Thoughts On Branding

I’m sure there’s a formal definition for “branding”, and there are certainly entire text books written about it. I’d like to share some thoughts on what branding means to small businesses that generally serve local or regional customers.

Many may think of a business’s brand as simply its logo or chosen color scheme. I like to think of brand as the totality of how the business is perceived by its customers, suppliers and employees. Then some key elements to the brand are:

  • Business name

  • Logo

  • Colors

  • Fonts

  • Other design elements

  • Language (formal, informal, lighthearted, etc)

  • Customer service

Here’re my thoughts on each of these:

Business Name

Some things to consider when choosing your small business name:

  1. 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?”

  2. 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.

  3. 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.)

  4. 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.

Instantly recognizable logos

Instantly recognizable logos

Logo

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.

The not-so-recognizable Weblius logo

The not-so-recognizable Weblius logo

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.

Squadhelp’s logo design aid

Second, Squadhelp uses sliders to help think about your brand’s characteristics. Now, I think this is overkill and could probably be reduced to 5 or 6 characteristics, 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. This knowledge will inform your choice of design elements like color, font, background images

Colors

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.

Fonts

Everyone knows that if your website has more than 3 fonts, you’re doing it wrong. That’s why MySpace died, right? How you feel about your business and how you want it to be perceived will inform your font selection. After that, it’s a matter of taste.

I helped one customer select fonts for his business’s website by looking first at many options, then narrowing down to the dozen shown. From there it was easy for him to chose one for his wordmark and website headlines.

And if you already have a favorite font, then WhatTheFont can help identify it and show similar fonts.

(PS: Purists will use terms like typography and font family. For our purposes, they mean the same thing.)

Other Design Elements

There are many, many more design elements. One is banner or hero images. These are usually at the top of a page and help set the mood of the web page. On weblius.com we’re showing Oregon’s natural beauty. Doesn’t have much to do with building effective local small business web sites, but it is kind of local and connects to and celebrates the beauty of Oregon.

You might also consider how you want to talk about and depict business owners because in so many cases, customers are doing business with specific individuals. Also, think about how products should be photographed and displayed, and whether videos are helpful or a distraction.

I can help you think through all of these design aspects, not to worry.

Language

I could write a whole post just on language, and others have written multiple books on it, but let share just a few tips. Going back to how your business is to be perceived, you’ll want to use language that reinforces that perception. If you’re an attorney, you might lean to the more formal, avoiding contractions and spelling out exactly what you mean. If you’re a pub or sports bar, you’ll use highly informal language and throw in plenty of sports metaphors.

Final thing about language: Be brief! You have the visitor’s attention for scant seconds, so find ways to provide the information they need as quickly and conveniently as possible. As many have pointed out, it’s easier to be long-winded than to write concisely. (My favorite version is John Locke in 1690: “I am now too lazy, or too busy, to make it shorter.“)

Customer Service

Finally, I want to touch on customer service as an important element of branding. If branding is the totality of how the business is perceived, then for customers customer service is absolutely key. Now, I don’t mean that you have to treat every customer as if they’re about to buy a Ferrari from you; even Walmart has something called “customer service.” I just urge you to think about how you want to maximize the customer’s enjoyment and benefits of interacting with your business.

Thanks very much for your time in reading this. Any comments and feedback most welcome.

Chris Heydemann
Owner, Weblius LLC

Chris HeydemannComment