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Small Business Center

5 Ways to Define, Refresh or Revisit Your Branding

January 5, 2024

Retailers don’t sell just goods. It’s really about marketing emotions and feelings. Think about the reason some buy Dunkin’ and others buy Starbucks. Though they both sell coffee, Dunkin’ has positioned itself as an affordable, friendly and accessible brand. Starbucks, on the other hand, is seen as a more upscale, sophisticated experience.

These distinctions come down to branding. Sommer Jacob — owner of Bismarck, North Dakota-based branding and design agency Studio North — loosely defined branding as “a promise of experience.” It’s the way you represent yourself to the world. More than just a logo, a business brand is the images in your marketing, the tone of voice in your writing and ads, the colors you use. “It sums up the whole vibe of your business,” said Jacob, who focuses on small businesses. And that persona is important. A 2018 survey from Sprout Social showed that when customers feel connected to a store’s brand, 57% will increase their spending with that brand and 76% will buy from it over a competitor.

If you haven’t revisited your brand positioning recently, think about it now. “You want to communicate that you are progressive in your business, that you’re staying up to date with things and you’re not falling behind,” said Jacob.

Here are some ways freshen up your branding.

1. It’s all about authenticity.

In this era of artificial intelligence-generated content and marketing, authenticity stands out. “AI is the big buzzword right now, but people pick up on [AI-generated content] quickly because there’s this formulaic marketing lingo that you can just sense,” said Jacob. Intuitively, many consumers turn away, feeling that these brands aren’t genuine or personalized. People crave a connection that goes beyond automated responses and standardized content, Jacob said.

To showcase your authenticity as a small business brand, share your individual story: struggles, triumphs and all. Customers “want a behind-the-scene look at your business,” she said. “They don’t want things to look so polished.” Jacob suggested posting photos of your products without filters, videos of real customers walking through your store and even employees talking through the issues they deal with. A clothing store employee, for instance, might show trouble finding items that fit and solutions they’ve come up with.

This desire for genuine interaction and authenticity extends to two-way communication with customers. “We’re getting a lot of automated texting options or chatboxes on websites,” Jacobs said. “People are frustrated with that. They want to go back to a more organic relationships with businesses.” Rather than investing in the most expensive AI tools, consider using that budget to train employees on answering questions and responding to posts on social media themselves. It makes sense for small businesses to invest, in one-on-one relationships, she said.

2. Keep it simple.

People “are bombarded with texts, emails, social media posts all advertising ‘Sale! Sale! Sale!’ or pushing something,” said Jacob. “In the face of this, people are like: ‘I just want something basic.’” In 2024, Jacob said, “take out the clutter” in all your branding material. “If something doesn’t matter to your customer” like, say, it’s your second anniversary or you just came back from Venice, “it shouldn’t be out there.” Mimic this minimalistic aesthetic in your marketing design. Clean lines, ample white space, a limited color palette and simple yet impactful imagery all contribute to a simple, easy-to-view brand identity. Also “make sure you are using easy-to-read fonts,” she said. If people can’t read something, they’ll simply skip over it. To be successful as a small business brand in 2024, Jacob recommended, take out all the “clever marketing” and instead get to your point quickly. “Here’s who we are. Here’s what we can do to help you” is what you should be focusing on, she said.

3. Lead with your values.

There was a reason you started your small business. Maybe it was a passion for a product or a goal to highlight local artisans or you wanted to see more sustainable clothing. Make sure those values are front and forward, where people can see them. Jacob said: “Money is tight for a lot of people, so they want to spend their money on things that are important to them and align with their values.” If you started your business because you wanted more sustainable options and all your clothing is produced in an ethical manner, put that at the top of all of your marketing material and social media posts. And sticking to your theme, you might host or partner on community service and program opportunities that reinforce that value. Maybe hold a workshop on upcycling or offer recycling bins at your small business. “Show people you’re living your values,” Jacob said.

4. Get personal.

The brands that will resonate deeply in 2024 will seem tailor-made for each individual, reflecting their unique preference and style. And while Jacob opposed AI-generated content, leveraging AI to collect, sort and analyze data is invaluable for small businesses, she said. Today’s AI tools enable businesses to analyze a customer’s purchase history, facilitating more accurate product recommendations and targeted communications. Consumers, she said, “want to feel seen and recognized.” According to a recent Twilio survey, 66% of consumers will quit a brand if the experience isn’t personalized. Jacob suggested personalizing communications. Some ways to do that:

  • Use recipients’ names in all email communications, as no one likes to be called “dear valued customer”
  • Ask questions to refine your target audience personas so your messaging feels more specialized.
  • Provide recommendations based on your customers’ past purchases.

5. Be consistent.

Consistency matters in your word and in your presentation to the public. Use uniform fonts, colors and logos on all of your marketing material and social media platforms, and keep your voice and tone consistent. “Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but your branding is a promise of an experience,” Jacob said. “It’s telling people ahead of time what they’re going to experience when they are in your business or making a purchase.” If you try out different styles or voices on your materials, you start to lose that trust with your consumers, Jacob said. If you’re unsure of your identity, your brand’s authenticity and credibility declines, and that pact between owner and customer matters. Trust, Jacob said, “is a big part of business.”

As the saying goes, trust is hard to gain but easy to lose. In 2024, you want to ensure, Jacob said, that your customers “know that they’re at the right place when they see the [distinctive features] of your brand.”

By Rebecca Meiser

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today and Small Business Center

Small Business Center

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