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7 Keys to Building Your Business' Brand Identity

Building a strong identity (brand) that can be identified across all your marketing-can help you gain the trust and loyalty of consumers and help you stand out from the competition.

Branding requires consistency 

Imagine a florist gives you his business card at a networking event. You look at his website and the colors and style are completely different than the card. That makes you uneasy, but you decide to give him a shot. When he arrives, you see the logo on the side of his truck is in a different type face than the other stuff, and you think, "Is this one company or three?"

Plenty of small businesses suffer from what you might call "multiple brand personality disorder." Their logo, business cards, stationery, website, emails, and advertising-even their uniform logos and vehicle decals-look like they came from a bunch of different places, which isn't good.

Creating a strong visual identity

"If the different points of contact you have with people seem inconsistent, they'll think your business is inconsistent, too," says Ernie Perich, head of Perich Advertising + Design in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Here are seven ways to make sure you put forth a strong, consistent visual identity that will reinforce your customers' trust and make you stand out from competitors:

1. Understand your mission

Developing a strong mission statement that explains the purpose of your company can be the springboard to a consistent design that reinforces that purpose. The mission statement should also reflect your company's personality.

"Are you the friend next door, the expert, fun, serious, or an inspirational brand (an inspirational brand is one that inspires action, like Nike's "Just Do It.")?" says Melissa Hall, who operates the site The Emerging Designer and teaches marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

"All communication should speak in this voice." An IT consulting company whose founders are fun and energetic can leverage that spirit in their funny (but still professional) logo, creating a distinct impression in the marketplace because it represents what they are like to work with.

2. Step back before you fix things

One reason for a mission statement is to avoid focusing on marketing materials in a piecemeal fashion.

"A small business will come to me and say their brochure doesn't look like their website, and they want the website changed," says Tom Nixon, a Detroit brand consultant who works with small businesses.

"That's because the website was built six years ago, and the company has outgrown it. You have to step back and consider the overall brand before leaping in to fix stuff."

3. Remember that brand is in everything

Small business owners sometimes forget that brand isn't just demonstrated by their website or business cards-it radiates through everything they do. For instance, the signage on your truck should have the same look and feel as your business cards. When it comes to creating and strengthening a brand, there are no "little" details.

4. Put your brand in your name

A starting place for your brand is your company name. The most effective business names communicate the unique selling proposition or unusual aspect of the company. For example, a company called "Last Minute Catering” quickly communicates what they do and what sets them apart from the competition.

5. Type(face) yourself correctly

A business should develop a style guide of colors, fonts, and logo parameters that will remain consistent online and in marketing materials or promotional efforts. For example, the typefaces you choose tell a story about your brand.

"For example, if you use Times New Roman, you may be deemed traditional; whereas using Comic Sans may say that your brand is playful," Hall says. "If this first point of branding does not translate online, then you may give off the perception that you don't understand the personality of your brand, which could trickle down to your service offerings."

6. Own your color

Colors are so powerful that Perich always shows a client the logo in black-and-white first-and then in different colors to gauge the varied emotional impact. Think broadly of how you can use the color you select to represent your business.

For example, a local bank owned the color lime green. That vibrant color is on its television ads, billboards, annual report, and business cards. But the company goes beyond that to consider every touch point.

"In their office, they have a basket of Granny Smith apples," Perich says. "When they sponsor a luncheon, they give the food away in green bags. When the chairman shows up to speak to employees, he wears green tennis shoes or a green tie." By linking a strong, specific, and appropriate color to your company, you can get instant impact in a market anytime you show a splash of it.

7. Let yourself get bored

One of the biggest challenges in creating a consistent brand is that you will get bored with the look much sooner than your customers will.

"Your friends will tell you that your ads all look the same and that you should change them," Perich says. "But they're looking at every single ad, whereas you're lucky if the average person on the street notices one out of every five of your ads. They take five times as long to get bored."

So resist the impulse to change for the sake of change. Your brand reflects the way you do business, the quality of your products and services, and the way you are perceived.

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