Branding for Startups and Small Businesses

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Why is Branding Important for Small Businesses?

Brand | Sage Design GroupThere’s a common misconception that branding is solely for established businesses with huge marketing and advertising budgets. Quite the contrary. Small businesses are the ones that need a strong brand identity to stand out and remain competitive in today’s crowded landscape where everyone is competing for attention. A brand is a promise to your customers that tells them what they can expect from your products and services and how it differentiates from your competitors.

Brands mean different things to different people at different times. Your company’s brand is more than just a fancy logo. The American Marketing Association and Investopedia define a brand as an identifying symbol, mark, logo, name, word, and/or sentence that companies use to distinguish their product from others. A combination of one or more of those elements can be utilized to create a brand identity. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be. Style guides can act as an outline or guide for going through the branding process.


Elements of a Style Guide

Style guides help ensure a consistent and continuous brand experience across the board for your users. A style guide is also known as a manual of style that sets the tone, standards, and design guidelines across all customer touch points. Below are some of the most common elements of a style guide.

Brand Storytelling | Sage Design Group

  • Brand Story – Your brand story should be a cohesive narrative that evokes emotions and inspires people to make them want to do business with you. In an era when things are automated and people are constantly being sold to, people are craving the emotional connection that humanizes brands.
    • What is your brand about?
      • Mission Statement – Your mission statement should clearly communicate your brand’s purpose and objectives.
      • Brand Vision – Your brand vision is what you envision your brand to ultimately achieve or where you want your work to lead you – the ideas behind your brand that help guide the future.
      • Core Values – Your brand’s core values are the beliefs that your company stands for and serves as a guide to your brand story, actions, behaviors, and decision-making process.
      • Brand PersonalityBrand personality is a set of human characteristics attributed to a brand name in which the customer can relate to. Five personality traits attributed to the dimensions of brand personality are sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness. In the table below are common terms used to describe each of the different dimensions of brand personality.

Down-to-earth Honest Wholesome Cheerful Daring Spirited Imaginative Up-to-date Reliable Intelligent Successful Hard-working Upper class Charming Glamorous Feminine Outdoorsy Tough Masculine Western


Your Logo

Logo Design | Sage Design Group

  • Logo – Your logo, also known as icon, symbol, or brand signature is used to represent your organization. The goal is to get to the point where it’s instantly as recognizable as Nike’s swoosh, McDonald’s golden arches, or Starbuck’s two-tailed mermaid.
    • Your style guide should include and established set of rules for logo usage.
  • Clear spacing rules – For example, there must be at least a half and inch space between your logo and any other graphic or text element on the same page.



Color Wheel | Sage Design Group

  • Color Palette – Your style guide should include your core color palette with HEX codes, RGB and CMYK values, shades, tints, and acceptable variations with examples.
  • RGBRGB is a color model that refers to mixing light and is used to display things digitally on a screen. The RGB color model is an additive color model in which red, green, and blue light are combined and mixed together in various ways to reproduce a broad array of colors.
  • HEX – A HEX code or hexadecimal color value is a six-digit combination of letters and numbers preceded by a # sign that is basically shorthand for RGB (red, green, and blue) values; HEX color code values are used in digital display like on websites or computer programs.
    • CMYKCMYK is a process in which tiny dots of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks are layered to make the full color spectrum for offset and digital printing. CMYK is called a subtractive color mixing model because it subtracts colors from light.
    • PantonePantone Matching System (PMS) is a proprietary color space used in a variety of industries as a standardized color reproduction system. By standardizing the colors, different manufacturers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone system to make sure colors match without direct contact with one another.
    • Include permissible color combinations with examples.


  • TypographyIncluding brand guidelines for the proper use of fonts and typography helps designers and marketing professionals ensure that touch points are consistent throughout the customer journey; enhancing the brand experience.
    • Create document styles that are easily accessible in whatever technology you are using to create your documents (Word, InDesign, PowerPoint, Dreamweaver, PowerPoint, etc.) for consistency when producing documentation and marketing materials so that your brand is easily recognizable.
    • Outline for your typography system – It’s important to specify rules for what font, styles, and graphical elements are to be used for each element of a document. For example there should be styles in place for page elements like: headers, body, links, bullets, indentation, spacing, etc.
    • Font / Typeface – The easiest way to remember the difference between a font and a typeface is a font is the file and the typeface is the idea.
      • Typeface – the visual design of a collection of characters like letters, numbers, and symbols.
      • Font – a piece of software a type designer makes that you install on your computer that allows you to use the typeface.
      • Personalities – Like people, types have different personalities that can convey mood, attitude, and tone. Below are some common type personalities or moods and words used to describe them.

Font Type Description Adjective
Slab Serif Thick, block-like spared off serifs. Blocky sturdy appearance. Important Evident Bold Impactful Attention-Grabbing
Sans Serif Aka Gothic is one that does not have extending features called “serifs” at the end of strokes. Simple Sensible Straightforward Easy to read Neutral
Serif Include embellishments at the ends of the letter to form strokes. Stable Respectable Timeless Formal Traditional
Modern Serif Didot serif classification characterized by extreme contrast between thick and thin lines. High Fashion Glamor Exquisite Clean Luxurious
Bold or Black Black is a heavier weight font than bold, as bold is heavier weight font then medium or regular/normal. Stopover Dominant Gallant Significant Reputable
Condensed or Ultra-Thin Set widths that are narrower than in standard typeface of same family and can also apply to fonts where each variation is much taller than it is wide. Busy Authoritative Lofty Logical Influential
Italic A typeface with letters slanted slightly to the right. Italic type is used to emphasize words as well as for decoration. Distinct Motion Decorative Gesture Colloquial
Modern Sans Serif More unified range of styles allowing a wider range of text to be set artistically through setting headings and body text in a single family. Forward Thinking Unconventional Corporate Unique Legible
Display Intended for use as large sizes for headings, rather than for extended passages of body text. More eccentric and variable designs than body text. Prominent Quirky Friendly Eccentric Chivalrous
Rounded or Bubble Rounded typefaces have rounded corners and/or terminals. Their softness tends to make them feel childish, friendly, and inviting. Jovial Sociable Fun Welcoming Exciting
Mono-spaced Each character has the same width. A fixed-width, or non-proportional font whose letters & characters occupy the same amount of horizontal space. Techy Code-based Sophisticated Exceptional Edged
Decorative Aka display type, decorative fonts are typically used for titles & headlines or small amounts of text in large sizes such as in greeting cards or posters. Casual Cool Unique High-Spirited Embellished
Script A font that mimics cursive handwriting. It is a typeface with a personal touch like calligraphy and handwriting fonts. Feminine Personal Fancy Elegant Pretty
Grunge Very messy and chaotic kind of type design style comprised of dirty, broken, and urban styles. Mysterious Twisted Jittery Cryptic Abstract
Geometric Basic geometric shapes like a circle, square or triangle play a major role in the design of the typeface. Structure based on optical repetition. Candid Trendy Bold Oblique Sharp
Vintage Ability to transport audiences back in time. With the right font, you can add age, texture and depth to reflect the era you’re representing. Old-School Retro Solemn Stylish Remarkable

  • Font/Type PairingsTypography is the most important part of branding and graphic design. Below are a few things to consider when deciding which typeface to represent your brand and which types might pair well together.
    • Use fonts from the same family
      • Don’t use more than 3 fonts per page
      • Pair contrasting typefaces
      • Combine serif with san serif
      • Mix contrasting weights and sizes
      • Experiment and try different font pairings to see what works to best represent your brand.
    • Web limitations and Google Fonts – There are a set of standardized fonts that can be used on the internet across various devices and browsers without any data or quality loss. Below is a chart of web safe fonts with samples of how they would display with different styles applied to the typefaces.

Normal Bold Italic
Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif
Arial Black, Gadget, sans-serif Arial Black, Gadget, sans-serif Arial Black, Gadget, sans-serif
Comic Sans MS, Textile, cursive Comic Sans MS, Textile, cursive Comic Sans MS, Textile, cursive
Courier New, Courier, monospace Courier New, Courier, monospace Courier New, Courier, monospace
Georgia, Times New Roman, Times, serif Georgia, Times New Roman, Times, serif Georgia, Times New Roman, Times, serif
Impact, Charcoal, sans-serif Impact, Charcoal, sans-serif Impact, Charcoal, sans-serif
Lucida Console, Monaco, monospace Lucida Console, Monaco, monospace Lucida Console, Monaco, monospace
Lucida Sans Unicode, Lucida Grande, sans-serif Lucida Sans Unicode, Lucida Grande, sans-serif Lucida Sans Unicode, Lucida Grande, sans-serif
Palatino Linotype, Book Antiqua, Palatino, serif Palatino Linotype, Book Antiqua, Palatino, serif Palatino Linotype, Book Antiqua, Palatino, serif
Tahoma, Geneva, sans-serif Tahoma, Geneva, sans-serif Tahoma, Geneva, sans-serif
Times New Roman, Times, serif Times New Roman, Times, serif Times New Roman, Times, serif
Trebuchet MS, Helvetica, sans-serif Trebuchet MS, Helvetica, sans-serif Trebuchet MS, Helvetica, sans-serif
Verdana, Geneva, sans-serif Verdana, Geneva, sans-serif Verdana, Geneva, sans-serif
MS Sans Serif, Geneva, sans-serif MS Sans Serif, Geneva, sans-serif MS Sans Serif, Geneva, sans-serif
MS Serif, New York, serif MS Serif, New York, serif MS Serif, New York, serif

  • Google rolled out Google Fonts that gives designers more of a variety of type styles. Google Fonts is an open source library of thousands of free licensed font families, an interactive web directory for browsing the library, and APIs for conveniently using the fonts via HTML and CSS.

Brand Personality

Branding | Sage Design Group

  • Brand VoiceBrand voice is what is said and brand tone is how it is said. Your brand voice is the foundation of your brand personality.
    • Things to consider when developing your brand voice:
      • Research and understand your target market
        • Where does your target demographic do their research?
        • Where does your target market shop?
        • What are your competitors doing?
        • What tone or voice is appropriate for your industry? For example, if you are Dove selling personal care products, your tone would be much softer than if you were selling car parts.
        • Try not to copy your competitors and come up with your own USP (unique selling proposition).
      • Choose and use your words wisely to leave a lasting impression.
        • Do your words invoke a positive and energetic emotion or a dull and cold feeling?
        • Include words to use and words not to use in your advertising copy and website content.
        • Be consistent in your tone and messaging. Consistency is key.
        • Provide examples of do’s and don’ts for grammar, punctuation, spelling, vocabulary, naming, and tone.
    • Storytelling Brand storytelling with the right images and vocabulary can strengthen the emotional connection you have with your audience. Choose your words wisely.
      • Does your brand visual and verbal storytelling accurately explain and portray the who, what, how, and why of your brand’s narrative?
      • Are you including your customer in your narrative? Engaging your customers with helps create long term emotional bonds with your customers.
  • Imagery
    • Photos vs illustration – Does your brand use a lot of photography or illustration. Are you consistent with the types of images you are using? Do the images accurately represent your brand?
    • Styles – Does the style of the images you are using accurately represent the tone of your brand? Is the imagery you are using consistent with your messaging?
    • Concepts – Do you have a solid brand concept in place? Is the messaging and mood cohesive and recognizable?
    • Composition – Establish guidelines on the sizing, placement and colors for the different types of layout scenarios. For example landing pages, advertisements, postcards, emails, social media, and all other customer touch points so they are recognizable. Consistency is key.

Testimonials, Reviews, and Referrals

The way people interact and engage with brands has changed over the last few decades. It’s about establishing trust with your audience. The internet and social media have given customers a voice and platform. Referral marketing can take many forms, but at its core, it’s a way to get your biggest fans to help spread the word about your brand.

  • Word-of-mouth referrals drive at least 5x more sales than paid impressions.
  • Customers acquired through word-of-mouth spend 2x more and make 2x as many referrals themselves.
  • Referred leads convert over 30% more and have a 16% higher lifetime value than leads acquired through other channels.
  • Most Americans would select word-of-mouth if they could only choose one source for information on potential purchases.


Your brand is more than that iconic logo that you paid a reputable designer a lot of money to create for you. A brand isn’t what you tell people your business is about. Ultimately, a brand is people’s perception of your company and what they tell other people about your business. Your brand is about the customer journey and the emotions that your customers experience from customer service to the visuals and messaging evoked with each engagement. There are numerous tools and resources on how to measure brand awareness; you simply need to choose the ones that best suit your needs and circumstances. Each interaction that a customer has with your brand should reinforce their perception of your company, products, and services.


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