Branding: First Impressions Matter

When most people hear the word branding about a business they tend to think big business – Apple, Coke, 3M, BP – and not small business. But branding is at least as important for a small business as a giant corporation.

So what is branding? What does the term really mean?

The ‘official’ definitions of branding include phrases like ‘the story that you tell to your customers’ or ‘the implied contract you are promising to your clients, customers and users.’ These are all fancy ways of saying that branding is how you present your company to the world. For most small businesses at a simple level it is your business name, logo and a slogan if you have one. One level more complex is to include your physical location, your virtual location (web site) and things like your business cards and letterhead.

In reality how your brand is represented is more to do with how you act  and deliver products, services and value to your customers. And it takes years to build a good brand reputation and can take moments to ruin it.

Nevertheless, it is a truism that the first impression is the most important and for most businesses that first impression comes from the business name, logo and slogan. Your underlying brand value is something that you will live every day that you run your business and not something that you can set ahead of time – so for this series on starting your business, we’ll focus on that first impression – since that is something you can and should think about carefully ahead of time.

We’ve already dealt with naming in the previous section of this series. Now it’s time to move on to your logo and your slogan.

Catchphrase or Slogan – It’s The Real Thing


Yes, it is. You all know what company I am referring to – and its slogan applies to a lot more than a soft drink. It sets a tone and an attitude. This is one of the classic slogans or catchphrases. Let’s think of a few others: ‘Just Do It,’ ‘Think Different,’ ‘A Diamond is Forever.’ You know exactly what these refer to even without any other context. You can’t expect to have this level of success with a slogan for a brand new business – nobody will know what to associate it with. Instead your goal is a slogan that could become that well-known if your business succeeds well.

To come up with a slogan you can more or less replicate the same process we went for in coming up with the name for your company. But it is important that you do this AFTER the naming process or you will be influenced to pick a weaker name because of a good slogan. Don’t do this – the name has to stand on its own since it is often the very first thing that introduces your company and far more often without the slogan than with it.

Instead, pick the name first and then once you have the name, repeat the process for a slogan, but bear the following points in mind.

  • If you aren’t CERTAIN you’ve come up with a good slogan, you are better off not having one at all.
  • If you ARE sure you have a great slogan, name and/or logo, trademark them as soon as you can afford it.
  • A slogan should attract attention but not divert it from the message your really want people to come away with.
  • Be honest to your core business in the slogan and be honest with your customers – otherwise the slogan WILL backfire
  • Make sure it is unique – do some research and internet searches to make sure your slogan isn’t already taken
  • Avoid language or images that will become dated in a few years
  • Do not become negative in your slogan – even toward competitors


All the Colors…

Colors are also important to a brand. But be careful – wait to pick them until you have a logo UNLESS you have a compelling reason to select colors first. An example would be a name or company identity that you want to tie your logo and image strongly to or perhaps a local or naming reason that certain colors are important. In those cases you may want to at least tie down the general area of the color (Blue Sky Airlines should probably have some blue in the company branding and identity for example).

On the other hand, do NOT put in any color restrictions at this stage you do not have to. You want to give your logo designer the widest range of creative possibility that you can. Keep your color instructions if any to the basics – in the case of Blue Sky Airlines simply say that you want the logo to reflect the Blue in the name – let the designer choose how to interpret that.

Briefing a Designer

This is one area you categorically cannot get away without spending money. I set up a small book publishing company on a shoestring back in 2004 just before ebooks totally changed the publishing business. The tiny amount of money I had for financing was reserved for printing – my single most expensive up-front cost. But I still paid a designer to create me a logo. Admittedly it was the cheapest way I could do it, so I did my best to maximize my investment by providing a thorough briefing for the designer. I was paying for one logo that was to be created by selecting from three rough designs and letting the designer turn that into a final logo. Any further revisions after that would cost more and I couldn’t afford them. But more importantly than that, by giving the designer a thorough briefing you will simply get a better result.

There is one exception – if you are in fact a designer then you can do your logo and associated design work yourself. But even if that is the case think seriously whether you should – sometimes an outside creative force can see something you cannot.

So give your chosen designer the company name and the reasons you chose that name. Give them any color guidelines you have established. Give them the slogan you cam up with. And then write up a page explaining what you plan to do, why and how. Add anything else you can think of and offer to answer any questions they may have promptly.

Here are a range of resources you can check to look into getting a design done. For my book publishing company I completed the whole process online with a designer in Australia. But you can also go with a full service design house that can do the kind of high-level work associated with things like the logo for the 2016 Brazil Olympics.

Regardless of who you go with there are a few things you must do. Ask for at least three mock designs – all different – between which you can choose. When you pick the one of the three you like best remember to point out any additions or changes you would like to see.

Insist on a full set of deliverables. You should at minimum get the full EPS file (a high end graphic format that will let the logo be created and printed at any size with full quality). Ask for a few smaller versions suitable for immediate use online and in print in the form of PDF and JPG or PNG files. Also get the definitions for the colors (hex values for on screen digital colors and Pantone numbers for print) – this will make it easy for future print, digital and web use of these materials

One smart thing to ask for (but which may cost you more) is to get variations – something that can run in a narrow vertical strip and another that can run in a narrow horizontal strip.

Using your branding materials

Once you have a final name, slogan, logo and any other materials you have collected you have the basic building blocks for presenting your business to the world. You can create business cards, a website, letterhead, signage. If you can afford it get the designer to do all these as well. But if you are on a budget these things are relatively easy to do yourself once you have the logo and color definitions.

Part five of a series – The Yahoo Smart and Simple Guide to Starting a Business.

Loading...
See all articles from Small Business Advisor

Friend's Activity