When it comes to visual branding, small business owners often fall prey to thinking that a great product or service with satisfied customers is enough to keep the business running. While it certainly helps, investing in visual branding and design will make all the difference when you’re trying to nurture and grow your business.
Moreover, there are many studies that reinforce the importance of visual branding. According to Adobe, 59% will choose a company over its competitors based on good design, and 45% have paid more for a product or a service because of it. Another study found that companies that invest in design tend to enjoy a 125% ROI on that investment.
With a hundred other things on a business owner’s plate, it may feel overwhelming to make sense of it all - let alone build a structured design plan around your brand.
Below, we’ve broken the process down into three actionable steps that not only help you get started but maintain compelling, customer-friendly visual branding in the long run.
Step 1: Establish a Visual Language and Guidelines
Unless you’re well-versed in graphic design, this is the part you should outsource. Before you embark on the quest of finding a vendor or a freelancer, take a moment and map out your desired brand attributes: how do you picture your brand? Are you dynamic and fast-paced? Whimsical and ethereal? Trustworthy and human? Writing detailed descriptions allows you to explain exactly what you want your brand to look and feel like. It’s also a good idea to bring concrete examples - create a mood board of branding you like.
Now that you know what you want, it’s time to find a freelancer. Ask your network for recommendations for tried and tested designers. Or, you could also look into various websites that list freelance designers. Remember, you get what you pay for: experienced designers may cost more, but you’re more likely to get exactly what you want.
Which assets do small businesses need at a minimum?
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, this list gives you a framework to work with:
- Your business logo in multiple formats: square, horizontal, negative (ie. if you’d like to place it on a dark background)
- Guidelines: a breakdown of how your brand uses fonts, colors, imagery, etc.
- Marketing materials: the actual asset bank depends on your business and marketing needs, but at a minimum, you should have a website layout, a social media presence, and anything you would use in your day-to-day work, such as email newsletter covers, brochures, or PDFs, invoice templates, business cards, and so on
- Bonus: 63% of browsing sessions happen on mobile, so check all your branding elements on the small screen, too.
Step 2: Build a Harmonious Presence Online (and Offline!)
Now that you have brought your visual language to life, it’s time to apply it across everything that represents your brand. Undeniably, the most important brand-building asset today is your website. Half of small businesses still don’t have a website which is alarming since 97% of consumers start their search online before they buy locally. It’s a trend you cannot afford to miss, quite literally.
Having a visually compelling website with a branded URL builds trust, brand preference, and helps you beat competitors. Customers are likely to perceive your products and service as high-quality if the experience around it is impeccably designed. Thankfully, it’s quite easy and affordable to create a custom website today. Look into your options to find a solution that best fits your website needs.
After your home base, the website, is up and running, look into your other online channels. Social media is especially powerful for small businesses as they are more likely to be focused on individuals (you, the business owner) and local communities. Boosting your social profiles with branded visuals is a winning combination to attract business. From cover photos to profile pictures with your brand logo, make sure that each and every channel looks the same - even your Instagram Feed or Pinterest Boards should follow your visual mood.
If your business has a presence offline, like a brick-and-mortar store, make sure it looks like your brand, as well. Window taping, signs, shopping bags, catalogs, posters - even workwear - are all excellent brand-building elements. One more thing to consider: link back to your website and social channels from appropriate store items as this will help you retain customers by keeping your brand top-of-mind.
Step 3: Stay Consistent
Finally, now that you’ve established your brand across channels, keep up the good work. It may be tempting to “just get something done” whenever you need to create new materials or print out last-minute brochures for a conference, yet it pays off to be your own brand police. A good way to ensure consistency is to have your designer or design agency document your brand guidelines so that you can easily interpret your brand to people who are new to it.
Lastly, step in the shoes of your typical customer from time to time: lay your printed items out next to a computer and line up your digital materials and social media accounts on your screen. The goal is to attain a visual imprint that flows beautifully across assets and channels, telling the story of your brand and product.