The First Three Steps to Small Business Branding

January 31, 2012

Small business tips series: Creating an effective brand for your small business.

Mandy Minor
Guest Post by Mandy Minor, co-owner of J Allan Studios

Among small business owners branding is largely perceived as entirely visual.  When branding themselves, many smaller companies focus attention on logos, letterhead, and signage.  While these elements are part of your brand, branding is about much more than your visuals.  It’s about your image.

Wait, what?  Aren't visuals and image the same thing?

Yes and no.  While visuals are important – and the most fun to work on – your image is much more important.  Creating an effective brand image means offering a solid product or service, doing what you say you will, and reaching the right people with the right message.

Those are the first three steps to branding done right, and if you focus on these areas your logo can be a mere afterthought.

Wait, what?  A logo as an afterthought?

Admittedly this isn't ideal.  But because “brand” is just a shorter way of saying “what people think and say about your company” you can prosper despite a so-so logo if your offering is solid, you follow through, and you send the right message to the right people.

And now, the three steps to get you started:

Step 1: Focus on the product first.  

Take Starbucks for example. Their original logo wasn't textbook perfect. It wasn't scalable; if they put it on a pen it probably looked like a smudgy green circle. There was just too much going on in that logo! But it didn't matter, because people weren't thinking about the logo. They were thinking about the coffee and the in-store experience.  Fast forward 40 years and they’re still working on their logo, having just rolled out a new iteration this year.  But their growth and worldwide presence – despite that logo – cannot be ignored.

Step 2: You want to reach your target audience, not the whole world. 

In addition to their focus on their product (good coffee) and doing what they say they will (consistent in-store experiences), Starbucks knows that it’s critical to know your target audience and communicate to them and only them. When I say this to new clients they often reply, “But what about all those other people who might be my customers?” They might, and they might not. And if they do become your customers, great! Ten years from now that customer group may be your target market. But for today, identify which two or three groups shop with you the most and focus on them – where others like them could find out about you, and what type of messaging they’ll be most likely to respond to.

Step 3: Be consistent. 

Don’t change your brand identity because you think it’s time, or one person said they think you should. Strong brands are visually consistent – think the New York Times and Coca Cola. And keep in mind that strong brands often repel as many people as they attract. But if you've identified who your core customers are, who the folks that come back over and over and spend more than other customer segments, this doesn't worry you.

Mandy Minor works with business owners to simplify, clarify, and organize their branding and marketing.  Along with Justin Elza, Mandy is co-owner of J Allan Studios, a marketing agency that targets the tangible and virtual marketing needs of small and mid-sized businesses.  For more on how J Allan Studios can help you, visit