As technology becomes more advanced yet easier for the average consumer to use, small business owners are increasingly “cutting the overhead” and doing their own marketing rather than hiring consultants. The result: ugly websites, bad photos, unflattering copywriting, bad search engine rankings and ultimately no cohesive brand image.
Having a cohesive brand image is essential in this day and time. Everyone and their brother has a small business, clothing line or record label. If you want to survive, you need to stand out. The best way to do that is to create a strong brand identity that expands to every aspect of your business.
I love working with startups and small businesses, in fact they are the bread and butter of my business. And most of the time a new client will have such a diluted brand image that we start over, from scratch, rather than trying to make sense of their many variations.
The best thing that you can do for your company is to hire one marketing firm or one graphic designer or web developer to make sure that every aspect of your business is streamlined. Every aspect counts: color palette, artwork, imagery, copywriting, website design, print design, photography, social media personality and media personality.
If you still decide to do your own marketing and branding, either because you have the skills or because you don’t have the budget for a professional, here are some tips and tricks that we have found over the years to help guide you in the right direction.
1. Pick one color palette and stick with it.
These colors should ideally match your logo or at least complement your logo. You should figure out what their RGB value is and their HEX value so that you can make sure all future web design and graphic design match these exact colors.
If a professional is out of your budget, here are two good resources to consider when choosing a color palette:
- Colour Lovers – http://www.colourlovers.com/palettes
- Color Scheme Designer – http://colorschemedesigner.com/
If you are new to color theory, familiarize yourself with the color wheel. Know it and love it. There is nothing worse than colors that clash in regards to branding. Here is a great website that we frequently show clients: http://www.colormatters.com/color-and-design/basic-color-theory
2. Pick 2-4 fonts and stick with them.
Like colors, it is very important to use consistent fonts throughout your branding. I know typeface seems almost trivial, but it isn’t. It’s very important and becomes the heart and soul of your company.
There are two classes of fonts: Serif and Sans Serif. Sans Serif is Latin for “without serif”. For an idea of difference, Times New Roman is a Serif font while Arial and Helvetica are both Sans Serif fonts. In modern design it is unusual to see Serif fonts, although they are still used in professional industries such as legal, accounting and medical.
A big consideration with fonts is web usability. To be able to use a font on your website, the user must have the font installed on their computer. Because of this, traditionally web designers were limited to a handful of fonts. Thanks to Google and their Google Web Fonts, there are now hundreds of fonts (614 as of the time of writing) available for use on the web. The great thing about these free Google fonts is that you can also download them to your computer for use in print design.
My personal favorite fonts that you will see frequently in my designs are: Ubuntu, Droid Sans, Prosto One and Oxygen.
3. Use consistent design elements
Have a graphic designer create custom elements for you for your website. Or buy a set of custom elements created by the same designer. Make sure that your website, social media and print design use these custom elements as much as possible for a consistent look and feel.
If you use other graphics or stock photos, try to find images that have a consistent look and feel. For example, you wouldn’t want to go with super heroes on one page of your website and then have romantic sunset images on another page of your website.
4. If possible, find a theme for your company
If you are a vacation company and you like sunsets, stick with sunset photos. If you are a dog washer and want pictures of dogs in the park, stick with images of dogs outdoors. If you are a chiropractor and acupuncturist and want to go with a Buddhist / Zen theme, make sure that every aspect of your branding uses that same theme.
I recently met the owner of Ruff Haus Design, a marketing agency here in San Diego. Her website and business are themed very well. They have chosen a dog theme, so every aspect of the business uses images and words related to pet dogs. I found it rather bizarre at first, but now that I’ve gotten to know her brand, it works very well for her. It’s very cohesive. And you don’t soon forget about it. It has top of mind recognition, which is one of the most valuable things you can achieve for your brand. You can take a look at her website for yourself at: http://www.ruffhaus.com/ – note the consistency of images, text and color palette.
5. Have a consistent voice
Having a consistent voice is very important. We strongly recommend hiring copywriters. Copywriting is a lost talent that very few people are truly good at. If you have a limited budget and have to choose between hiring a copywriter or hiring a graphic designer, hire the copywriter.
If you still choose to do your own writing, make sure that you have a consistent voice. Are you serious? Fun? Professional? Whichever it is, make sure that all of your branding reflects this mood.
Do you have a slogan or any buzzwords? Try to be repetitive with those. Apple’s iPad is “magical and revolutionary”. At Nike you “just do it”. At Burger King, you can “have it your way”. These are ideas that are in the brands’ copywriting but are also part of popular culture now.
6. Create variations in your logo
You never know what kind of space you will need to print your logo in, so it is important to have different versions of the logo. Is your logo a combination of some icon and text? Ask your designer to create you separate versions of just the icon and just the words.
Create versions of it for light backgrounds and versions for dark backgrounds. Make sure to get a vector logo design in case you ever want to blow it up big to advertise on a bus or the side of a building.
7. Protect Your Assets
Last but certainly not least, protect your brand. If you haven’t trademarked your company name or your logo, you should do that as soon as economically possible. You can trademark for as little as $500 at LegalZoom.