Building a brand that’s authentic, consistent, and rooted in a distinct personality separates you from the competition and allows your customers to connect with you on a more meaningful level.

Building a brand can feel daunting. In fact many small businesses feel like it’s something that only the “big guys” can afford. But branding is something that every company can do if you follow a few basic rules.

Step 1: Remember that a brand is more than a logo.

A brand is a whole ecosystem of how you communicate with the outside world. In a nutshell, your brand is a promise to people about the way you will do business. This promise affects how you build your website, how you create your business card, even how you answer the phone—because the style, colors, and words you choose should reflect the emotions your customers will have when they use your product.

Tip: Look at your logo and write down five values that your logo will stand for. This is what people should remember about your business. Make sure these values are carried out in everything you do.

Step 2: Define the “head” of your brand system.

Who’s your target audience? Why is your product or service better than the competition? What do you do that no one else can do? One great way to cull this information is to ask your customers why they do business with you.

Tip: List the types of people you want to target who would resonate with that promise. Create an exact model of your perfect customer. What do they look like, act like? Where do they shop?

Step 3: Define the “heart” of your brand system.

As much as we like to think that humans are rational beings, we take action based on emotion. Building your brand is about creating a living and breathing persona that customers will fall in love with. That is the stuff that creates long-time loyalty and will get you through the natural ups and downs of any economy.

Tip: List the emotions your customers will feel when they experience your products or services.

Step 4: Find your brand voice.

Once the “head” and “heart” of your brand framework are defined, it’s time to define your basic brand personality. Are you bold? Are you funny? Are you trustworthy? Are you conscientious? Choose the adjectives that underlie your brand voice and make sure your voice is consistent in every branding and marketing piece you create. If your company became a person, what would that person be like? Brainstorm a list of personality traits and qualities. Be as specific and quirky as you like.

Tip: Play the celebrity game. If your brand came to life as a historical figure, sports figure, movie star, etc, who would that be? Think about what your company would eat for breakfast. Think about how your company is with kids. Think about what clothes your company would wear.

Step 5: Collect your brand images.

Photography can truly capture the imagination—and wallets—of potential customers. Well-chosen photographs with a consistent theme make a big difference in how your brand is perceived. Just think about Nike and how powerfully their brand photography conveys their brand message. Browse a few photography sites like Getty or iStock and start building a collection of photographs that represent your brand. Plug in the key words that you identified in Step 1 and Step 3. You can use this imagery in promotional materials, on your website, and it should give you ideas when you design all of your branding materials.

Tip: Be consistent in how you apply this imagery. Don’t forget about how you photograph people in your office. Make sure it fits within your brand ecosystem.

Step 6: Choose your brand colors.

Finding the right shade of green, or the right shade of red, or just the right combination of yellow and grey can do wonders in anchoring an unassailable position in your customer’s mind. It’s important to build a system of brand colors that include core driver colors in combination with bold accents. Look over your emotions list from Step 3 and your photo collection from Step 5 and choose a few colors for your brand color palette.

Tip: For additional inspiration, go through pages of magazines and tear out pages of colors that you like. You can match these colors to actual Pantone number codes (listed for free online) for reference with designers.

Step 7: Select your type styles.

Typography is a subtle but highly influential way to convey your brand message. A modern sans-serif type tells the world you’re innovative and ready to find unexpected solutions. A traditional serif type tells the world you’re dependable and trustworthy. You can even experiment with a combination of serif and sans-serif type styles to create a totally unique brand expression. Find websites, print ads and brochures of companies with a brand similar to yours and look at the fonts they selected.

Tip: Try a few different styles until you find the ones that fit. There are fewer type styles online, so be sure to combine both online and offline sources.

There it is! The components of a successful brand including your brand voice, your brand photography, your brand colors, and your brand type styles—all wrapped up into a smart and utterly compelling brand system.

Easy? No. Fun? Yes. Worthwhile? Absolutely.  If you take a look at any of the rockin’-the-world companies like Apple and Starbucks and Nike you’re bound to find a well-thought-out and strategic brand system in place. Just keep these basic brand tenets in mind and you’ll have the foundation in place for a business that can truly stand the test of time.

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AvatarSara Conte

Sara Conte is co-founder of Brand Genie, the creator of an affordable, automated brand builder for small businesses. Brand Genie automatically matches small businesses with a recommended brand personality through 12 easy questions. Small businesses can then quickly build a cohesive and well-designed Brand Kit, including a logo, business card, and website.