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Branding strategy for small businesses

branding strategy for small business


There are various ways that people define a brand. Many think it consists of a logo, tagline and website. It is much more than that, however. The word “brand” comes from an old Norse word – “brandr”, which means “to burn”. The word was originally used around 3,000 years ago in reference to livestock branding to denote ownership.

Back in the 21st century, branding is still about ownership. It is about owning and conveying principles and values. From a marketing and business perspective, a brand is built up in a consumer’s mind over time. Think of a brand as all of the emotional and tangible touchpoints surrounding a product or service. It is created to each specific consumer, by all forms of communication and interaction. In that sense, you don’t have one single brand, but a brand for every consumer who is aware of your business.

This blog will look at how to segment and create a brand strategy. Please be aware that this post is for informational purposes only, and you should always consult a professional before investing any money into your branding strategy.

Stages of branding

There are many ways to implement segment branding and branding strategies.

According to this YouTube video from Gartner for Marketers, there are three main stages of branding:

– Pre-purchase

– Purchase

– Post-purchase

Each stage centres around the ultimate goal: getting someone to purchase your product or service. Many small business owners make the mistake of investing heavily in the pre-purchase stage, a little in the purchase stage and use the post-purchase as an after thought or something they don’t want to really deal with. This lack of commitment to the customer could be a colossal mistake!

Pre-purchase branding

First impressions are important, and the same holds true when it comes to branding. If you make a poor first impression, potential customers may dismiss your brand as unprofessional from the get-go. Pre-purchase is the start of the journey, and therefore the first stage of brand-building.

This pre-purchase stage of branding involves all the messages, graphics, and other design elements and creativity that go into your advertising. The platforms you use to advertise on also say a lot about your brand. Advertising on TikTok may give a user a different impression than if the same user saw your advert on LinkedIn. The tone of voice used on your social media platforms will also help users build an impression of your brand.

Public relations and PR marketing impact your brand pre-purchase too. What networking events are you seen at? Which newspapers write about your company, and when they do, what are they saying? And what imagery do they use? Consciously or subconsciously, every time a potential customer sees your company name or logo, they are building an impression of your brand.

Purchase branding

As soon as someone begins the process of buying from your company, they now fit into the “purchase” stage of branding.

If someone is interested in your brand, product or service, they may visit your website. Your website design, reviews, functionality and the speed it takes to load all build an impression of your brand that could impact whether or not a visitor converts to a lead or a sale.

If you have live chat on your website, the tone of voice makes a significant difference as well. Also, if you have live chat that uses a chatbot, it says something different about your brand compared to a website that uses a human live chat agent.

The same principle holds true in terms of a brick-and-mortar store. The signage outside, the location and the staff will impact the customer’s perception of your brand.

The ease of purchase has an impact too. If your online payment portal or page takes a long time to load, adds on tax and shipping costs or doesn’t have a secure server, it is unlikely to make a good impression.

Post-purchase branding

When someone has purchased or signed up, what happens next says a lot about your principles as a business. What type of loyalty programme does your company offer? If there is an issue with the product or service, does your small business go above and beyond to resolve it? Does the product or service come with any warranties? Are there any hidden catches or loopholes that make them redundant if there’s a problem?

Apple’s branding strategy

The standard way to invest in branding for your small business is to spend the vast majority on advertising and other pre-purchase activities.

What Steve Jobs did differently was to take money out of advertising and put it into the purchase stage. He invested a considerable sum of the branding budget in high-street stores in a number of major cities. 

Steve Jobs was ridiculed for investing money into what was seen as a dying medium of commerce. Yet, one of his greatest inventions was the Apple Retail Store. At huge expense, Apple opened a vast 24-hour, 365 days a year store on 5th Avenue, New York.

By selecting specific major cities and investing hugely in the store’s infrastructure, staff, and customer experience, retail stores became a a key driver when it came to catapulting the brand into our hearts, minds and wallets. The Apple Store combined state of the art products with a great shopping experience that made people feel valued and often part of a community of Apple product users. According to its annual report, the Apple Stores generated 28% of the company’s $229.2 billion net sales in 2017.

Post-purchase to purchase

Apple could also take users’ data, interests, and purchase behaviour and manipulate it to flip them from post-purchase former consumers back to purchase intent – looking to buy again, in a relatively short space of time.

There is always a huge build-up and buzz before a new Apple product is released. This is because of the quality of the products and the Apple brand, and how Apple uses customer feedback and data to create better products and target the right people at the correct times.

When tobacco companies in the US were no longer allowed to advertise on TV, they invested all of that advertising budget into point of sale, purchase stage advertising. When that was no longer allowed, they invested in the post-purchase stage. They used customer data to send people loyalty schemes like Marlboro points or some type of coupon to get you back into the franchise when their database indicated that you might stop buying from them.

Branding specifically for small businesses

Apple is a great business, and its branding strategy is quite remarkable. However, most small business owners don’t have the budget to go out and invest in retail stores (possibly not a good idea during a pandemic anyway).

One of the best ways to form an overall picture of your brand, and therefore your company, can be to fill in a business plan template. This plan can also be used as a working document to help guide your marketing efforts.

For all elements of marketing, think about your customer persona.

“If you’re speaking to everyone, you’re speaking to no one” – as a small business, you probably don’t have the resources to target everyone with your advertising. So it can help with branding and marketing efforts to have an ideal customer or target audience established.

What are the characteristics of the ideal customer(s) that you are looking to attract? Write down their demographics, where they live, what they like to do in their spare time, what job they have, what motivates them and their problems.

There are several excellent examples of ideal customer personas on this blog post. Think about what tone of voice will appeal most to your ideal customer. Should you use first person style communication? What graphics and content will appeal to your target audience?

What is the goal of your brand?

Once you have your customer persona nailed down, think about how you can help that person. You can find some great information on relevant forums on, and by joining related Facebook groups. See what people are talking about and think about how you can help them with your product or service.

Carrying out a competitor analysis can also give you an idea of how your brand can stand out.

For example, if you are an online accountancy firm, your goal may be to provide an affordable and easy tax bookkeeping service.

Think about your brand’s goal – how do you want your ideal customers or your target market to perceive you? With the accountancy firm example, you may want to be perceived as trustworthy, loyal and easy to use. If you run a fashion company, you may want your target market to see you as extravagant and upmarket.

You can further subdivide goals into each marketing platform or customer channel. For example, the goal of your YouTube channel may be to convert 10% of subscribers into customers, and the goal for your email marketing might be to convert 3% of email openers into customers.

What is your brand story?

Having a brand story can be a vital part of your branding strategy. Why did you start a business? Was there a gap in the market? Did you have a mission or a passion that made you start your business?

You can also use the ‘four whys’ technique to create your brand story. Write down why you started your business, e.g. “I started a marketing agency to help small business owners”.

Then ask yourself, “why did you start an agency for small business owners?” – and you may answer, “because small business owners that I met didn’t have a brand strategy in place or any marketing strategy”. Keep asking “why?” until you have a complete understanding of why you are starting your business and what gap in the market or what purpose you ultimately have or had.

What is your USP?

In terms of your brand and its messaging, know your Unique Selling Point (USP) and your Strong Selling Points (SSPs). For an online accountancy firm that has no brick-and-mortar presence, the USP may be the price. The SSPs might be the expertise, the customer service and the user interface that helps clients keep up to date with their bookkeeping.

Analysing your competitors is essential when developing your USP.

Identify your marketing channels

Once you know your target audience and ideal customers, you know your brand story; now, you need to establish how you will reach your target audience.

Where does your target audience hang out online and offline?

If you are in the business-to-business (B2B) space, LinkedIn might be the best channel for your marketing campaigns. With this in mind, you will want to consider what assets you need to design for your personal profile, business page and adverts for LinkedIn. Remember that you want to serve your target audience. Trying to sell directly is very difficult on social media, as people are not explicitly searching to buy a product or service. You will want to provide value with engaging, educational and entertaining posts that will get your target audience to notice. Nobody wants to be sold to repeatedly on a social media channel. For more information on this concept, Gary Vaynerchuck’s book – Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook provides some fantastic insights into making social media marketing work for your small business.

Design elements of a small business brand

As stated, there is more to your brand than just design, but the design is undoubtedly fundamental.

You can do the graphic design work yourself by using an app or tool such as Canva. Alternatively, you can hire someone to do it for you. A local design or marketing agency can help with your branding strategy and your design work, or you can hire a freelancer by using websites such as UpWork or PeoplePerHour.

When designing for your brand, consider not only what you like, but what your ideal customer persona will like or be attracted to.

Marketing and design expert, Philip VanDusen, suggests that a business owner should think about all the brand touchpoints to start with:

– Content

– Website

– E-commerce

– Print

– Social media

– Online ads

– Broadcasts

– Video

There are many places that your brand will show up, and where possible, you want a level of consistency across all platforms.

Often the first design element to complete is your small business’s logo. Typically a logo should use 2, maybe three colours – but keep it simple. You should also choose one or two fonts that represent your brand appropriately. You will want one font to use on your logo and a secondary font for other design elements such as your tagline or social media images.

Fonts & colours

Fonts have personalities and can say a lot about your brand, so choose carefully. A font can convey mood, attitude and tone – as can colours. Each brand should have a colour palette – four or five colours used consistently across brand touchpoints.

It can help to use a colour wheel to choose your colour palette. This YouTube video by designer Sarah Clark gives a great introduction to colour theory and how to use a colour wheel. It’s essential to understand the moods and subconscious messages colour conveys so that they relate appropriately to your brand. For example, purple is often associated with luxury and is said to symbolise nobility and wealth.

Pattern and texture can also have a significant impact on your brand visibility and concept. Apple, for example, tends to use a brushed metal background, and Louis Vuitton uses a pattern background for its products and communications. If you were to use a background, what would it look like? Marble, kraft paper, bamboo? Even if you don’t complete a background design, it can help to keep one in mind.

Photography and videography

One great way to stand out on social media is to use videos and eye-catching photography. But before you get started, you should choose a style and stick to it. Whether you use abstract photography or some kind of still life with an overlay of a witty quote or phrase, keep the style consistent and recognisable.

Sound is something that people don’t often think about, but this could tie into videography and podcasts. Marketing godfather Seth Godin once said “podcasting is the new blogging“. A podcast normally has an introduction, so think about what music and words would represent your brand well. Incidentally, you can easily create collaborative podcasts using the anchor app for iPhone or Android. You can pick up free music for your introduction on Pixabay.

Finally, when you put all of these elements together, think about your layout. In all your graphics, think about where the logo is situated and how big it is relative to the rest of the design, how big any images are, and how much of the background image or pattern can be seen. You will generally want to position your logo in the same place every time, with even padding around the sides or circumference. The logo should not overpower the design either, but make sure it can be seen.

Telephone answering & live chat

Telephone answering can have a major impact on each customer’s perception of your brand. In each stage of branding, the telephone and live chat are key customer touchpoints. Whether a customer visits your website or calls your company, the first interaction they have with your business is vital. With a friendly, professional and dedicated receptionist answering your calls, and a highly trained live chat agent building rapport with visitors on your website, customers feel valued and appreciated whenever and however they get in touch. With a 24/7 service, you can gain a distinct competitive advantage and provide a point of contact around the clock – providing a great foundation of customer service and experience.


A branding strategy is vital when it comes to building a small business. Remember that attracting people to your store or website is just the start and people are still judging you during the purchase and the post-purchase stages of your relationship. Customer service can make a massive difference in how your brand is perceived, and if done correctly, customers will promote your small business and your brand for you via word of mouth and great reviews.

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