Many may think of a business’s brand as simply its logo and color scheme, but it really describes how the business wants to be perceived by its customers, suppliers and employees. Then some key elements of a small business brand are obvious, like its name, logo, font and colors. But the brand should also include the kind of language (say, formal or lighthearted), the business’s tag line, and even customer service.
I often hear from small businesses that the website should define their business’s brand. Unfortunately, that’s backwards: the business’s branding shouldn’t come from its website; the website should reflect the business’s branding! Of course, business owners are experts in their craft, and may never have thought about branding or how to build a brand that reflects their business. Fortunately, it’s easy, fun and can generate some deep insights and interesting conversations.
Before we begin actually working on branding, we need to clarify how the business owner wants their business to be perceived by its customers. I like to use two different processes: Brainstorming and Characteristic Quantification (I just made up that term; its much easier and more fun than it sounds).
And if there are multiple owners or principals in the business, I’d recommend each go through these steps independently. If you agree, excellent! But if not, there are interesting conversations to be had
This is so easy and so insightful, I’m amazed everyone doesn’t do this every year or so with their business. Nothing is static, right? Even if you’re not contemplating a change, owners grow, customer base changes, and markets evolve.
First step is to write down, without too much thought, the terms that are important to the business. If you’re a shoe store, terms like style, innovation, comfort, color, selection, and customer service come to mind. If you’re a web designer like me, then you might value transparency, skill, professional, local, and sociable or affable. A tradesperson might use punctual, affable, skill or competency, and speedy. Write down 30 or so words. This step shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
Collapse synonyms into a single item. For example, if you listed both competence and skill, then choose one or put them together on a single item.
Choose the single most important term from the list, and label that “1”. The first one requires some thought, but once you start, it’s easy to keep going. Now put “2” next to the second most important term, and so on through 10. If a term is really, really important to your business and it didn’t make the top ten, perhaps it should bump something else? We really need to focus on the top ten, not the top 40 or 50, attributes or your business! :)
Don’t feel that you have to go through this just once. If a new characteristic occurs to you, add it to the list. And if it’s more important than others already on the list, just renumber. Keep in mind that this exercise is for you to help clarify how your business wants to be perceived.
Second, you can quantify important characteristics using “sliders”. Every business is somewhere between gray and colorful. Squadhelp uses sliders to help think about your brand’s characteristics. A dozen sliders is overkill, but you get the idea.
Look at the diagram shown, and choose the 5 or 6 pairs (for example, Subtle to Bright) that apply most to your business. Add any other pairs you think are important.
For each pair, choose a value between 1 and 5, where 1 is far to the left, 5 far to the right.
Congratulations! If you’ve been following along, you’ve now know and have written down a lot about how you’d like your business to be perceived, and what’s most important to you as the business owner. We’ll now use this knowledge to begin thinking about your business’s brand.
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Other design elements
Language (formal, informal, lighthearted, etc)
Here’re my thoughts on each of these.
Some things to consider when choosing your small business name:
The name must be easily pronounceable
True story of an early, er, learning opportunity: When I started Weblius, I first spelled it Webleus. I felt the Weblius was too “Latin” and old fashioned, so went with Webleus. Then several people pronounced it as “Web-blues” or “Webelos” (Boy Scouts). One person even said, “So that’s the spelling you went with?”
The domain name - or a reasonable alternative - must be available.
Single-word nouns and verbs are now all taken. Sorry, it’s too late. If you do want one, it’s going to cost $1500 or more, if it’s even available. Fortunately, for local small businesses, there are many options: Add the word “Oregon” or other region before or after the word you really want (I did this with “GotWoodOregon.com”). Or add the name of your craft, like “SpeedyPlumbing.com”, or include “LLC” in the name. Fortunately, there are always options.
The name should evoke - or at least not conflict - with what the business offers.
There are really two types of names: Those that offer a description of the business (e.g. Wilsonville Diamond, DPI Solar) and those that don’t (Starbucks, Nike, Wayfair). None of these have anything to do with what they sell, yet they’re now global brands. (And if you’re curious, I’d recommend this podcast about how Wayfair got its name.)
There shouldn’t be a related business already using that or a similar name.
First check with the Oregon Secretary of State. Here you can look for names similar to the one you’re contemplating. It’s free and you can look up as many names as you like. The second is to have someone run a “name search” for you. This is often included (sometimes at extra cost) for companies that help generate names or register a Limited Liability Company, or LLC.
Our small businesses are not McDonald’s or Target or Nike. Our business’s logo, by itself. will mean almost nothing. Below is the Weblius logo. On what planet would anyone think, “Oh, yeah, high-quality websites for local small businesses?” Never gonna happen. Therefore, the wordmark, or logo + business name, is much more important.
In order to think about a logo or wordmark, you’ll need to capture and write down how you want your business to be perceived. There are two approaches that might help. First, brainstorm words that someone might associate with your business. If you’re a shoe store, terms like style, innovation, comfort, color, local, and customer service come to mind. Then, rank these from most to least important (I get that they’re all important, but they can’t all be #1. :) You’ve now got a picture of what’s most important to you.
Second, Squadhelp uses sliders to help think about your brand’s characteristics. A dozen sliders is overkill, but you get the idea.
If you’ve been following along, you’ve now written down a lot about how you’d like your business to be perceived and what’s most important to you as the business owner. These insights will inform your choice of design elements like color, font, and background images.
Right or wrong, pinks and pastels are seen as “feminine” and dark, bold colors are “masculine.” Browns and greens reflect nature, grays and blues industry. (And speaking of blue, do you know why Facebook’s pallet is blue? It’s because Mark Zuckerberg is red-green color blind.)
If you don’t choose the colors that make up your brand, your web designer will have to do it for you. There’s no way NOT to select a pallet (even white is a color :), so you’d be well advised to choose colors that appeal to you and fit your business. Fortunately, it’s both fun and easy to choose colors that fit your business and work well together.
There are many tools, and I could write an entire post just about color. I’d suggest starting with these two:
I’d start with the Adobe Color Wheel. Play around with colors and with different kinds of color harmony (control in the upper left). You can also select colors from images or photographs. Save your favorites and send them to me for use in your website. :)
If you do have a favorite image, I’d suggest the Canva Color Palette Generator. Just upload an image and Canva extracts the most important colors.