on nonexistent branding could actually end up hurting your business. If you have an unprofessional-looking logo, your potential customers may end up scrolling right past your listing and opt to give their business to one of your competitors instead. When customers see a well-thought-out branding strategy that clearly and consistently communicates what the company is about, they're more likely to trust you with their business. Make a memorable impression and establish the face of your business You want your company to stand out, and that means creating a brand identity that stays in people's minds. This is where having an effective but straightforward logo comes in. While it may take some time for new customers to remember your brand name, a great logo can quickly jog their memory. Over time, a brand can create a sense of familiarity that fosters a sense of customer loyalty. Share your company's mission When it comes to communicating what your brand is about, it's vital that you also differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack by sharing what makes you unique, which could include your company's mission statement. There is competition in almost every industry, that's why building a personality, sharing your values, and telling an engaging story is important. It can make the difference between someone choosing your products or services over those of a competitor. Once your brand is more established, loyal customers will be able to immediately recognize your brand at a glance and associate your brand assets with your company's mission and ethics. Make your advertising impressions count In the pay-to-play world of digital advertising through Facebook and Google ads, you want to make sure the money you spend results in valuable impressions that ultimately lead to more sales. While there are many factors that go into a successful advertising campaign, including properly targeting your ads to your audience niche, having a cohesive brand will help people quickly register who the ad is from. It will also familiarize your audience with your brand over time, making your ad impressions more impactful. Land new customers and delight existing ones Not only will a thoughtfully designed brand experience help you land new customers, it will also help you delight those who already support your business. This is an important cohort, since it's generally less expensive to retain a customer than to land a new one. Keep your product or service top of mind with well-branded touchpoints for your existing customers, as well as those you're hoping to capture. How to build your brand As you're building your company brand, here are some things to keep in mind to help guide the overall aesthetic and feel of your branding: Find your audience It's important that you establish your company's niche market and target audience, so every marketing choice you make is designed with them in mind. For example, a website designed to appeal to young professionals will look very different from one created for a target market of retirees. To help establish your target customers, you can generate buyer personas. These are generalized representations of your ideal customers, which you can create based on in-depth customer demographics and previous purchase activity. Accurate buyer personas can help you better understand and relate to your customers so that you can personalize your marketing efforts to suit different segments of your audience. Show your value Your value proposition can help you make decisions when it comes to creating your brand identity. If you don't have a value proposition yet, start by thinking about your business's strengths. Based on customer feedback, what do people like the most about your business? Use these considerations to help you create a value proposition that concisely explains what is special about your business. As you create or update your company website and write marketing emails or social media posts, use your value proposition as a guideline to ensure that everything you do is in line with what matters most to you and your business. Think about Mastercard's slogan: \u201cThere are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's Mastercard.\u201d The company has been using that slogan around the world since 1997. And it's not just catchy. The slogan also does a good job of highlighting Mastercard's universal acceptability. Consider your company culture Think about the personality and culture of your organization. Your culture can set you apart from competitors and can play an important role in your brand. Aspects of your company culture like the work environment and your company's vision can help guide your branding effort. Take a look at Starbucks. It has become known as a socially ethical company due to things like responsible purchasing practices, charitable initiatives, and providing employees with a range of benefits. These aspects of its culture have become an important part of the Starbucks brand. So, keep your company culture in mind when designing your brand identity. How important is branding for small businesses? You may be reading this with your small business in mind and wondering if it really applies to you. After all, valuable brands like Starbucks and Louis Vuitton took years and a large amount of resources to create. Even though these recognizable examples are large corporate brands, the same principles apply to small businesses. In fact, as a small business that's just starting out, a cohesive brand can make a huge difference. Fortunately, you can apply these principles by tapping into the skills of freelancers on platforms such as Fiverr and using free tools like Canva to create brand assets. Branding checklist You already know the importance of strong branding and what a strong identity can do to help you grow your business, but the idea of a brand can seem a bit abstract. How do you create a customer experience that ultimately converts your store visitors into paying customers? A strong brand identity is built through story and the use of brand assets. You may be surprised to learn how much careful consideration goes into deciding something that seems simple, like what colours and fonts to use. Assets are distinct features that are created and curated to establish and create an image and narrative of a company in the public's mind. Your brand assets communicate what your company is about to prospective customers, so it's extremely important that they are able to reflect the message you're trying to put out. So, let's take a look at some fundamentals of the branding process. Brand fundamentals \tBrand name: You'll want to register a unique, easy-to-remember company or product name to build your brand around. \tLogo: Your logo should be simple yet memorable. \tSlogan: Slogans should also be simple, easy to remember, and representative of your brand. \tColours: Colour plays a bigger role in a brand identity than most people realize. Your brand colours are on everything from your packaging to your website. Take inspiration from big brands like Coca-Cola; they demonstrate how to create a strong brand identity using a simple colour scheme and bold graphic elements. \tProduct offering: Your product offering refers to what you sell. Brands like Tesla offer a specialty, luxury product that buyers tend to put a lot of thought into buying, whereas Johnson & Johnson offers household products that you're used to picking up on the fly and are familiar within your home. \tPricing: Your pricing says a lot about your brand, and it's important that you set your prices based on how you want to present yourself as a company. Think about companies like Wal-Mart; their slogan offers customers a promise to "Save Money. Live Better." Not all companies or products are branded based on their price, but it's definitely an option, especially if you're providing a discount product or service. Branding on location \tStaff: When you hire an employee, you are trusting them to represent your brand and create a positive experience for your customers. Staff at Disney Parks are an exceptional example of employees upholding the companies brand identity: they strive to provide a consistent, magical experience for their consumers, and their cast members play an important part in that. \tSignage: Your brand identity should be clear in your signage and other physical promotional content. Whether you're at your office or participating in a conference, consumers should be able to instantly identify you. \tDecor: Your brand doesn't simply exist online. If you have a physical location, it's important to keep your colour scheme consistent when it comes to designing the space and choosing the decor. Important tips for building your brand Strong brands are built with intention. Here are some crucial tips that will help you create effective branding for your business: Be consistent online and offline Consistency is key when it comes to a strong approach to branding across all your channels. Once you've decided on things like your colour scheme and tone of voice, you should make sure that customers are having the same experience no matter how and where they're interacting with your brand. Inconsistencies in branding can make your company look unprofessional and confuse customers about your brand messaging. If your website has a completely different colour scheme than your promotional materials, it may appear outdated or even make customers wonder if they ended up on the wrong site. Consistency makes your branding more effective because it hammers your message home, and helps build a sense of familiarity that will keep your customers coming back for more. Lean into content marketing Content marketing can make an excellent addition to your company branding. It's a low-cost way to help establish your brand, attract new customers, and become known as an expert in your industry. Creating content that's valuable to your audience and distributing it can be a strong way to market your business. Content is a broad term, but it can include things like how-to videos or interesting blog posts about industry trends. The key is creating something that provides value to your audience. The H&R Block website is a great example. It includes an online tax calculator, a \u201cTax Tips\u201d blog full of actionable content, and a tax deduction checklist. These useful resources are exactly the type of thing their target audience is looking for, and they're available for free right on the website. Create an original logo Your logo says a lot about your brand, and it's not as easy as you'd think to create a good one. Whether you plan on designing your own logo or hiring someone to do it for you, don't underestimate the amount of work and skill that goes into creating one that communicates what your business is all about. Take a look at Nike or Apple\u2014they might seem to have simple logos at a glance, but that simplicity is intentional. They demonstrate many of the characteristics that make for an effective logo, such as: \tSimple \tMemorable \tUnique \tVersatile \tTimeless Focus on customer experience Customer experience is an extremely important aspect of your brand. It should be a priority when you're establishing your business. This includes everything from the experience of navigating your site and exploring your social media to your customer service. If you have developed a great brand in every other area, but the customer experience doesn't meet expectations, you'll struggle to maintain them on a long-term basis. Putting extra effort into things like employee training, sales language, customer relationship management, and technical support when building your brand can make a significant difference. Don't copy your competitors While there's nothing wrong with looking to your competitors for inspiration, copying the best aspects of their brands probably won't work out well for your business. Since you're likely targeting the same audience niche, you want to give them a reason to choose you over the competition, not merely to see you as an interchangeable alternative. Monitor your brand to maintain its identity Just as you have to monitor your brand across platforms, online and offline, to make sure it's cohesive, you should also monitor it through time. Keep an eye on your various platforms to make sure you're staying consistent. Take note of what works and what doesn't, and make tweaks in a thoughtful manner rather than all at once. Budgeting for your brand A lot of careful consideration goes into creating memorable brands, and you may be surprised at how much it costs. Here are some tips on what you'll need to take into consideration when planning your branding budget. Research and planning phase An effective branding strategy needs to include some research on your markets. Doing research will help with: \tDifferentiating yourself from competitors \tGetting inspiration from successful companies \tLearning more about your target audience Once the research phase is complete, you'll need to spend some time planning your branding before you get started. Creation phase This phase includes the creation of all of the different elements of your brand identity. This is where you will likely spend the majority of your branding budget. Brand creation involves the design and production process for assets like the: \tLogo \tWebsite \tSignage \tProduct packaging \tImages \tAdvertising This tends to be the most costly phase because it often involves bringing in experts, such as designers, to ensure that you end up with a high-quality branding strategy. Implementation phase Once you have your branding strategy established and the other parts of your brand identity in place, it's time to put them to work. This step often doesn't require additional resources or professional assistance. You can simply incorporate your branding into your existing marketing program. For example, that can include: \tFollowing your brand style guide when promoting your products or services on social media. \tSpending time to ensure your employees understand the brand. Scaling your branding As your brand grows, your branding needs will also increase. Smaller, start-up brands can get by with limited resources when it comes to their brand marketing strategy. However, when you're working to scale your brand and business, the following will most likely increase your branding budget: Reach As your business grows and your overall reach increases, so too will your need for quality branding. If you run a small business with a local clientele, it's possible you'll deal with all of your customers on a personal level. That limited scale means you won't likely require as many resources when it comes to branding. But brands wishing to break out of a small niche or expand their reach beyond local customers or clients will have bigger branding needs. When you can't be physically present, such as the case where you run an online business, your brand is your representative. As the "face" of the company, it's important you acquire and use the assets that will make the best first impression to prospects. Competition Your branding spend can also be driven by your competition. If there are a lot of competitors in the space, or you're going up against well-established brands, it's possible you'll need more budget to make a bigger impact. Getting established in a more competitive niche often requires more investment into branding that can help you set yourself apart. This is less likely the case for a company that is carving out a new area in the market or serving an under-developed niche. Now build your brand! Building a brand is an evolving process. It will grow and change as your business does, so it's important to treat your branding not as a finished process but as evolving communications and shared experience with your loyal supporters. Marketing industry standard tends to dictate that brands get a "refresh" every five or so years, and your messaging, marketing campaigns and overall goals will change as your business does. But building a strong brand, even one that changes over time, means that your target audience can grow and change with you. Taking steps to protect your brand is also important, and you can take proactive steps like registering a trademark to help protect all of your hard work from being imitated. Your brand differentiates you from competitors, so shared imagery or copied assets could hurt you in the long run. Now get out there and put your new business branding knowledge to work!