For too many small business owners, their brand is little more than a business name and a logo. Running a business has so many moving parts, it’s easy to stick with just the bare minimum. But branding is so much more than that. It’s what your business stands for, what makes it different from your competitors, and why clients should choose you every time.

It takes people who visit your site just 7 seconds to decide whether they like or trust your brand, so putting a little more thought into your brand is a worthwhile exercise.

Your brand should be the starting point for all your interactions with clients. Branding can make or break a business, so don’t overlook any aspect of it. Use our small business branding checklist, and complete the exercises to make the most of your first impressions.

Understand your target audience.

Understanding exactly who your customers are will define your brand more clearly. Consider these brands and try to picture who their customers are:

Apple. HP.

Neiman Marcus. Walmart.

Whole Foods. Albertsons.

Rolex. Casio.

BMW. Kia.

You probably had a very clear picture of each group of customers or at least noticed key differences between each brand. You want to be just as clear about your own target customers.

Don’t stop at just general demographic information like age, gender, income and location. Think about what they like to do for fun, where they spend their time, what bothers them, and what they might be feeling when they need your services.

Exercise 1: Getting to know your audience

Write down what you know about your existing and prospective customers.

  • Age range:
  • Income range:
  • Professions (list as many as you can think of):
  • Family size:
  • Hobbies (list as many as you can think of):
  • Motivations to use my product or service:
  • Most used device (Desktop, mobile, tablet):
  • Most used apps (i.e., Facebook, Uber, LinkedIn):
  • Preferred methods of communication (i.e., phone, text, mail, email):

Extra Credit: Read our article about conducting market research and getting to know your current and prospective customers.

State your value proposition.

Once you understand who you’re targeting, think about what makes your business appealing to them. What makes you stand out from your competitors? This is where the previous research about your target audience will help.

Focus your value propositions on the benefits you bring to your customers, not the features or attributes that make you different. Entrepreneur and author Jason Fried summed up this concept pretty well with this tweet:

Let’s say you own a personal training company. Here are some of the key differentiators you might list:

  • Guaranteed results
  • Full services include nutrition, personalized exercise plans, body fat assessments, progress tracking and accountability plan.
  • Trainers available night or day to answer questions or provide motivation by phone

Try to condense these qualities into one or two sentences. If you have too many qualities to fit into a couple sentences, take the most important qualities and leave those in. You might come up with something like this:

The body you want, with all the help you need. On call, 24/7.

Congratulations, you’ve just created the tagline or slogan for your business.

Exercise 2: Discovering your value proposition

Write down at least 5 aspects that are unique to your business or that you excel at. This can be anything from giving stellar customer service, offering complete solutions, being locally owned, or having a long history of experience.

Now, write one or two sentences that express these great qualities of your business. Remember to approach it from how it will benefit your future customers. Try one or two variations.

Define your unique brand voice or point of view.

Now that you know your audience and what you have to offer them, let’s talk about the personality of your business. That’s right, we said personality. People want to buy from people, not some impersonal entity.

So think of your business as an actual person.

Is she young, hip and sassy? Or mature, educated and authoritative? Maybe friendly, hard-working and dependable?

Think about the personality traits you want to convey. Keep in mind what type of personality would appeal to your target audience. Depending on what type of product or service you offer, what appeals to your audience may not be the same traits your audience possesses.

For example, if you’re young, hip and sassy, but are in need of an attorney to help fight your speeding ticket, you’re probably looking for someone who is experienced, mature and professional.

Once you’ve defined your unique brand personality, it’s much easier to envision how your business should speak, including the vocabulary, tone and style.

Exercise 3: Finding your voice

Write down the personality traits of your brand. Describe your brand the same way you would a close friend or relative. Feel free to use pronouns like he or she to humanize the brand. Include notes about how your brand speaks. Does he or she use slang, or is the speech more professional and authoritative?

Establish a visual identity.

When it comes to branding, this is where most people start. In fact, you may already have a logo, website and even uniforms as you read this.

But a visual identity goes a bit further.

It’s a combination of all the visual elements you use to convey your brand’s message, values and promises. This includes any photos you use in your ads or post on social media, as well as fonts, colors and alternate versions of your logo (i.e., black and white vs. color).

Design professionals usually call this a style guide. If it’s not in your budget to hire a professional designer to create one for you, consider tapping the talent at your local community college. Many design students produce amazing work and are looking for opportunities to build their portfolios for a fraction of the cost.

If you want to go it alone, make sure you include the following elements:

  • Color palette. This is usually one primary color and a few complementary colors. If you need help creating color combinations, try a tool like Adobe Color. Also, be aware of how colors can influence your customers.
  • Font styles. Most experts suggest no more than 2 or 3 fonts on any one page. Include rules about this in your style guide as well as any usage of bold, italics and underlining. Also, make sure you have the right to use the font you choose by downloading them from a reliable open source font site like Google Fonts.
  • Logos and icons. If you already have a logo, include variations of colors in your palette as well as what it should look like in black and white. Icons might be pared down versions of your logo or smaller, vector images used to highlight key features of your product or service.
  • Photos. It’s good to define what type of photos you want to use to express your brand’s personality. This won’t include every photo you’ve ever used, but rather, examples or mood boards of the type of photos you think match your brand.

Here are some great examples of style guides from other companies to help you with your own.

Exercise 4: Establishing your visual identity
  • Use Adobe Color or a tool like it to create an entire color palette based on your existing logo colors. Note the Pantone, RGB and CMYK color codes to keep your colors consistent. (These color codes help you optimize your colors for different applications like print and web.)
  • If you are currently using special fonts, write down the rules for using them.
  • Track down all the logos and icons on your site, and keep the files in one place. Take a look at them all together and make sure they present a cohesive, visual identity. Write down any rules for using them.
  • Create a mood board for your brand that includes images that capture the essence of your brand.

Evaluate consistency across your communications.

To reap the benefits of a trusted, recognizable brand, you have to commit to it. Every interaction you have with a potential or existing customer reinforces what you’ve researched and created.

Whether it’s how you answer the phone, the way your promotional email is formatted, or what you’ve shared on your latest Instagram post, you want one cohesive message and a single visual identity.

Take a moment to look at all the ways you communicate with your potential and existing customers. This includes your in-person interactions (storefront, signage, uniforms, phone greetings) as well as your digital interactions (website, emails, social media posts and review site responses).

Do they all convey the same message about your brand?

It’s perfectly OK to have slightly different tones or styles for each communication channel. For example, you might be a bit more casual when posting on Facebook than you would when emailing a customer about an invoice.

Use the tone appropriate to the type of communication while still reinforcing your brand through visual elements. Don’t forget to use tone to express the concepts that define your brand, such as trustworthiness or professionalism.

Exercise 5: Auditing your communications

Take a look at all the ways you interact with your customers. Think about each channel and write a few notes about how you’ll reinforce your brand through that channel.

Here’s a list:

  • In-store signage
  • Employee uniforms
  • Phone greetings
  • Voicemail greetings
  • Receipts or invoices
  • Email promotions
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Website
  • Paid Ads
  • Flyers
  • Brochures

Brand building doesn’t happen overnight. Take these steps toward a more comprehensive brand strategy, and reinforce the mission, values and promises you work so hard to deliver everyday. You’ll have a business you can be proud of and one that your customers will notice and remember.