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Branding on a shoestring

Every business has a brand that it needs to promote and protect. But while big companies may spend a fortune on their name and image, small firms can create their own powerful brand on a very small budget, as David Gent reveals

Small firms have to give branding as much thought as big firms because SMEs are competing against other businesses that use branding effectively. What's more, the principles of branding are the same whether you are an SME or a large corporation. But getting the right branding needn't have to mean a huge outlay.

What makes a brand?

A brand is far more than just a name and an identity. It's about reputation and you must live up to the promise of your brand - your image has to be backed up by the actuality.

Choosing the right name and developing a good visual signature is vital, however. The brand should convey what is special about you. One way to do this is to have some kind of tagline. This should not be one of those bland mission statements that many companies adopted in the 1990s. It should be something that conveys your USP - whether that's your quality or simply the fact that you are handy, around the corner.

You can't keep chopping and changing your identity but if you're not happy with your brand, you should change it. It can be good to fine-tune your visual identity over the years. Take brands like Mars and Polo - they've been refined many times, but they are still familiar as they've never been radically altered. That said, sometimes it is good to significantly change your branding. It can provide good PR opportunities and help customers to see you in a new light.

Creating a brand identity

For small firms with limited budgets, the good news is that it has become easier and cheaper to create a brand identity than ever before. You used to have vast manuals to show how to use logos and so on but it's a simpler proposition these day. Now with jpegs and pdfs, you can create and send visuals electronically and it's easier to get consistency across everything from stationary to signage and vehicle livery.

Your brand asset

A good brand should be an asset and something that is hard to copy. Because of desktop publishing, a lot of small firms simply choose a typeface and put it in italics. But you don't have to spend a lot to get a tailor-made identity.

It's worth using a designer to create your identity. It doesn't have to cost a lot and you'll come away with an asset, something that is totally individual and hard to copy.

When you are choosing your name or logo, it can be unwise to consult too widely. You're never going to find something that everyone agrees on and the danger is that you pick the one that is least offensive. It's better if one person takes control.

Brand consistency

Managing your branding is vital and you have to make sure everything is consistent, from typography to colour. Even simple signs and price labels in a store must have a consistent style. I've seen retailers, for instance, who use their branding in lots of different ways, changing fonts and colours.

This is not a good idea. You have to think about and plan for every branding eventuality. You don't necessarily want your staff using dayglo paper and felt-tip pens to advertise special offers in your store, for example, or interior signing that departs from the brand style.

You also need to reproduce your company colours consistently wherever they appear, whether on paperwork, in your shop window or on your van. The more exotic the shade, the more difficult it can be to reproduce, so when it comes to colour it can be best to choose classic shades.

For more advice on branding, you might like to read: