Branding: the basics

Your brand is the unique identity of your business that sets it apart from your competitors and makes it recognisable to your customers. In this article we’ll help you understand what a brand is and give you an overview of the steps needed to create one for your business.


21 min read

1. Branding overview

It can be easy to think of branding as only a concern for huge multinational corporations, jostling for the attention of a world-wide audience. However this is not the case. Creating and building a brand is just as important for small and micro businesses as it is for big multinationals. Building a brand helps you stand out from the competition and helps your customers recognise you in the future and do business with you again. Whether you have launched a new dog walking venture, opened a local cafe, or are creating a product to bring to market, it is important that you consider your ‘brand’ from the very beginning.

Below, we explain what a brand is, why it is important, and what steps you need to take to start building one.

2. What is a brand?

A brand is more than just a business name or logo - it is the impression that your customers have of your business. We are all familiar with ‘brands’ that have become everyday household names, such as Nike or Coke or Microsoft. And when thinking of these brands, we can conjure up an image of that business and its products - whether it's the no-nonsense range of Ronseal or the sleek tech products of Apple. And it is this image that we think of that is that business’s brand.

Leave an impression

In simplest terms, think of a brand as your business’s personality. It should portray your values, connect with your customers, and leave an impression. It helps your customers both understand what you do and form a connection with you. For example, think of two different cafes - both with different customer groups. One cafe may serve traditional fare like homemade soups, toasties, and breakfast rolls. Another may serve hand-brewed single origin coffee, and artisan sandwiches and pastries. Each cafe is likely to target different customer groups, and each cafe will have a different brand - one that conveys what they do and that will make a connection with their own target customer.

Sum of all parts

If that all sounds a bit abstract don’t worry, it’s not. Your brand is made up of a ‘sum of all parts’. It's a combination of your business or product name, your logo, the colours you use, the product or service itself, your ‘story’, your reputation, and all of the interaction that you have with your customers.

3. Why is branding important for small businesses?

Building a brand that your audience connects with can be key to the success of your small business for a number of reasons. A well-crafted brand can help you:

  • Stand out from the competition. Having a strong brand will help you differentiate yourself from competitors offering similar products or services. Where customers have a large number of companies to choose from, an effective brand can be the decisive factor that influences your customers to choose you. Think about the products and services that you use, and consider why you selected one particular brand over another.

  • Increase awareness and recognition. Having a brand that stands out can help raise awareness of your offering among your customers and potential customers. This is especially important when running any advertising or marketing activity. If your brand is memorable, the more people see it the more they’ll become aware of the service, and the more they will recognise your brand. This feeling of familiarity can then help prompt a decision to buy.

  • Build relationships and prompt repeat custom. Again, having a strong brand that conveys who you are as a business can help your customers build a relationship with you. When a brand’s values match a consumer’s values, a connection is formed. For example Innocent Drinks has the brand promise “Tastes good. Does good”, and positions its brand as healthy and ‘naturally good’, which aligns well with the values of their audience, many of whom are looking for healthy and wholesome drinks for their families, and who value organisations who ‘give back’. This alignment of values allows a relationship and trust to form, which increases repeat sales.

  • Build trust. Creating a strong brand which clearly embodies your business values, can help your audience feel assured that they know what they’re going to get from you. If your brand is consistent across touchpoints, this can provide a sense of consistency and reliability.

  • Contribute to the valuation of your business. Building a recognisable brand, with a strong following can become a valuable asset when you are looking to exit or sell your business, helping to attract buyers and achieve the best price.

To be effective, a brand must be consistently represented across all potential touchpoints, from name, to website, to copy and tone of voice, to the product or service itself. It must also live and breathe its values - there’s no point having a brand that positions itself as sustainable if it also uses large amounts of plastic packaging or harmful manufacturing processes.

4. What is branding?

If your brand is made up of the ‘sum of all parts’ of your business, then ‘branding’ is the management of those parts to control your brand image.

All businesses have a brand, whether consciously or not. Branding is the deliberate creation of your brand by carefully selecting your name, logo, products, customer interactions and other key elements to portray the image that you want. If your time and budget are limited, you can work on your branding by first managing the more accessible elements (such as name, logo, colours) and working up to more.

5. Do your research

Customers generally expect to pay more for a branded product than for unbranded products. By consistently applying your brand attributes your business can move into new market sectors without changing your core brand identity.

There are four key elements in a successful branding project:

The big idea

The big idea is the starting point for any branding project. It is a summary of your business' or product's 'personality', and what makes it different. You need to ask yourself:

  • What are we offering?
  • What makes us different?
  • How can our business stand out?
  • What do our consumers want or need?
  • Where is there a gap in the market?


Your company vision is an understanding of where your business is going, or where you want it to go, so you can plan your journey. Your vision may be large scale - such as switching the emphasis of your business from one core area to another - or simple, such as offering an existing product in a completely new way.


Values summarise what you believe in as a business, and clarify what your business stands for. It is vital that any values you portray are genuine and evident in the way your business operates.


Your brand personality is about how you want your business or product to come across, so these personality traits should be appropriate to your type of product or service.

You can convey your company's personality through:

  • graphic design
  • the tone of voice and the language you use
  • your dialogue with customers and how they can contribute ideas and get involved
  • customer service and how staff are trained to communicate with customers

If you want to extend your product range, consumers' perception of the new offering will be enhanced by your existing brand.

6. Sharing your brand

With all the work that has gone into your brand, it's now time to share it with the world by implementing it across your business, both internally to staff and externally to your audience and customers.

  • Internally
    • Hopefully your staff will have been involved with the branding process as you have sought their input and their feedback. Hold a meeting to ‘launch’ your brand and brand guidelines with your staff before it goes out so they can see a summary of the research that brought you here and the rationale for your chosen approach.

    • Your brand guidelines should share your proposition, values, name and strapline, and all of the rules for how staff should implement your colours and fonts and use the tone of voice.

  • Externally
    • Ensure you follow your brand values in the way you do business, your ethos in how you market and reach customers, every customer interaction, and across all of your design elements like signage, print, websites, and social.

    • Remember ‘show don’t tell’ - it's important that customers can see that you live your brand values - so if your brand values say you’re ‘sustainable’ - ensure that you are indeed striving for sustainability across every element of your business and back this up in action.

7. Define your brand

The next step is to determine what your brand is. What do you stand for, where do you sit in your marketplace and what is your key messaging.

Brand positioning and proposition

Determine your brand position

When determining how you will position your brand to make you stand out from your competitors and connect with your audience, draw on all of the research that you have completed above.

Your brand position should be the area where 'what our audience wants’ overlaps with ‘what makes us special’, without any overlap of ‘what are our competitors doing well’.

For example, a cafe selling single-origin coffees and specialist cakes in an area full of home bake establishments and sandwich shops, could position themselves as the premium artisan coffee shop in the area.

Create your brand proposition

Your brand proposition is a simple statement that details exactly what your brand is and pulls all of your branding work together. It should be easy to understand and should simply define your brand to help keep brand consistency across all of your customer touchpoints.

Your brand proposition should contain your target audience, your category, the benefits to the customer, and reasons to believe.

Your proposition should read like:

  • To [target audience], our product/service is the [category] that provides [key benefits] because [reasons to believe].

For example:

  • To coffee lovers in Stranraer, our service is the coffee shop and cafe that provides the finest hand brewed single-origin beans and artisan sandwiches in the area because we source all of our coffee from fair trade suppliers in South America and bake award winning sourdoughs on the premises.

Brand values

Now you need to flesh out your brand and define its personality, by establishing your brand values. These are the key principles that define your brand. These values should guide both how your business operates and how you interact with your customers across all touchpoints. They are the values that your business will live by. They will also inform the personality of your brand assets including your logo, your graphics and images, and the tone of voice of your copy.

Aim for 4-5 brand values, and ensure that they match with your brand position and draw on all of your research. They should align with your business practices, how you want to portray your brand, and how you want to differentiate your business from the competition.


  • From Innocent drinks, their brand values are “Natural, entrepreneurial, commercial, responsible, generous”, and these values obviously inform everything they do, including all of their business activities, the look and feel of the products, their website content, etc.

  • For the artisan coffee shop, their brand values could be: Ethical, Welcoming, Expert, Accessible, Fun.

8. Decide your brand name and strapline

If you are a new business, it’s time to work on your brand name. If you are an existing business it may not be necessary to change your name, or you may have limited scope to change your name. If you would prefer to change your name, you will need to weigh up the costs against the benefits.

Choose your brand name

A brand name could be for your business and/or your product name. This name should be memorable, match up with your brand values and position, appeal to your customers, stand out from the competition… and be available!

Here are some top tips for selecting your business/product name:

  • Brainstorm ideas. Write some ideas down and bounce them around with staff, friends, and family.

  • Match your brand. Make sure that the name you choose is representative of your brand. If you are selling brightly coloured woollen hats and you have a fun and outdoorsy brand, you will want a name to reflect this. For example ‘Borealis Bobbles’ may be a better fit than 'SRG Knits'.

  • Check it is available. Ensure that any name you do select is available for use and not already in use by another company. Check that the social handles and domain names you want are available (looks at social platforms and a domain name registration service).

  • Check trademarks. It is hugely important that you ensure your proposed name is not the same or very similar to a registered trade mark and is not subject to copyright. Violation of trademarks and copyright could cause legal issues.

  • Follow the rules. For certain company structures (like ​​limited companies) you have to register your name and other details with Companies House and ensure that your proposed name does not breach the rules on name endings, 'same as' rules, or include a prescribed or sensitive word without permission.

For more information on naming, see our guide on naming your business

Create your strapline

A strapline can be short, catchy phrase that conveys your brand and your values. It will often sit with your logo and can help improve your brand’s recognition, by appealing to your audience and setting you apart from the competition.

For new small businesses, often a strapline will give more information about what your business actually does, which can be helpful to customers until you raise awareness of who you are and what you do.

If you are well established, or it is obvious what you do, then a catchy strapline can be effective. For example Apple’s ‘think different’, and KFC’s ‘It’s finger lickin’ good’ sum up the brand’s personality and indicate what makes it special.

Again, brainstorm some examples and see how your staff or people you know react.

9. Create brand assets

And now comes the fun part - deciding how you will visually represent your brand! This includes developing visual elements such as your logo, your look and feel, and how that applies across your content and in-person.

Many businesses create a ‘brand guidelines’ document, which lays out every visual choice you make for your brand and rules on how your business communicates. These guidelines are incredibly useful as you design your product packaging, construct your website, and create your social media presence.


  • Your logo is the face of your brand - it must match with your brand position by visually representing your brand values and sparking the feeling that you want to portray. It will also need to be unique, recognisable and able to work in both large and small sizes. Consider that your logo will be used across your: packaging, any point of sale, print, physical signage, website, social media, emails, and your internet favicon.

  • Ensure the spacing of any words looks right and that you have a high resolution version.

  • It must also not be already trademarked or similar to another company’s logo

  • Design platforms such as Canva or the numerous logo makers online can help you create one yourself, or you may need the service of a designer.

Look and feel

  • Colours. The colours you select help bring your brand to life. Colours are very emotive so select a palette that complements your brand identity and your product or service. Aim for one or two main ‘brand colours’, with complementary accent colours that you can use in your designs. Make sure that all of your colours work well together, and that you consider colour contrast for accessibility so customers can read text written in those colours, or against those colours.

  • Fonts. These work alongside your logo and colours to create a unique look for your brand. Select two complementary but different fonts - one for headlines and large text, one for body copy and small text. Your fonts must be used consistently across your packaging, signage, print, website, and social media.

  • Visual media. Create (or have created if using a designer) assets and templates to use across any visual media you will need. This includes designing any signage, packaging, print assets, social media posts, website graphics, etc in your brand colours and fonts. By ensuring it adheres to the guidelines and is ‘on brand’, it will be identifiably ‘you’.

  • Imagery. Make sure your key imagery for print and website has an identifiable and consistent ‘look and feel’ that matches your brand. This includes the staging of product shots. For example a pizza company may select strong colours and fresh, artisan produce in all of their product shots.


  • Tone of voice. Your tone of voice is not what you say, it’s the way you say it! It shares your personality with everyone and should be consistent across all of your communications. For example, if you run an IT consultancy, and your brand values are ‘tech savvy, knowledgeable, welcoming and accessible’, then your tone of voice must reflect this. You must write detailed content in a simple and accessible way. Pull together a tone of voice guideline that details your brand values, your associated tone of voice personality, and gives examples of how to write and how not to write in your chosen tone of voice.

  • Marketing messaging. Messaging and persuasive content in your ads and on your flyers or website must reflect your tone of voice and convey your ‘reasons to believe’.

  • Video content. Video is a unique medium that brings your brand to life so it’s important that it aligns with your tone of voice and brand messaging.

  • Reviews. Reviews are an inevitable part of life - some will be good, some will be bad. Ensure that the way you and your staff interact with both good and bad reviews is professional and ‘on brand’. Often bad reviews can be turned around when dealt with in a professional and personable manner.

  • In-person. The personal interactions that you and your staff have with your customers must also adhere to your brand values. There’s no point having a ‘friendly’ and ‘fun’ brand value if in person your business representatives are rude or brusque. Remember your business must live and breathe its brand values.

10. When you may need help

Although you can create and craft your brand yourself, you may decide that you need professional help with some or all of the elements of it.

Consider whether you require the services of a design agency or freelancer to help you with your brand positioning and/or help design your logo and other brand assets.

Whilst there are many tools out there to help you design your logo and assets yourself, this may be beyond your skillset or you may need the specialised services of a designer when designing expensive and important assets, such as product packing, signage, and your logo.

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You can connect with us through the contact form, call us or contact your local Business Gateway office.

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