If there is one marketing problem that plagues small businesses it’s developing brand awareness on a shoestring budget. The bigger your budget, the easier it is to create brand awareness in a short amount of time. Hitting the airwaves with TV and radio spots, saturating local media with print ads, and dominating the search engines with top-spot pay-per-click ads and web banner advertising can quickly get your brand in front of your target audience. But when trying to build your brand with a small business budget, and a ‘slow and steady wins the race’ approach, you’d better be sure of one thing – consistency.

The Problem

Small business owners trying to save money on marketing often piece out their marketing activities to multiple sources. Some trade out services with friends, or they rely on friends and family members to help out. All fine, if those resources are good at what they do, but all too often, these different activities done by different people result in brand inconsistency. Bob, who does the website, is doing it as a favor, so you kind of let him do what he wants, and you’re afraid to give him much direction – he is doing it for free. Then there’s the coupon mailer that you were convinced to do by that pesky sales person who offered to handle all of the artwork and creative for you at no charge. And finally there is your client who agreed to do your company brochure as a trade for services. As far as saving money on your stuff, you’re doing great. But here’s what can happen…

Without proper direction on messaging, proper logo usage, standard colors, standard fonts, and a guide to using URLs and phone numbers in your advertising, each of these nice people are likely create your materials in their style and their voice. And none of them will look or sound like the next.

From your customers and potential customers’ perspectives, you may actually end up looking like several different companies. And if that happens, you’re missing the boat on brand awareness altogether.

The Solution

Invest some time and a little money in having your brand sharply defined, and have a formal Marketing Style Guide created. Settle firmly on a logo and your colors. Your Marketing Style Guide will be the branding bible from which each of your vendors (friends, family members, or whoever is doing marketing for you) will live by. Consider it the roots of your brand from which each of your brand activities will grow! Your Style Guide should be available to your providers in a PDF format with links to art files whenever possible. If that is not feasible, create the PDF of the guide, and include it on a flash drive or CD that includes your approved art files.

Your Marketing Style Guide PDF and files/links should include:

Logo – include vector (EPS), and high resolution jpeg (RGB) and tiff (CMYK) versions that can easily be used for signage, print, and the web. Include the proper PMS, CMYK and RBG colors in the art files so that when your logo is printed, the colors are the same everywhere. Don’t worry if you don’t understand these acronyms – your Marketing Style Guide creator will. (If not…find someone else to do your Style Guide!) Include color, black and white, and reversed versions of your logo also.

Tag Line – If your business uses a consistent tag line, be sure to include this in your Marketing Style Guide. This is generally used in conjunction with your logo, and should be used consistently. Limit yourself to just one tagline. Other messages about your brand or business can be used as Key Marketing Messages, which we will get to in a moment.

Approved Fonts – Outside of proper logo and color usage, one of the most important elements in making sure your marketing materials look similar is choosing one or two approved fonts that can be used for ad/website headlines, sub-headlines and body copy. These fonts should go well with your logo.

Your ‘Who Is’ Statement – Every business owner should be able, in one or two sentences, to quickly and accurately describe his or her business. Sometimes called the ‘30-second elevator speech’, we’re calling this your ‘who is’ statement. For example: Who is Joe’s Landscaping? Joe’s Landscaping provides residential landscape design, water feature design and lawn mowing services to homeowners in Buck’s County. Your ‘who is’ statement sound simple, but you’d be surprised at how difficult it can be for a business own to define his or her business in such a short and concise way. But that’s exactly how it must be defined for marketing purposes. In marketing, we have just a few seconds to tell your story. When used consistently, your ‘who is’ statement can help potential customers get to know you.

Mission / Vision / Philosophy – Most companies have their company mission statement laid out. Whether it’s called your Mission, Vision, or Philosophy, it is helpful for your marketing materials providers to know what’s at the heart of your company. Knowing what you do, why you do it, and who you do it for are all items that should be included in your mission statement and in your Marketing Style Guide. While it may not be used verbatim (or at all) in ad copy, it can help flavor the overall direction.

Key Marketing Messages – Key marketing messages are similar to tag lines, and can be used to define certain segments of your business for individually-targeted marketing items. For instance, if Joe’s Landscaping does an e-mail focused on water features, they may choose a key marketing message such as ‘From relaxing small Koi ponds to quarter-acre ponds and waterfalls, let the experts at Joe’s Landscaping create the water feature of your dreams.’ Key marketing messages are great ways to provide direction to your marketing materials provider, and can be used as the starting point for developing ad or web content.

Contact Information – Each of your marketing items should contain multiple ways for customers to contact us. Your marketing materials providers should be given your website ULR, phone number and an e-mail address to include on all materials.

Licenses, Awards & Certifications – Often businesses are required by law to include license numbers in their advertising. Be sure that your Marketing Style Guide includes any required license numbers. Additionally, many businesses find it useful to promote awards, ratings and certifications. If beneficial to your business, make sure your Marketing Style Guide includes the art files for any logos that should be included in your advertising. A good example of this is the Better Business Bureau logo – many companies who have received an A+ BBB Rating like to use that logo in their advertising.

Images or Image Direction – Your business should have a distinct look and feel. Along with the items above, brand consistency can be achieved through the use of approved photos. If you do not have photos that are used regularly on your materials, be sure that your marketing materials providers have some direction on what types of photos to use. For example, if Joe’s Landscaping targets homeowners with larger homes, it is beneficial for their marketing material provider to know not to use small homes on their materials.

A lack of brand consistency can dramatically slow brand awareness, and even confuse customers and prospects. But with a little bit of leg work, your Marketing Style Guide can save you and your marketing providers time and headaches, and help your business grow.