Branding basics for small businesses

Meet Betsy Aimee Cardenas, founder of Born in June Creative Studio, a branding agency located in Los Angeles. She, along with her co-founder Jaime Joshua Sandoval, help other brands differentiate themselves from the competition and tell their own unique stories.

Betsy Aimee Cardenas

Today, she’s sharing her insights on branding: what it is, why it matters, why it’s often underestimated and misunderstood, and how founders can create powerful, authentic brands for their companies.

What is branding?

Branding is a loosely defined topic—if you ask a dozen people what branding is, you’ll get a dozen distinct answers. It’s often associated (or even conflated) with marketing, but Betsy sees an important distinction between the two. She says “Branding is who you are, and marketing is what you do.” 

So, how does Betsy define branding? 

Branding is the DNA of your organization. It touches every element of your company. It’s the way you tell the world “This is what my company is. This is our mission and this is what we do and this is how we do it.” 

At Born in June, she works with clients to ensure they have strong, consistent branding that’s expressed in almost every area of the business. 

Why branding matters 

Since branding is closely associated with marketing, it’s common for businesses to put a lot of care and attention into their brands if—and only if—they’re trying to get more customers or make more sales. Betsy says that branding should offer benefits beyond increased sales, though. 

One question that comes up a lot is whether or not branding is a valuable investment, especially if you’re selling a product that’s not a luxury good. With a lot of luxury goods, we tend to think that they definitely need branding … if Nike isn’t telling you a compelling story, it’s just a sneaker, right? But I think that’s what makes it powerful and makes it a lasting brand … people are buying into an emotion. A brand doesn’t have to be complex, but it does have to be appealing and approachable and accessible. 

Effective branding can help businesses get customers and make sales, but it can also allow companies to create better customer experiences and eventually, better products and stronger companies. 

Your brand (which includes your mission, vision, and values) essentially works as a compass for your business. Betsy puts it like this: “Branding should help guide the hundreds of decisions that founders need to make on their way to becoming profitable and scalable.”  

What makes good branding? 

Good branding, Betsy says, looks effortless because everything fits together and functions smoothly. The website is clear and easy to understand. The product works exactly as it should. Potential customers know—instantly—what the company does and how they’re different from the competition. 

It takes a lot of work behind the scenes to make everything fit together so flawlessly. Every detail of the customer experience needs to be studied and perfected. 

Another crucial element to good branding, according to Betsy, is this: “The best brands make you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself.” If you look at beloved brands or effective campaigns, they’re usually not about a product. They’re about a movement, an idea, a community, or a mission. 

Common branding mistakes 

Here’s a quick list from Betsy of common mistakes that can hurt your long-term brand image. 

  1. Don’t make promises that won’t be fulfilled by your product. One infamous example of this mistake, Betsy says, is the Fyre Festival. This was a case where the marketing and branding were really effective, but nothing else was. You know how the story ends: in disillusionment, shattered expectations, lost trust, and jail time. Although this is an example of things going spectacularly wrong, this mistake can still be very destructive on a smaller scale. 
  2. Don’t send mixed messages or state beliefs without backing them up. Today’s consumers are both value-driven and skeptical, so critically examine your processes and make sure they line up with your principles. For example, if you’re a socially and environmentally conscious fashion brand, pay attention to your supply chain and your packaging to make sure everything you do aligns with your mission. 
  3. Don’t be afraid of doing things differently. Betsy says “I think sometimes brands are afraid of having a voice but you really do need to have a voice and something that makes you stand out—especially in a saturated market. You need to have a differentiated and unique voice.” 

How to brand

By now, we’ve covered a couple of concepts: branding is important, and branding is also hard. So, how should new entrepreneurs approach it? 

Here are four options to consider. Each has pros and cons, and the right choice will depend on the maturity of your business, your industry, your background, and a host of other factors.

  1. Do it yourself. Betsy says this can be very challenging, but it’s a good solution for side-hustlers and early-stage entrepreneurs who are just starting out. If you take this route, she recommends starting by charting your customer experience and looking at every single possible touchpoint. She also recommends looking for resources and classes, and getting to know your local entrepreneur community to build your network and get advice from others in your field. 
  2. Bring on a business partner with branding experience. If you’re not able to do it yourself and you don’t have the resources to hire someone, consider finding a business partner who will do the work in exchange for equity in the business. 
  3. Hire a branding agency or consultant. If you take this route, Betsy recommends looking for agencies or consultants who have worked with businesses in your industry, and ask for samples of their work as well as metrics on the results they’ve achieved. 
  4. Hire a full-time employee or even a brand team. This usually isn’t an option until the business reaches a certain size, but it’s something to keep in mind for the future.

Betsy Aimee Cardenas, founder of Born in June Creative Studio

Hi there! This post exists to offer you (hopefully) useful information but it cannot take the place of personalized professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert if you have questions about your business. Also, Azlo doesn’t endorse any third-party sites that are linked here.

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