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“Once I’m up and running I will invest time in branding.”
Sound familiar? This is a common mindset among many small business owners who spend both time and money on marketing and selling, but forget that their business is also a brand.
Failure to develop a solid brand upfront will result in more questions than clients since your audience will not be clear on what your business is about. Confused potential clients will seek out your competitors who have a clear presence in your desired market.
As a small business, if you want to compete, you must create and cultivate emotional connections with your audiences through communication, marketing, and engagement. Your brand is the most valuable asset, and when done well, the benefits are tremendous.
This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to develop a brand identity, including studio branding tips, tools, and more.
Why is Branding So Important for Small Businesses?
Branding creates a positive impact on your customers and outlines your business’ commitment to its clients. If you want to set your studio apart from others, branding plays a vital role in that endeavor. It helps to build trust, supports your marketing efforts, generates leads, and attracts new customers.
Branding is essential for any small business that wants to compete, but it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and dedication.
How to Create a Brand Identity
Branding is more than just creating a logo for your website and business cards. Your branding says who you are as a company. It depicts your values, your goals, how you treat your customers, etc. Your brand identity is the culmination of all of these things, along with how your brand looks, feels, and speaks to potential customers.
Brand identity influences the entire client experience and seriously affects how others view your credibility and business, so before you start designing a logo, take a few minutes to really consider your brand identity.
Do Your Research
You can’t begin to develop a brand identity until you know what resonates with your clients, and you can’t know what resonates if you don’t understand your clients, to begin with.
Consumer behavior research has shown that there are five basic stages consumers use in decision making: Awareness, Interest, Trial and Evaluation, Adoption, and Loyalty. Taking these five factors into consideration will help you begin to understand what resonates with your target audience.
Awareness – Is my community aware of the benefits of my studio?
This is where the entire process begins. The customer becomes aware that they have a need or a problem that needs to be solved. They need a music teacher for their child.
Interest – What kinds of Information am I providing for potential clients?
Once the client recognizes the need or problem, they begin to seek out information and possible solutions. They seek this information using resources they trust such as previous experiences, personal beliefs, recommendations from friends and colleagues, the internet, and social media. Typically consumers rely heavily on personal experience and information obtained from friends and colleagues. Potential clients find these sources to be more trustworthy than brochures, social media, or printed advertising.
Keep in mind this varies greatly by generation. Millennials are likely to be at least partially influenced by social media, while gen-Xers and boomers rely mostly on recommendations from people or sources they are familiar with. Susan said that Sophie loves taking piano lessons at that studio.
Trial and Evaluation – How do prospective clients view my service and quality? Is there a way to “try out” lessons?
Once the consumer has recognized their need and collected information on how to solve their problem, they begin to evaluate the solutions by what is most suitable for their needs. The client will consider the functions and qualities of the services, as well as the subjective, or perceived value of the brand or its reputation.
Since this step can be highly influential, many businesses offer ways for the client to “try out” the product or service before trying, for example, This studio offers a free trial lesson so why not check it out.
Adoption – Is it easy for potential clients to engage with my studio? Do I respond to inquiries quickly?
After all of the different solutions have been thoroughly evaluated, the potential client will either make a purchase or choose to go a different route. This choice will most likely be made based on the perceived value or how well the product solves the problem, but these decisions are also made based on the quality of the shopping experience. Small things like the availability of a promotion or the ease of being able to pay online can make a big impact on the final decision. I will go with that studio because the teacher has a lot of experience with older students vs. That studio still hasn’t returned my call so I will try someone else.
Loyalty – Do I offer a way for satisfied clients to share positive feedback?
Once the product or service has been purchased and used, the client will decide whether or not the product or service met their needs. If satisfied, the customer will develop a sense of loyalty and share positive feedback with friends and colleagues, but if not satisfied negative feedback will most likely be shared.
A positive experience means continued client loyalty along with the possibility of acquisition of future clients: Sophie loves lessons! I am going to share a video of her recital performance on social media, but a negative experience could result in the loss of future clients based on negative feedback. Don’t go with that studio, they are hard to work with and scheduling is a nightmare.
Identify Your Target Audience
While this step may seem obvious, there are many small businesses out there who put so much focus into figuring out who they are and what kinds of products or services they want to provide that they fail to think about who they are trying to sell those products or services to.
Take a little time to define your ideal customer. Do you plan to focus on children? Intermediate or advanced students? Adult learners?
Often music studios make the misguided attempt to appeal to their young students. While it is important that your students enjoy lessons, your target audience in this situation is going to be the parent or grandparent, so consider a few other factors. How old are they? What kind of income and education do they have? Are they predominantly one gender? What are they looking for in music lessons? Are they looking for serious study or maybe just an after-school activity?
Once you have a good picture of who your target customer is, you can use it to guide and develop your branding strategy so it will result in a brand that truly connects to the customers you want to work with.
Once the research phase is complete and you have decided on your target audience, the fun part can begin. You will take all of your findings and translate them into visuals.
A few examples of brand assets are:
- Your Logo
- Color palettes
- Photography and Graphics
- Voice and Tone
- Social Media
- Your Studio
As you are building and developing these assets, you should keep in mind the three Cs of branding:
It is your job to figure out your message, not your customers. Make sure all of your branding is clear, easy to understand, and projects the image you want. If your customer has to work to interpret something you have created, your brand is not yet clear enough.
Your tone and voice need to be consistent through all aspects of your branding. If your website says one thing, your social media says something else, and your messy studio says yet something else, your customer will be left confused and thinking “wow, this whole operation is so unprofessional.”
Consistency throughout your branding displays that you are a professional business that the client can feel comfortable working with.
We live in a world of instant gratification and when our ads and website remain unseen, we get discouraged and begin to shift in a different direction. Remember, branding takes time. It can take up to a year of consistent, dedicated work before your website is trusted enough by google to make it to page one. A brand is not made but built over time. If you are consistent, slowly but surely, your hard work will begin to pay off.
Define Your Brand’s Story
Your brand is pretty much your elevator pitch to every potential customer who comes across your content. Keep this in mind when you are developing your brandable assets. As you begin to develop these assets, keep in mind what differentiates you from your competition. Take McDonald’s for example; without the “special sauce,” the Big Mac is just another hamburger.
Maybe you only teach online or offer flexible scheduling. Maybe in a world of online lessons, you still go to the student’s home, or maybe you offer group lessons. What helps you stand out from the other area studios? What is your “special sauce?
Let’s take a more in-depth look at your brand assets and how they can help to define your brand’s story.
Your Logo, Color Palette, and Typography
Your brand logo is the first thing a potential client is going to see. It will appear on your website, business cards, ads, social media, etc.
Your logo also will consist of your brand’s chosen color palette and typography so it is important that you find something that works. In an ideal world, you would hire a graphic designer to develop these assets for you but if you are short on cash and a little creative, you can create a free music studio logo on your own using a tool like Canva.
First, you need to decide on your brand colors. If you are good at selecting complimentary colors and fonts, go for it! However, if that is not your forte, there are a variety of websites like this one that will provide you with pre-configured brand colors that work well together. For selecting complementary fonts for your typography, I recommend this website.
Photography and Graphics
Having great photos and graphics is essential if you want to stand out on social media. A simple app like VSCO or ColorStory will quickly make your photos look more professional with a quick tap of an icon.
For graphics and social media posts, I once again recommend Canva. They offer a free version to get you started but I recommend upgrading to the pro version since it will allow you full access to their entire photo and design library. They even have pre-built graphics for Facebook posts, Instagram posts, reels, blog banners, etc. All you have to do is plug in your own content, or you can design a pre-formatted size graphic from scratch.
Voice and Tone
You want your tone to be consistent across all platforms, professional, and inviting to potential clients. An example of an inviting tone might be:
We are excited to have you join our studio! If you live in or around the Smithville area and are thinking about taking guitar lessons, contact us for a free orientation meeting. We would love to meet you! Orientation meetings include a tour of the studio, time to sit down and answer any questions you have, a free 15-minute lesson, and help with registration. Feel free to visit our testimonial page to hear what other students and parents have to say!
Notice that the tone is inviting and the studio seems very welcoming. What will happen in your orientation session is made very clear, and it closes with a call to action. This one short paragraph could be on a website, advertisement, or social media post. It also says this studio has it together, knows what they’re doing, and seems like a good place to check out.
Think of your website as your company’s piece of digital real estate. When people visit your website, the look should be consistent with your branding on all other platforms.
Your website can be a place to offer additional brand value as well in the form of coupons, deals, scheduling opportunities, and articles of interest. Keep in mind though that it takes time for a new website to gain google’s trust. Don’t expect your website to instantly show up in a google search, but if you use the right strategies, your website can find its way onto the first page of a google search over time.
Your brand should also carry over into your social media pages too. Remember those brand colors you chose, use those when creating social media content. Canva offers great templates for all social media platforms and even has a limited free version if money is tight.
Make sure to separate your social media from your personal life and keep it brand-specific. Keep the profile aesthetic clean looking as well. Using a scheduler like Later will allow you to see what your profile will look like once your posts are published.
Notice that the example on the right makes no sense. I have no idea who this person is as a brand. The example on the left, however, has a clean aesthetic that you want to look at.
Social media engagement is also a great way to listen to the true voice of your current and potential customers. Millions of conversations are happening every day and some of them are ruthless. You can use these conversations as a way to improve your business and your brand or defend it if you need to. All with a simple post!
Many of us don’t really think about it, but your studio itself says a lot about you. Does the current state of your studio project the brand you want to represent? Is it tidy and professional or is it disorganized with stacks of music everywhere? Are your brand colors represented? Does the aesthetic fit your brand? Remember, your studio is the first tangible thing your clients are going to see. Is it inviting an inviting place for students and parents?
A few questions to ask yourself:
- Does your online presence provide value to prospective clients?
- Is essential information easy to find?
- Is it clear what you do and where you do it?
- Does your website add value?
- Is your online presence dynamic, welcoming, and up-to-date?
- Does your brand actually tell a story and establish a dynamic beyond your credentials?
- Is it easy for others to tell your story through testimonials?
Common Branding Myths
There are a few common myths concerning branding which many small business owners buy into, such as; branding is not important in the beginning, I can’t afford to brand right now, or branding is too complicated. Let’s debunk each of these myths and see why they may actually be hurting your business in the long run.
Branding Is Only Important When I Start Growing
I have heard time and time again, I don’t have to do my branding now, it can wait until later.
Don’t underestimate your company’s strongest asset. Branding is what will help your business grow so that there is a later. As a matter of fact, branding can account for as much as 30 to 50 percent of a company’s value.
Properly executed branding turns your product or service into something distinct and unreplicated, offering a unique value to your target audience. Branding is not only relevant but critical. Your brand communicates your value to potential customers. If you fail to invest in your brand, future customers will create their own perceptions of your business.
I Can’t Afford to Brand Right Now
Don’t think of branding as an expense, but rather an investment in an asset. Quite possibly your biggest asset.
This raises the next logical question: How much should I budget for this investment? A good rule of thumb is to set aside 15% of your desired gross annual revenue to invest in building your brand. If you hope to earn $50,000 your first year, set aside $7,500 to invest in your brand. This can go toward a branding strategist, graphic and web designer, a social media expert, etc.
If investing 15% is out of the question, there are other ways to build your brand. One way is bartering. Do you know a graphic designer or web designer? Offer to teach their child a few free lessons in exchange for their help. You can also attempt to do some of the work on your own using web design software like Wix or Squarespace. You could design a logo and social media templates using Canva.
Branding Is Just Too Complicated for My Business
Too often, studio owners fall into the false belief that branding complicates things, when, in reality, it is actually more complicated NOT to invest in branding.
It is important to invest in your brand strategy, no matter how “simple” you believe your business to be. Creating a clear and cohesive brand means that future decisions can be made based on a specific set of branding guidelines. Without those preset guidelines, you will have to rehash your story every time you make a change.
Key Branding Tips for Small Businesses
Be Memorable, Not Modern
Most of us are creatures of habit and feel the most comfortable using things we recognize and are already familiar with. Do you remember the “New Coke” from the 1980s? If not, trust me, it was not well received. There is a reason the Coke you purchase in the grocery store is now called Coca-cola Classic.
If you have already been teaching for a while, stick with what your customers know. If you are brand new to the business, develop a brand that you will still be happy with in 10 years.
Keep Your Budget in Mind
Let’s face it, budget matters. Chances are, you have a limited budget dedicated to branding your studio. You may not have any budget at all.
If you have a little money to spend, invest it in a good logo. Your logo will be the backbone of your entire brand. It will contain your color palette, typography, and will go on your website, invoices, business cards, and social media profiles.
If you can’t afford a graphic designer to create your logo, you can use Canva. They have a free version and a pro version. The pro version is priced quite reasonably and will allow you to customize your logo as well as social media designs to a greater extent than the free version. You can even use it to create youtube thumbnails.
Have a Strong Social Media Presence
Getting your website discovered on google takes time, but social media allows you to instantly engage with your audience. The majority of your potential customers are hanging out on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
In this digital world, the desire for relatable communication and interaction that connects with others is increasing. Developing an online community will give your clients a space to feel, share, and know about your business. This community also invites potential customers to participate in your brand and well. Through this community building, you can convert your marketing efforts into clients.
When creating your social media profiles, don’t forget to make your brand look and feel consistent. If you don’t, you will confuse your audience and dilute the brand identity you are working to build.
Get Clients to Work on Your Brands Behalf
Word-of-mouth advertising has long been the standard in the music studio business. As a matter of fact, it still is! The only major change is HOW word-of-mouth advertising is done. Social platforms like Facebook groups and Nextdoor are quickly becoming the norm when it comes to shopping for just about anything, music lessons included. Let your clients know that you are accepting new students. If they love your brand they will happily share it with others. You can boost this concept by offering incentives such as a free lesson for each new client they bring in.
Deliver Content Your Audience Can Use
Potential clients are online searching for information they need to make decisions about products or services that can solve their specific problems.
This process begins well before they have any particular brand in mind. This offers you the opportunity to provide that information to them and receive brand recognition from it. If the content you are providing can be applied to their specific needs, it gives them the value they were looking for. They will associate this expertise with your brand.
You can accomplish this through social media by providing details about your service offerings, or on your website through articles of interest. For example, you put an article on your website on the best flutes for beginners. A parent may find that article and select an instrument based on your recommendations. They then may think My child needs a flute teacher. They visit your website again looking for a flute teacher. You just used your branding to gain a new student.
Use Targeted Keywords and Search Engine Optimization
Speaking of websites, how you write your content is just as important as what you write. Google is not very trusting of new websites so getting any recognition from them is going to take time. However, with dedication and patience, your website too can be discovered by a number of people on google. The trick is targeting the keywords they are searching for. Using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will help to get your website onto page one of Google, allowing potential customers to see your content. If you want to get started with SEO, Mike Pearson has a great free SEO Bootcamp you should check out.
Don’t Forget About Everyday Interactions
Keep in mind that your brand goes far beyond your logo and social media profiles. Your brand identity is the sum total of every interaction someone has had with your business. This means paying close attention to every aspect of your business, including the ability for potential customers to find and get answers quickly, your response time to emails and direct messages, as well as a convenient way to schedule and pay for services.
With the rise in popularity of virtual lessons in today’s digital world, your competition is not just the other studio in town. You have hundreds of studios to compete with so standing out is more important than ever.
Having a strong brand identity will help you stand out, against larger, more successful studios, giving you the edge, and helping you turn your small studio into a full-time business.