Many small businesses find themselves struggling to stay on top of all their tasks, from accounting to marketing to sales. They know that small business branding is important, but find it difficult to set aside the necessary time to systematically create their brand. As a result, their branding is often slapdash and last minute, which is understandable but can also create significant harm. For small businesses to thrive, they need to avoid some very specific mistakes which can create big problems.

Bryony Thomas of Watertight Marketing says this:

Many small business owners I meet think that brands are something that only large companies need or can afford. But your company name, the way you answer the phone, what your customers say when they’re asked about you – these things all build to create an impression of your company and what it’s like to do business with you – and that is your brand. So, you can either just let whatever impression you give happen haphazardly, or you can take control and manage it to your advantage.

How do you manage your brand to your advantage? By avoiding these key mistakes.

Failing To Define Your Target Market

The first step to building a powerful brand is establishing your target market. Knowing your target market allows you to know what your brand should represent. Are you targeting athletes who do intense workouts? Are you hoping to work with elderly adults who want a secure home? Are you a financial institution offering investment opportunities?

Your target market will shape everything from your logo to your tagline to even your social media presence.

Consider Rolex. They are a luxury brand targeting those who want an elegant lifestyle. They gravitate toward clean typefaces, significant amounts of whitespace, and pictures of handsome men.

As Michael Kaleikini says:

Once you know who it is you’re going after then you can begin to design a plan around how you will market to them so they can see you, begin to learn who you are and get to liking you so they come and buy from you.

If you try to blanket everyone with one marketing message you’ll lose over half of your audience simply because it doesn’t apply to them.

Target who you are after and you will know how to reach them easier and find that you won’t have to invest so much into your marketing to get the results you want.

You can’t establish a powerful brand until you clearly define your target market.

Failing To Establish Crystal Clear Guidelines

The most effective and successful corporations have clearly defined guidelines on everything from colors to font styles to logos to taglines.

Nike has retained the same Swoosh logo for years and it is now almost universally recognized.

Coca-Cola has used the same color scheme and font for decades and you can recognize it from a mile away.

Facebook has been blue and white since it was called “The Facebook”.

When you fail to establish clear small business branding guidelines, you end up with a hodgepodge of competing and clashing designs, color schemes, and even logos.

As Cameron Chapman says:

Style guides can also help ensure that work you’ve done for a brand isn’t ruined by some new, less-skilled designer who doesn’t understand how your design is supposed to work. The last thing you want is for your perfectly-constructed logo to be used way too small or placed too close to other elements, effectively killing its impact (or worse, having elements created with negative space be ruined entirely).

Using Vague, Generic, Impressionless Small Business Branding

What sticks in your mind more:

  • “The relentless pursuit of perfection.” – Lexus
  • “Making good cars.” – Joe Cool Car Company (est. 2016)

The Lexus slogan is catchy, powerful, and instantly memorable. It also says something very distinct about the brand: they sell high-performance cars that are designed to perfection.

Or consider these two slogans:

  • “Find your beach” – Corona
  • “Tasty beer that goes down smooth” – Boring Beer Co.

The Corona slogan tells you that they’re not just a beer, they’re a lifestyle. Those who drink Corona are fun-loving people who love to relax on a beach.

Small business branding can’t be generic, cliche or forgettable. You can’t be overly afraid of offending people with your brand. Your branding should blaze itself upon people’s minds and hearts, telling them who you are and what you’re all about. There is no room for bland branding.

Occasionally Cheating On Your Branding

There may be times when you feel like you want to step away from your brand. Maybe you want to create a clever campaign that’s outside the box. Maybe you want to test something new. Maybe you’re just feeling a bit rebellious.

Whatever the case, do NOT depart from your established brand guidelines. You’ll only hurt yourself. Your brand is who you are. Your identity. The essence of your business. When you cheat on your brand, you dilute it’s staying power.

If an idea doesn’t fit within branding guidelines, it’s an idea problem.

Failing To Properly Police Your Brand

As your business grows, you may need to work with freelancers or contractors in order to meet marketing demands. If you’re not careful, these situations can cause significant problems.

The contractor may not have been properly briefed on your small business branding guidelines, leading to minor (or perhaps major) departures from your established guidelines. These changes may then be pushed live without the proper approvals.

Dan Monroe puts it this way:

Think about all the people who have the opportunity to share your brand with others: employees, subcontractors, customers and clients… But, are they all telling the same story?…Develop your elevator pitch. Develop the language you use to describe your company and your why. And then share that language with your brand ambassadors.

Using Your Employees To Promote Your Brand

While it’s essential to police your brand, it’s just as important to use your employees to promote your brand. Your employees can be a powerful extension of your brand and represent a huge opportunity for small businesses.

Consider how Disney uses their employees. For starters, they don’t call them employees, they call them “cast members”.

Or consider how they help disappointed children:

Despite the efforts made to inform customers of height limits, often a young child will wait with a parent to go on a ride, only to find out he or she isn’t tall enough. Disney noticed that this was a major complaint from parents and, more importantly, ruined the experience for children. They have given staff permission to hand out a special pass when this happens that allows the child to skip to the front of the line on his or her next ride.

Disney knows that their employees represent their brand and do everything they can to make their employees powerful brand ambassadors.

Don’t make the mistake of failing to leverage your employees. They can be your biggest promoters.

Blundering Brand Changes

There may be times when a legitimate small business branding change is needed, such as when your company is making a major pivot, a new division is unveiled, or even when you need to distance yourself from an unfortunate incident.

When a brand change happens, it needs to be done clearly and in an understandable manner. The customers should understand why the branding is changing, what the new brand represents, and what the change means for the future.

For example, several years ago, Tropicana decided to ditch their classic logo in favor of something “new”.

Not only was the new design unnecessary and even a bit confusing, it dramatically hurt their sales, causing a drop of 20%.

A brand change should be done smoothly and clearly. It should be understandable and it should continue to communicate the heart behind your company. The customers need to know why you changed.

As Renuka Rana says, “Branding is not a science, it’s an art. And the cardinal sin small businesses may commit is assuming that they own the brand. In the real world, it is far from the truth. Your customers are the drivers of your brand.”


Small business branding is essential. It can’t be ignored or thrown together in an ad-hoc manner. Your brand is your business and your business is your brand.

If you’re not careful, you can easily make what seem like small branding mistakes that have exponential results. Don’t neglect your brand. Cultivate it. Guard it. Treat it as sacred.

While this may seem extreme, it’s crucial for your business.

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