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March 18, 2014

What’s the Difference Between Small Business Branding and Identity?

Small business branding and small business identity get confused all of the time. And, even if you’re eyes glaze over with boredom when it comes to marketing vocabulary, this is one area where you might want to know a thing or two.

Let’s start by looking at the differences between your small business brand and your small business identity.

Branding is how your customers “feel” about your small business.

Your small business brand creates an emotional bond between your customers and your products and services. Think of it as the essence or core element of your small business. What’s more, branding is a gradual process that develops over time and is dependent on the beliefs and opinions of your customers. It’s an experience, a feeling and an impression. Obviously, it’s within your control to offer a wonderful product or service and an amazing customer experience. But, at the end of the day, only your customers can determine how they feel about your small business.

Identity is how your business is “dressed.”

Your small business identity is everything that your customer “sees and hears” about your small business. It’s the accumulation of all your visual and audio elements.  Unlike your brand, your small business identity is completely within your control and can be established rather quickly.

There are numerous elements of your small business identity including:

  • The name of your small business
  • Your marketing message or tagline
  • Your logo
  • Your colors

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Imagine that it’s your friend’s birthday and you want to give him a present. There are two main parts of the gift that you need to consider. The first part is the actual gift. You want to pick out something that your friend will like, enjoy and use. So, you put a lot of thought into the perfect present to buy for him.

The second part is deciding how to present your gift. Are you going to throw it into a wrinkly, brown paper bag? Or do you want to wrap it with elaborate, thick paper adorned with ribbons and bows? This part is up to you.

When you hand the gift to your friend, the very first thing he’ll notice is the presentation. It’s going to be immediately obvious if you haplessly threw your gift together, or if you spent a few extra minutes making it look appealing and attractive. Sure, you may need to spend more time on wrapping your gift, but it does make a difference.

Now is the time you’ve been waiting for; your friend opens your present. There’s a nervous flutter in your stomach because the whole experience moves a bit beyond your control. Even though you did your best to pick out the perfect gift, will he like it? Will he be able to use it? Does it fit his personality? Here’s the truth of the matter, he’ll either like it or he won’t. It’s a bit beyond your control.

So, what does all this mean to a small business owner?

Your small business brand is the gift that you give to your customers. You’re going to spend quite a bit of time making sure that it’s a gift that they want and need. You want to ensure it’s a gift that is useful to them and will solve their most challenging problems. But, it’s never a sure thing. In due course, your customers will let you know if they like it or not.

But, here’s the good news. You can completely control how you present your gift to your customers. In other words, when they first “meet” you (whether online or offline), what is their first impression? Are you presenting yourself with style and sophistication? Or, are you a bit haggard and worn around the edges?

Never disregard the importance of your small business identity. It’s the first impression your customers have about your small business.  And, first impressions, good or bad, lead to lasting impressions. When prospects first encounters you, they’re going to make an instant judgment that will linger in their minds whenever they think about your business.

Obviously, you want to create a positive experience for that critical “first encounter.”

Thankfully, you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg when it comes to creating a strong brand identity. Instead, you simply need to take the time to pay attention to the details that most small business owners neglect.

Putting together an “identity plan” that ties together the visual elements of your small business ensures you’re making a strong impact on your potential clients and customers.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. So, do everything that you can to make that first impression unforgettable.

Here are three golden rules to keep in mind when establishing your small business identity:

  •  Your identity is the first and lasting impression your prospects have about your small business.
  •  Your identity needs to be obvious, consistent and distinctive.
  •  Your customers should instantly understand who you are, what you do and how you can help them

Start by creating the elements of your small business identity including:

The name of your small business
Pick a name that clearly lets your target market know what it is you do. It’s even better if your domain name or URL is the name of your business.

Your small business tagline or marketing message
Your tagline is a short, succinct sentence that lets prospects know exactly how you can help them. When it comes to creating your small business marketing message or tagline, it’s always better to be clear rather than clever.

Your small business colors

Many small business owners don’t give too much thought to their business colors. But, research suggests that colors create strong feelings and emotions for people. You can use the tools below to help with your color choices:

  • Color Wheel Pro helps you understand the connotation and significance of different colors.
  • And, Adobe Kuler allows you to experiment and test various color combinations.

Your small business logo

As a small business owner, it’s important to have a logo to graphically represent your small business. Most importantly, a logo makes your marketing materials look much more professional and visually pleasing.

You can create a free logo at Logo Maker.

Once you’ve created the elements of your small business identity, it’s time to incorporate them into all of your marketing materials including:

  •  Business cards
  •  Landing pages
  •  Sales pages
  •  Your website
  •  Your blog
  •  Social media sites
  •  Video sites
  •  Online article directories
  •  Your ezine
  •  Newsletters
  •  Brochures
  •  Flyers
  •  Invoices
  •  E-mail signature

Both your brand and identity are important elements of your customer’s overall interactions and experiences with your small business. Of course, you can help shape your business brand over time, but your customers will ultimately decide if they have an emotional bond to your brand.

But, you can create a powerful small business identity immediately. It’s completely up to you how you present your small business to your prospects. So, make sure that your first impression truly “knocks their socks off.”


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Jessica Swanson, founder and president of Shoestring Marketing, has helped thousands of small business owners implement low-cost, high-impact marketing campaigns. Through her popular Shoestring Marketing University classes, products, and programs, Jessica teaches small business owners how to explode their small business profits on a shoestring marketing budget.

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