“Branding” is a hot word right now and I'm seeing it applied all over the place to describe a variety of different things.
Depending on who you are talking to branding can mean:
How do I brand myself
How to brand your website
How to create a brand through photography
How to create a brand through awareness
For example, when I say “branding” I’m usually talking about the voice you use when writing blog posts, the types of things you share on social media, the general feel of your website, and the experience your customers get from working with you:
I’m a marketing person, so when I talk about branding, I’m talking about it from an overall marketing perspective.
If you look at branding as “how the world sees you”, you’ll see it can pertain to almost anything in your business. Which can be overwhelming at first, but also valuable for finding ways to make your overall brand stronger because lots of little things add up.
Branding and graphics
Take a look at this Target ad, for example.
You know Target, right? The red and white bulls-eye? Watch the video and look for all the ways they are incorporating their colors and circles. Notice how there are no hard edges? Everything has a rounded feel to it. Would that ad be as effective and as immediately identifiable as “Target” if it was filled with hard-edged blue and orange rectangles? Or if every time you saw a Target ad, the colors and fonts were different?
Or, if you feel like getting a little nostalgic, take a look at how 25 brand logos have evolved over time. The next time you see an ad for one of those companies, notice how the colors and fonts generally remain similar across all platforms.
Emily at Fresh Paper focuses on showing entrepreneurs how to make the most out of their visual branding, even without a logo. I chatted with about her class a few month's ago for a blog post. You can read it here.
In her class, Emily covers things like fonts, colors, and consistent graphics with a focus towards truly representing your business and helping attract your ideal customers – which is something I hadn’t considered before meeting her. Obviously, I knew the visual aspects of branding were important, but hearing her talk about them in depth made me realize how vital and enduring the visual side of branding could be.
Branding and Business Cards
Business cards are the workhorses of marketing. Almost everyone needs them, and they do their job admirably. But today’s business cards can go beyond name, address, and phone number.
My first set of business cards came from Vista Print. I wasn't quite sure what I needed, but I knew I needed business cards. So I found a design I liked, entered my information, and received a box of business cards. I didn't love them, but who loves business cards?
About six months ago, I realized I'd grown, my business had grown, and my business cards weren't going to work for me anymore. So I went with Moo because I'd heard amazing things about their quality and service.
I adore my business cards now. They are fun, eye-catching, and represent how I approach my work (with humor and fun). And that "Yay!" sticker actually comes on the box of Moo cards.
I have seven different designs on the back of my business cards. I could have had 12 individual designs, but I decided to only use the ones that spoke to me.
The little orange monster and the quote "That's why we're here - to make a dent in the universe" is what made me fall in love with this set. Why? Well, first, I believe that. Second, I'm a huge Doctor Who fan, and that sounds like something Ten would say.
I love the cards Emily designed for Selena Maestas (Love You More Project). Round business cards!
If you look at Selena's site, you'll notice the colors and fonts are the same. The experience is seamless between the online world and the physical world.
Branding and photography
For many modern online entrepreneurs, our faces and personalities become a part of our brand. This can be uncomfortable, and forces many of us out of our comfort zone. But it is also important to remember that as humans we connect with faces, and seeing a friendly face can immediately build trust.
While it can be free or extremely inexpensive to have a friend or family member take some quick photos with their smart phone or basic camera, investing in good quality head shots is important if creating trust and connection is part of your business. People want to purchase from people they trust, and a clear, inviting photo shouldn’t be overlooked.
Professional head shots used to be limited to boring photos against a plain backdrop, but that isn’t the case any longer. Today, head shots can be done indoors or outdoors, and against a variety of backdrops. Mine were taken by Shayne Berry at Portland’s Cathedral Park in the rain. Luckily, the bridge provides perfect cover, and it is a popular destination for all kinds of photography!
Julie of Traveling Julie Portraits photographs not only fresh, modern head shots, but also “in action” photos of her clients at their place of business. This means, not only is there a basic head shot, but also images that show off the business and their brand in action.
Annika Bielig Bussmann focuses exclusively on female entrepreneurs and helping them create their branding via photography.
Normally, you don't get to see side by side head shots of the same person taken by two different photographers, but Emily happens to have been photographed by the two photographers I mentioned above. So you get to see side-by-side examples!
Clearly, both Julie and Annika capture Emily's personality and sense of style. When it comes to choosing a photographer for your head shots, choose someone you feel comfortable working with and who understands the look and feel you are looking for in your photographs.
Branding and Your Website
My first website was a mess.
It didn't reflect who I was or the type of clients I wanted to work with. I'm always revising and refining my work, so it makes sense that my website has gone through a few (OK, more than a few) face lifts.
I tried kind of a flower/garden idea for awhile (it seemed like a good idea at the time).
Then I tried something super modern. It looked pretty and utterly unlike me.
Right now, I love the look of my website, but at some point I know I'll evolve and it will need updating (again).
When you are thinking about your branding and your website, think about the business you have now and where you want it to go. Think about your customers/clients and how your website can help you connect with them. Think about the overall feel you want your clients to have when working with you.
Need inspiration? Go look at the websites I've linked to throughout this post. Each is a fabulous example of lovely websites coupled with their personalities and who they want to work with as businesses.
Your Brand and Change
One thing you may have noticed that has come up over and over in this post is evolution. Your brand and your focus will likely change. That is completely OK and normal. Those first business cards, websites, and elevator pitches are just the beginning.
You'll change direction. You'll grow into some things and outgrow others. You'll discover a new path that is even more exciting than the last.
Have fun with it!
I'll admit it.
I came late to the Instagram party.
You post pictures?
And you can't share them?
Although my understanding was a little rudimentary at first, once I saw the way it could showcase products and connect with customers who weren't necessarily on Facebook or Twitter, I was hooked.
At its most basic, Instagram is all about pretty pictures and finding creative ways to show off your world. But beyond that, like all social media, it is about building community around shared interests and passions. But instead of using words, you use images.
Instagram, and the expectation of beautiful product photos, is changing the way businesses present their products and also changing the way they talk about products. If a picture is worth a thousand words, which words do you still need to use? That is where informative, helpful captions come into play.
Let’s assume you’ve already set up your Instagram account, and it has the same name as your business. Why? To make is easier to find you! If your business’ name is already claimed, you may need to get a little creative, but try to stay as close to your actual business name as possible so customers can find you.
You’ll want to completely fill out your profile and add a link to your main website. The link in your profile is the only place links work on Instagram. In captions, on photos, or in comments, they are just text and not clickable.
Let's also assume you are already planning on watermarking your photos in some way (I like the Phonto app, but there are others), and you already know that Instagram is designed to be used from your smart phone/tablet and know there isn't much you can do with it on an actual computer.
How to use Instagram for Business
Instagram for businesses works on three levels. Each are equally important.
The first level is the ability to showcase your products in beautiful, fun, and engaging ways. Sure, you can hold your product up and take a picture. Or you can lay it on the floor and take a picture. Or prop it up against a decent background. But what if you could use your photo to show how amazing and wonderful your product is? The right lighting, a good angle, and some basic props can really make even a simple product shine!
If you need inspiration, search for magazines and social media accounts that are within your niche. Don’t copy (because that would be rude), but pay attention to how they are using light, props, angles, and textures to create interesting photos.
If you’ve never taken photographs designed to be seen by customers and the general public, it can be a little intimidating when you start! I really like this article about how to take better photos. Also, don’t be afraid to get close up, you might sell something that has gorgeous detail – show it off!
Once you take the photo and you are happy with it, it is time to think about the caption. If you are selling a product, I like the idea of listing the price within the caption. Why? One of the drawbacks of Instagram is that you can’t link directly to a product page, so there is no easy way for a user to learn more about a specific product in a photo. So why not give them all the information they need in the caption?
The second level is discovery via hashtags. The correct use of hashtags is crucial for viability and growing a following. If you aren’t clear on the purpose and use of hashtags, think of them like a giant filing system. Everything image using a specific hashtag gets “filed” in that drawer. Pretty easy, right?
There are a few things to keep in mind:
Singular vs. plural hashtags – There is a difference, so make sure you are using the one you intended.
Misspelling – If you misspell a hashtag it gets filed all by itself (or sent to live on the Island of Misfit Hashtags).
Volume – There are some hashtags that are wildly popular and everyone uses them. Which means you can use them (preferably during peak hours so you get more views), but it also means the competition is fierce and your photos will have a harder time standing out. On the other hand, there are some hashtags that have low volume. Which means you might be using a hashtag no one is looking at or even one that one user has used 2,000 times over four years.
Keep these in mind as you research hashtags. You are looking for a mix of hashtags that includes both semi-popular and very specific (but widely used) hashtags. If you are a local business, use your city as a hashtag. If your location is in an established neighborhood, use that as a hashtag.
If, for example, I was a book seller in Portland, I would want to use hashtags like:
#Portland (3,959,925 posts)
#pdx (2,561,982 posts)
#bookstore (487,390 posts)
#amreading (103, 280 posts)
As well as using the author and the name of the book as a hashtag. I'd also spend some time looking for Portland and book-related hashtags with under 10,000 posts.
You might think that something like #pdxbooks or #booksinportland would be a popular hashtag, but it isn’t. In this case, it might make sense it use those hashtags anyway because after 20-30 posts, you’ll be the dominant account using that hashtag – which can be great for branding, future contests, or gaining the interest of book lovers in Portland.
How many hashtags is too many? Everyone has a different opinion. I’ve seen articles that suggest posts with three hashtags get the best interaction, but I think you also have to take into account the size of the social media following. An established brand can use fewer hashtags because their reach and client base is already established.
On the other hand, 25 hashtags always looks excessive and in many cases it is overkill.
I like the balance of 7-15 hashtags, depending on what serves the photo and the audience the best. Experiment and see what works best for you.
The third level is community, or making friends. If you are simply posting image after image and not engaging your audience, then you are broadcasting instead of being social.
This is social media, which means this is your chance to interact with new people. That doesn’t mean being salesy and pushy. It means being a genuine human being and making friends.
You can do that by responding to comments left on your posts. You can use hashtags to find others who are interested in the same things you are interested in. You can use it to connect with other complimentary businesses and support each other.
This isn’t a comprehensive guide to using Instagram for business because there are always specific nuances and unique things to think about that apply only to your business, but I hope this has been helpful!
I first met Emily, the owner & artist of Fresh Paper Studios more than a year ago over coffee at Sellwood’s Blue Kangaroo coffee shop. I was immediately impressed with her energy and, of course, her fresh and fun stationery (you can take a peek at www.freshpaperstudios.com)
Now, Emily is taking her passion for helping small businesses brand themselves and turned it into an online course. The course starts November 16th and you can join here.
As she has said more than once, “Branding is more than a logo!”
Talking to Emily and hearing to her perspective has given me, a non-designer, new perspective on how many ways there are for a small business to put their own unique twist on every aspect of their marketing.
She was kind enough to answer some questions about what branding means to her and how important it is for a small businesses.
What does branding mean to you?
Your brand is the total experience your customers (or potential customers) have when they interact with your business. It’s not really a tangible thing (like a logo), it’s more like a perception people have about you.
So “branding” is what you do to create that experience or perception. Everything from your customer service to your packaging and your website copy to your graphic design--big things like mission statements, and little things like satin ribbon--these are all ways we brand our businesses.
Why do you think visual branding is so important?
People make snap decisions about who they’re going to work with and what they’re going to buy.
We’re visual creatures and--like it or not--we do judge books by their covers!
That’s just the way our brains work--we take in visual information before we even have time to read a description or listen to someone’s brilliant sales pitch. So creating a visual presence that’s both authentic and appealing is an important part of building a successful business!
If someone is thinking about starting a business, do they need to have a logo before they start?
Absolutely not! That’s the first thing I teach my students: your brand is not your logo!
Logos have their place--I’m not going to say they’re not important at all--but they’re certainly not the most important part of your brand. They’re not even the most important part of your visual identity. You can’t slap a logo on something and call it a brand--it needs to mean something.
So start with the inner work: your core values, your mission, your message, your strengths, your customer experience, the unique flavor you bring to the marketplace. Then work on communicating that visually.
Choosing one font that you use every time you display the name of your business. There’s your logo! You can always design a new logo later.
What is the one thing you wish businesses would do with their branding?
I feel like Danny Tanner talking to Stephanie in an episode of Full House with that advice, but it’s true. I think there’s a lot of noise out there about branding that makes it seem so much more complicated than it really is.
You don’t need to do an in-depth analysis about how your target demographic responds to the color blue. You just need to get in tune with yourself and your personality and let your visual presence express that. There’s always that one girl at the party who’s so totally herself, she just glows and everyone is drawn to her--be that girl! Authenticity is captivating!
Tell me about your upcoming class.
Oh I’m so excited for it! It’s a six-week online course where I’ll teach entrepreneurs how to design a visual brand identity that feels authentic, fabulous, and fun.
At the end of the course, students will graduate with a brand style guide that they’ve designed, including a color palette, font choices, photography style, and yes--even a logo! And my goal is that they also graduate with a new sense of confidence when it comes to sharing their business with the world because their visuals look great and are meaningful.
(Your readers can learn more about my class at bit.ly/designclass)
What will the focus of the class be?
We’ll focus on defining our core values, superpower strengths, and the unique flavor we bring to the world.
Then we’ll learn how to translate those into visual brand elements like colors, fonts, and photos! In a nutshell, we’re getting in touch with our inner magic, then learning how to express that visually.
Do you have to be a designer or artist type to take you class?
Not at all! I created this class for people with NO design experience.
Several of my students have come in saying, “I am soooo not a designer.” or “Design is really not my strong suit.” And then they leave with the best designs!
It’s really cool to see the transformation. One of my very first students cracked me up when she said, “I couldn’t give two flying flips about fonts before this! Now I’m SO excited to have a font that I can call MY font.” My goal is to make design accessible.
Other than this e-course, how else can someone work with you?
I offer one-on-one branding consultations and private design lessons.
The easiest way to get in touch with me about those is via email (at email@example.com) And I also design really fun invitations, personal stationery, and gift items, which you can find over at freshpaperstudios.com!
Emily has also created a FREE brand check up pdf - click here to download.
Emily's photo was taken by Julie of Traveling Julie Portraits.
Musings about marketing, social media, and small business.