Growing a loyal customer base takes time. And as a small business, it’s so important to keep your eyes glued to the bottom line while you get there. 👀

The good news is that when it comes to brand buzz, you don’t need the biggest budget to stand out. There are so many cost-effective ways to cause a stir online these days. In fact, most of these tactics revolve around just one important aspect of the business.

✨ Branding ✨

But before you sweat the idea of expensive creative agencies or spiraling subscription fees, here us out.

There are tons of small businesses that have created killer brands and are thriving - without splashing out on expensive campaigns. Here are 8 big branding tips for today’s small business.

How to create a great brand (on a tiny budget)

1. Picture your target customer

Research into your target audience isn’t just handy for figuring out the pain points of potential customers.

With the right insight into your target market, you’ll nail your branding too.

Start by finding out your demographics’ interests and values. Also, what brands do they follow outside of your space? The latter can be great for inspo, without sending you down the dangerous path of copying competitors. A decent bit of desktop research is cost-effective if you do it in-house - and it’ll pay off in the long run.

With varying levels of free functionality, these tools can help you paint the perfect picture of your customer:

  • Google Trends - this is great for filling in the blanks of your target customer. Instead of guessing what they're into, you’ll get the latest intel on seasonality and trends.

  • Similar Web - use some of its free features to plug in your competitors and identify their audiences, how they behave and what they’re into.

  • Facebook Audience Insights - not only perfect for finding potential audiences, but it also helps you create content that resonates with them specifically.

2. Think about your brand archetype

Once you’ve identified your target audience, you can think about your brand’s archetype.

A brand archetype is your brand’s ‘character’ or ‘personality’. It helps define the type of brand you’re going to be and will help you attract your target audience in return. According to Vision One:

“Brand Personality has been shown to be one of the most influential aspects of success for many brands.”

So what archetype are you? Have a look at the examples below:

The caregiver - these brands offer protection, care and safety to their consumers. This is an ideal choice if you’re selling products that help customers care for themselves like natural skin care, health foods or wellness services. Just take Cult Beauty’s ‘skincare spotlight’ for inspiration.

The creator - do you consider your brand to be visionary? Then you may fit into the creator archetype. Perhaps you’re inventing something new, or leading the way on new technologies. Brands like Lego and Apple fit into this category. 🍏

The explorer - this archetype is for the adventurers of the world. It’s ideal if your customer craves freedom and seeks adrenaline-inducing adventures. One of our clients, Cookson Adventures, fits right into this category. ✈️

The innocent - this archetype is all about finding your inner child. Brands that fall into the innocent personality category are full of optimism, hope and - best of all - they promote fun! This rings true for snack brand, Karma Bites, who encourage its customers to ‘release their inner goodness.’ 🤗

The jester - if you’re creating a brand that’s witty and doesn’t take itself too seriously, you may fall under the jester archetype. This doesn't mean you’re the laughing stock of your industry. It means you can use humour to highlight important issues. Just take a look at Who Gives a Crap which uses funny copy to talk about the importance of water sanitation.

The lover - passion, seduction and pleasure; you’ll know right away if your brand falls into this category. 💞 This is the perfect category if you sell underwear, perfume or guilty-pleasure food like chocolate or ice cream. (Though you should never feel guilty about tucking into a luxurious bar of chocolate 🤤).

The magician - do you aspire to make your customer’s dreams come true? You could be a magician archetype. By using grounded research, this brand type strives to inspire and educate its customers. For example, furniture brand, Grain, create products that meet real needs, backed by research and a responsibility to the planet.

The rebel - the rebel brand is here to shake up the norm. This is perfect if you’re offering a fresh perspective in your industry and you’re not afraid to challenge the status quo. Check out the men’s makeup brand, War Paint, for inspo.💄

The regular guy - though it’s hard to define what ‘regular’ means, this brand archetype basically doesn’t strive to stand out. They’re happy just being good at what they do, and keeping their consumers happy. Brands like PG Tips and Yorkshire Tea do this well. They’re not trying to do anything other than provide their customers with a good cuppa tea. ☕

Still not sure? Take the brand archetype quiz and see where you end up.

3. Find your voice

Now you’ve got an idea of the type of brand you are, it’s time to think about your voice.

You don’t need to pay the big bucks to find your tone of voice. Instead, weigh up the values your brand has and how they'd come across in a real person. Get into the nitty-gritty of your comms and look at things like how formal you’d sound - do you use contractions? (e.g. can’t or don’t). How about the complexity of your sentence structure; will they be short and snappy or long and flowing?

Just think back to your brand archetype, how would they address the room? Whoever you are, just ensure it feels harmonious with your visual identity and consistent across all comms - whether that’s the tiniest bit of microcopy or those lengthy FAQs.

Once you've got this down, you can feel confident creating compelling content that’ll click with your audiences. This could be by positioning yourself as an authority on a certain topic, e.g. this in-depth Grooming Guide for black men by Aaron Wallace. Or how about some informative social content that both educates and eases customer service queries? Here’s a great example of that from Hello Sunday SPF. When it comes to content, the 🌍 is your oyster.

 

4. Find a freelance graphic designer

If you’re a marketer for a small brand, you may not have the resources to hire a full-time graphic designer. It likely falls to you to create content in tools such as Canva. (We love Canva btw ❤️).

This is a great option if you need to whip up some graphics for social. But we wouldn’t recommend trying to design your brand’s visual identity on Canva yourself. Instead, hire a dedicated freelance graphic designer. 💡 They can help you refine your brand, create attractive messaging and —what we all want to hear — make you more money.

As creative platform Design Pickle aptly puts it:

“While a picture may be worth a thousand words, graphic design can be worth thousands of dollars in any business.”

5. Pair back your colour palette and designs

Something to bear in mind if you’re chatting with a freelance graphic designer: have a think about your colour palette. When you're creating a brand or going through a refresh, it’s tempting to throw everything you’ve got at the canvas. After all, your business branding needs to stand out from the competition. So why not expand the colour palette and get a bit experimental?

Hold up, Picasso. 🖼️

Your colour palette can certainly be fun, but it’s got to be functional too. Here are a few pointers to keep you on track:

  • Research your competitors' colour schemes and avoid picking the same.

  • Choose one colour that reps your brand and then coordinate the palette around it. Pinterest is a good place for inspo at this stage. If you’ve got a load of images and want to find their exact colours, import them into something like Colr.org - this will give you the hex codes.

  • But make sure you’ve picked a punchy action colour because these are perfect for website call-to-actions. Just take Waken Mouthcare, for example. Everything is so muted that even the pastel orange CTAs pop off the page.

    Waken Mouthwash - Colour Palette
  • Then, balance out your colour palettes with more neutral shades. This helps them pop, creates contrast and ensures everything stays readable. Using a statement black for legibility on top of minimal pastel shades, cereal brand Surreal does this really well. That combo of teal and black is so rare in the space too - making them super striking against competitors.

Surreal - Contrasting Branding

6. Take the time to find the right font family

When it comes to fonts, be mindful of using free ones from certain sites as many are not available for commercial use. They're not always pro-quality either. Instead, check out sites like FontShop, Creative Market or TypeType for some great options. Just make sure you find something that expresses your personality and is also legible on all screen sizes and devices too. Google Fonts are also free to use. Just remember to grab one that’s available in multiple weights, e.g. light, regular, bold.

Check out the gender-fluid perfume brand Urania’s Children and its flowing serif typography. It’s perfect for the brand’s personality and purpose, right?

Urania's Children Branding

 

7. Find quality stock images for free

The cost of stock imagery can really pile up. Especially if you’re active on social or have a mountain of marketing materials to create. The thing is, you don't have to stick to the more premium sites to get quality images these days. Unsplash, Pexels and Pixabay are all super solid and free to use.

Of course, there are still times you’ll need to invest in your own imagery. To stand up against some of the brightest brands, it’s unavoidable. Don’t worry, it still doesn’t have to break the bank.

8. Learn how to take your own photos

Don’t rely purely on stock image sites. Throw some of your own photography into the mix, too! Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting blowing your budget on a big photo shoot. You can take some pretty great snaps with just your smartphone these days. 🤳

Just remember to:

  • use a smartphone camera with 12 megapixels or more
  • shoot from a tripod to reduce camera shake
  • save on lighting by using natural light from a window
  • use a foam board to bounce light and soften shadows
  • shoot close-ups to hide backgrounds and highlight product features

If you need a little more help, we’ve got a guide to taking DIY product photography on a budget.

9. Keep things organised and easy to find

Once you’ve created your brand assets like logos and brand guidelines, make sure you keep it all in one central place, like Dash! For brand managers, this is particularly helpful in making sure everyone has access to the most up-to-date content. 🙌 Dash also integrates with the leading online brand guidelines platform Corebook. This allows you to integrate images into your brand book directly from Dash. 📖


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5 small businesses who’re smashing their branding

Just like today’s best small businesses, no branding strategy is ever exactly the same. From creating social imagery that pops off the feed to speaking in a way that soothes a customer’s soul, here are five very different SMEs that have one thing in common: they’re all smashing it with their branding.

Bokksu’s imagery creates a tummy-tingling sensation of travel

“We don’t just want you to taste Japan, we want you to experience it.” - Bokksu

And many people have. The small food subscription brand sold half a million snacks in its first two years. They did it across 75 countries too. 🤯

For Bokksu, the devil’s in the details. Along with an array of sweet and savoury delights, subscribers receive a map detailing every snack and where in Japan it came from. But it’s not just the contents of the boxes themselves that are lovingly curated.

Bokksu’s use of imagery on Instagram doesn't just promote Japanese snacks; it illustrates a colourful and captivating story of travel. From socials to logomark, every digital asset feels carefully considered; their striking orange and white brand identity, often used to frame a page, makes everything else around it fizzle and pop. Exactly what you imagine a trip to Japan to feel like.

Unboxing the brand 🎁
Bokksu has a consistent feel to everything it does. The brand’s logo mark is bold and its colour palette feels clean, unfussy and entirely them. A treasure trove of photos and illustrations, Bokksu let their Instagram do the talking.

Patch Plants pruned its tone of voice to perfection

“It’s tempting to stroke those pretty fronds, but Bertie’s not really the touchy-feely type.”- Patch Plants

Bertie’s a Boston Fern. And like every fashionable flora available from Patch Plants, “she” has a name. I mean, Nephrolepis exaltata doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, right? 🤷

From humanising every single plant in their impressive range to adopting the same tongue-in-cheek style in the site’s microcopy, Patch has nailed its tone of voice. 

Importantly, Patch Plants has taken the time to understand who its audience really is. It talks directly to 20-30-year-olds living in the city; they love nature but have little-to-no outside space. What’s more, they suffer from that creeping existential angst that (accidentally) killing a plant brings. Patch Plants use its tone of voice to reassure its customers and ease their worries.

Patch Plants product shots

Planting the seed 🌿
Growing an organic following, Patch Plants uses every word wisely. Its tone of voice is never an afterthought, allowing the team to communicate the perfect sentiment to the ideal customer.

Pasta Evangelists’ branding feels authentically al dente

What’s more comforting than a warm bowl of pasta, right? 🤗

But this isn't your standard Tuesday night dinner sitch. Not quite a takeaway or a gourmet ready meal, with Pasta Evangelists, customers pick one of several authentic Italian pasta recipes which are delivered the next day to cook at home.

Importantly, their choice of product imagery is every bit as appetising as the dishes themselves. In fact, one scroll of their Instagram feed is enough to leave any tummy grumbling for tortellini. With their website’s ‘Pasta Bible’ they’ve included recipes, tutorials and even travel guides to Italy. Tied together with consistent, aspirational imagery, they’ve positioned themselves as experts in their field - far beyond their core product offering.

Pasta Evangelists - BrandingTip
The winning recipe 🍝
One unique value proposition + hundreds of consistent images = a healthy pasta brand. Crucially, Pasta Evangelists take the time to educate their customers and give back to the community, e.g. by fighting food waste. Winner, winner (pasta) dinner.

Bloom & Wild have flourished with kindness and empathy

Bloom & Wild understand that sending flowers is an occasion - for good and bad. And the way they use their CRM to plan email campaigns, offering customers the option to opt-out if they don’t want to receive Mother’s Day reminders, shows the sincere level of empathy they’re operating with.

This is reflected in their advertising too.


Pick of the bunch 💐
Instead of trying to imagine what makes them tick, Bloom & Wild takes the time to truly empathise with their customers. Furthermore, their advertising bears fruit because the messaging is just as real as it feels.

Lazy Oaf is comfortable putting quality over quantity

When it takes 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton shirt - enough for one person to drink for 2.5 years - fashion has become a very dirty word.

Lazy Oaf takes a healthier approach to apparel. They focus on creating limited collections that are built to last.

The brand has made positive sustainable moves such as sending out orders in compostable packaging made from sugar cane, prioritising shipping by sea or road (as opposed to air) and launching an eco-friendly swimwear line. 

“We’re not producing thousands, we produce a couple of hundred of each thing,” said founder and CEO Gemma Shiel to Vice.

With a conscious attitude and sensible approach to growth - not to mention those authentic and original designs - this is a clothing brand you can feel a little more comfortable in.

Lazy Oaf - Branding Tip

Heart on their sleeves 👚
Today, there’s just no getting away from the challenges our planet is facing. So, be a brand that your customers can feel good about following. Lazy Oaf has got it down.

But whether you’re starting out or scaling up, Dash can help inspire that ideal customer with your visual content. Want to try it for yourself? Sign up for a free trial below! 👇

 

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