What exactly is ‘branding’? (And do you need it?)

“Branding” is one of those words that seem to be open to interpretation… and misinterpretation.

Different people use it in different ways.

Some use it to refer only to the visual parts of their business - their logo and business cards.

Sometimes it’s used to mean your written messaging or the values your business holds.

In parts of the country it’s still a way to mark cattle on a ranch. (That’s not the kind of brand we’re talking about, by the way.)

Let’s talk about what I mean when I say ‘branding’, why it’s something you might not have heard mentioned as much just 20 or 30 years ago, and how important it actually is. Spoiler alert - it’s super important, but maybe not so much if you’re just starting out.

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In the simplest terms, your brand is how potential clients experience you and your business.

Back in the olden days of yore, before the internet made everything easier and more terrifying, most small businesses just served their local communities.

They may have had a brick and mortar storefront, or worked from a spare bedroom and met clients in a local coffee shop, or maybe had the type of service that came to your house (or built the house).

Whatever the situation, you generally got your impressions of a business by dealing one-on-one with the business owner or employees, walking around their storefront, or sitting across their desk.

People didn’t use the term ‘branding’ as often, even though branding has been a thing in bigger businesses for eons. It just wasn’t as necessary to wrap your one woman shop in a brand when you *were* your brand.

People knew if they were a good fit to work with you by looking you in the eye and hearing the inflection in your voice.

Branding is important, but even more so in an online business.

The times though, they have a-changed. A whole lot of us are making all or part of our living on the internet now, and that brings a massive amount of freedom.

It also brings a need to wrap up the essence of ourselves into this brand we keep talking about, and an added layer of importance because of the sheer amount of options we all have these days.

We need potential customers visiting our Facebook profile or website to get an accurate feel for who we are, how we can help them, and whether they’d like to follow us or work with us more.

Branding is the sum of lots of little parts - from your business cards to your Instagram captions.

All of this is still very hard to visualize, isn’t it? Now that you know the need for a brand, and what it should represent, let’s answer the original question - what the hell is a brand anyway?

Your brand has two main parts:

  • The visuals. This is your logo, the color palette and fonts you use, your photos, the graphics you post on social media, your website, and the appearance of anything else you’re using to represent your business - invoices, letterheads, postcards, etc. I generally call this your brand image, and it’s what I work with my clients to create.

  • The messaging. This is your written website content, your social media captions, how you communicate with potential clients and customers. It’s your values, how you respond to customer service emails, the things you talk about in your newsletters. If you’re struggling with this part a great business coach and a copywriter can work wonders.

A good logo and brand image are part of your brand, but not all of it

Your logo can be a big part of your brand, but it’s not all of it, and it’s something I don’t recommend spending a lot of money on right out of the gate.

Some small businesses, especially when they’re just starting out, do fine with a simple text-based or templated logo until they’ve gotten enough experience under their belt to have a custom logo created.

Think of all the places your potential client sees your branding.

Keep in mind that in online business your branding is representing you anywhere your clients see it. This includes a lot of places you might never think about, like the default thank you pages that show up when someone signs up on your email list.

Adding your brand colors and fonts to those pages and changing a few lines of written copy to feel more like you can make a big difference overall in how people experience your brand.

Your goal should be for your branding to feel consistent across the board - wherever people may find you. This helps to build trust, which makes it easier for people to work with you.

If you don’t create your branding intentionally, people will create it in their imagination.

Here’s the thing about branding. Even if you aren’t intentionally creating a brand, you still kind of are.

If you have an Instagram or Facebook account for your business, maybe a website, you have branding already. You’re showing up and telling potential clients who you are, which is exactly what branding does.

Your branding must represent who you are and attract who you want to work with.

You want your branding to reflect your values and your personality.

If the way you work with clients is warm and loving, like being guided by a good friend, that should show up in your branding. If humor is one of your values, absolutely let that shine through.

On the flip side, your brand has a job, and that job is to attract the types of people you want to work with. If you want to work with strong female entrepreneurs who are passionate about what they do, you want your branding to be appealing to those women.

Every interaction, every post, every graphic you put up is telling a story about your brand.

Your goal should be to intentionally create that story, whether you do it with a professional brand designer like myself or on your own. In fact, I rarely recommend someone who is just starting out in business invest in professional branding - you need a little time to figure yourself out first.

What you can do in your first year or two of business is focus on consistency and keep things simple, clean, functional, and easy to read.

Once you’ve been in business a bit and know a little more about who you want to work with and who *you* are, then you can invest in having someone like myself create the visuals that show that to the world.

Where are you at on your business roller coaster? Are you just starting out and working towards creating your brand, or are you an entrepreneurship veteran who’s aiming for upleveling your branding? Let me know in the comments!


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