Three big brand rules you can break as a small business, and three that you should observe


Three big brand rules you can break as a small business, and three that you should observe

May 17, 2019 | Education

Branding is one of those nebulous concepts that can suck you into all of its moving parts, and–several complicated Euler diagrams and Coca Cola examples later–have you thinking that there’s no place for your small business in the world of brand metrics planning or visual design systems. You do a lot of things yourself, so just kind of get it, you know?

Luckily, that’s your strength. You built this company because you get the space. Carnivores don’t tend to open vegan restaurants and introverts don’t tend to open party-planning businesses. Your unimpeded vision and intuition will give you a sense of authenticity that big brands are trying to construct and there are some traditional branding rules that you can feel comfortable breaking.

Three big brand rules you can break as a small business

Brand guidelines or death

As a small business, it’s not likely that you’re running big ad campaigns. In your day to day, your digital presence might be your most prominent visual brand expression. It’s tempting to try and apply the rigid rules of your brand guidelines for consistency, but in our age of passive consumption, you need to create a few pieces of varied and break-through content every week, and sticking to a tight set of rules could stifle the creativity you need to make an impact. It’s a good idea to create posts that just represent the spirit of your business instead.

For example, here’s a selection of posts from noted co-sharing office space disrupter, WeWork. The posts don’t follow a strict visual template but express something about WeWork’s personality.

Don’t make moves without formal audience research

They say research is the linchpin of all good marketing, but agencies can charge thousands of dollars to draft questionnaires, make phone calls, and conduct focus groups. While, of course, it’s prudent to do market research at the planning stage of your business, you don’t need to spend much on audience research to make decisions about your brand or offering.

You could try:

  • Some careful social listening: monitoring social media for mentions of your brand or any discussion that’s happening around your industry, competitors or trends, or general sentiments among your demographic.
  • Testing tag lines on social media ads: create identical ads with different copy and do a simple A/B test to find out what your audience gravitates to more.
  • Opening up a dialogue with your customers: you’ll be surprised at how much you can glean from having informal, honest conversations with your customers about who they are and not just what they’re into at the moment.
  • Using Quora, Survey Monkey or Reddit to ask direct questions.

Your brand should be politically neutral

Big brands are typically afraid of putting their head above the parapet on divisive issues. But we’re more connected than ever, and brands are acting more like humans than companies online, so consumers have come to expect brands to speak on the issues that are important to them.

Sixty-four percent of consumers worldwide will make a purchasing decision based on a brand’s social or political position, according to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study. Belief-driven buyers are now the majority across all markets.

It isn’t to say that you have to be part of every conversation, it’s to say that if there’s something that you want to say that is truly authentic to your brand, you can make some noise. Big brands who do this well are Dr. Bronner, Patagonia, and Chobani.

And three to stay loyal to ’til the end

Figure out your brand personality

According to Investopedia, customers are more likely to purchase a brand if its personality is similar to their own. It says, “There are five main types of brand personalities with common traits:

1. Excitement: carefree, spirited, and youthful

2. Sincerity: kindness, thoughtfulness, and an orientation toward family values

3. Ruggedness: rough, tough, outdoorsy, and athletic

4. Competence: successful, accomplished and influential, highlighted by leadership

5. Sophistication: elegant, prestigious, and sometimes even pretentious.”

Think about what attributes fit your brand the best. Try and skip words like reliable and professional–it’s your actions that will prove that you’re dependable. Your personality is more about inviting your customers to relate to your brand.

Imitation will not flatter your brand

Brand strategist, Jasmine Bina, says, “Don’t play in someone else’s backyard.” Your competitors might have smart ideas and big budgets, but trying to replicate them doesn’t allow you to get in front of them or say anything unique. Bina goes on, “Box’s brand is a better version of DropBox, but that does nothing to differentiate them. Better is actually worse. Different is what matters.”

Stay true to your core values

In our over-saturated and heavily filtered digital media landscape, consumers–particularly Millennials and Gen Zs–seek out real stuff, real people, authentic things.

It might feel like the world is changing so rapidly and that it’s challenging to stay on message or to use trends to promote your brand. The key is to know that absolutely everything is up for reevaluation but your core values.

The key is to know that absolutely everything is up for reevaluation but your core values.


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