Branding is the act of defining who you are as a business.
While marketing refers to the tactics you take to bring exposure to your business.
Where it gets confusing is that you may use a marketing tactic –like running an ad – to strengthen your brand.
Let’s use Nike as an example. You see their ads on TV all the time, but they never actually focus on a specific product. They are selling the idea that using their products will empower you. That’s branding.
Do small businesses need branding?
At minimum, a business needs to do some branding work to define who they are and how to represent themselves. This applies to both the visual elements of a brand (i.e. logo), as well as the general tone of voice: will you be funny, serious or snarky?
Even if the business is run by a single person, there is still value in doing some branding work to be clear how you plan to represent yourself in the market.
How much should small businesses focus on branding?
Nike’s approach of selling an idea may not work for all companies, especially smaller ones that haven’t become household names. In fact, most small businesses are likely to find product/service-specific campaigns far more effective than general branding campaigns.
Many business owners could care less if a customer recognizes their logo, as long as they buy their product, or use their services. If that’s the case, marketing campaigns should focus more specifically on the customer’s need for a specific product, rather than the company as a whole.
Mission-driven brands like 8 Billion Trees will likely have a different perspective. In this case, the organization is all about conservation through planting trees, and their “products” are really just a way to support the mission.
So what’s the value of branding?
I’ve talked before about the need to be intentional and consistent in building a brand, but let’s look at a practical example with Instagram feeds.
Notice how cohesive the images are on this feed. All the images utilize their brand colors and they’ve created a similar look and feel on each of their posts.
Now compare that to this feed, which has wildly different image styles and no consistency to their colors.
Are any of the individual images bad? No. But when you look at their feed as a whole it feels slapped together and looks sloppy.
When your branding is solid, you’ll present a consistent impression and help people understand what you’re all about. That builds trust as they will know what to expect from you.
Here’s the branding nutshell
For small businesses, most of your brand work happens early on as you define what you want your brand to stand for and create a visual identity. If you never took the time to do this, it’s worth revisiting.
Once you have established your brand characteristics and visual identity, the real work comes in staying consistent.
So here’s your homework: pull out your business card and any printed collateral, then look at your website, your social channels and your email marketing campaigns. Now ask yourself: does everything go together? Is it clear that everything comes from the same place? Or do you find you’re funny on social media and serious on your website?
If so, you have some work to do.
Never be afraid to ask for help – or a second opinion!