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Don’t let your marketing look like an afterthought

June 12, 2019

By Jason Batts

Small business owners need a wide variety of disciplines and skills. Responsibilities like ac-counting can be learned, but having a creative design knack for your marketing efforts doesn’t always come so easily. Because of that challenge, the public-facing appearance of a small business can suffer. The design of your logo, marketing collateral, signage and advertising either get ignored or are hastily created in an ineffective way.

Designing a cohesive and attractive look for your business doesn’t have to be difficult or cost you thousands of dollars. Follow these simple tips and you can develop an outward image perfectly suited to your company and your clients:

The Logo
The most important design element of your business is your logo. When done correctly, a logo conveys a clear message to your customers and can also instruct and guide many of your subsequent marketing efforts. Think about who you are and what your business does and let that inspire your logo. A landscape service might use a tree or an auto mechanic might consider a wrench. Those may seem obvious, but when it comes to logos, obvious is good. It doesn’t necessarily need to be clever or unique, just a clear representation of who you are.

Logos don’t need to be created from scratch. Stock art websites offer thousands of design elements that can be used at very low costs. Search images for other logos from your field to help you get an idea of what you like. Pay attention to commercials to get a sense of what kind of logos catch your eye.

The most adaptable logos are made to go over a plain, white background. Many people like to use the phrase “clean lines” when describing the aesthetic of today’s logos. This usually means that the artwork has clearly defined edges and a very flat, two-dimensional look. Designing your logo to be used primarily over white will help it withstand the test of time.
When creating your logo, you’ll want to give thought to where it’s going to be used. This will help you define the layout, the orientation and the use of text. If your name is going on the side of a van, then your logo should probably be wide and rectangular. If your name is going on a sign hanging over a storefront, perhaps a square or round shape is best. Think about your website and how it will need to be used there. If you’re going to advertise on billboards, you’ll want it to be visible from a distance. Let your uses dictate your design.

The Font
Next, you’ll need to pick a font for your business name. Again, clarity is key. You want your name to be easy to read and simple to understand. With tens of thousands of fonts to choose from, it’s tempting to be drawn to elaborate and uncommon fonts, but the straightforward ones are best.

Choose a font that’s timeless and legible and has numerous versions (bold, italic, condensed, heavy) for a variety of applications. You’ll create cohesion in your marketing by keeping the same style font throughout. A versatile font can be taken from your logo and used on business cards, websites, signs and ads.

Is Everything Cohesive?
Once your logo and font have been created, all the other aspects of your branding should follow suit. Use the same color palate from your logo when you paint your office walls, pick employee uniforms and make packaging decisions. The design of everything you create should feel like an extension of your logo. Your letterhead should match your direct mail pieces and your online ads should look like they belong right next to your email newsletter.

Consistency is Key
Maintaining uniformity is important when creating a lasting brand. You want your target market to make the same connections no matter what part of your marketing they encounter. Once your brand has been established, be careful not to change it on a whim. The most successful brands in the world have visual cues that have existed for decades. You can make updates, but don’t change your designs just for the sake of change.

Finding Help (It Doesn’t Need to be Expensive!)
The principles I’ve laid out aren’t hard to understand, but it takes specific technical skills to make it all happen. If you’re starting from scratch, chances are you’ll need someone to help you get your original designs developed. You’ll need hi-res, print-ready versions of your logo and those can’t be created in Microsoft Word. Find a professional to help you create the core elements of your design and then you’ll be able to use those items on your own going forward.

Many small businesses don’t have the resources to pay out thousands of dollars to high-end firms to help them design their brand. Don’t worry—there are other options. Many talented freelance designers can provide exactly what you need at a fraction of the cost. You could also find an art or design student who would be thrilled to add to his/her portfolio and can provide designs that are even better than the pros. Explore your networks and find a designer that aligns with your budget. Whoever you hire though, be sure to take ownership of all the original files when the work is done. You’ll need them in the future.

After the core designs are created, you’ll be able to build many additional materials yourself. Business cards, websites, newsletters, letterheads and a host of other elements can all be assembled for minimal cost on websites that provide simple, user-friendly templates for novices. Don’t be ashamed of using these services. Most customers will never be able to tell the difference.

Quick Re-Cap
Keep your designs simple. Make the message clear. Use cohesive and consistent branding throughout your business. Find the right pros to help at the right cost then do what you can on your own. If you follow those simple rules, your marketing will no longer look like an afterthought.

Jason Batts has been a marketing design professional specializing in video production for the last 18 years. He is currently the owner of JRB Creative Works in East Grand Rapids, MI. 

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