Events — 25 Apr 2023
10 Small Brands Who've Made a Big Impact
If you’re stuck on how to start or grow your small business, getting your branding and brand identity right is key. For many small brands and startup businesses – especially those that want to stay small – the definition of growth, impact, and success will depend on what their goals are.
From focusing on direct consumer strategies to reach their target market and potential customers to trying out interactive marketing, the successful brand examples we’ve highlighted in this article have all pushed their boundaries and come up with the goods – most while remaining independent, keeping it small, staying true to their ethos, and focusing on brand consistency.
If you’re a small business, brand building should be a key focus of your brand marketing strategy. Having a strong brand among your target audience can help you save money and time in the long run, meaning you can invest in the things that matter. Savvy small business owners know that by developing a brand voice, building a brand identity, choosing a memorable company name, and focusing on the right marketing activities, whether that’s social media marketing, partnerships or SEO, they can ensure they’re brand is more recognizable.
If you’re looking for brand building ideas, start with what your business already has: your brand story, visual identity, offering, and point of difference. Then, look at the best brands working in the same or similar space, with similar company values, or with a similar product from a different angle. Whether you’re new on the scene or looking to rebrand your business, analyzing what other brands are doing is one of the best ways to better your own brand guidelines.
You should also look at your target market, and develop an understanding of what they look for in a strong brand. This can influence everything from the language you use in your tagline, to your graphic design, fonts, and style guide. Finally, once you’ve developed your brand strategy, either in-house or with a branding agency, it’s time to apply it across touchpoints from your website design, homepage, and other ecommerce channels, to your packaging and business card. Creating business cards that reflect your brand identity can also help you make a lasting impression with potential clients and customers. Consider using a business card maker to design cards that showcase your brand personality and stand out from the competition.
The brands we’ll look at all have one thing in common: they have a clear aim and they’re sure of exactly where they sit in the market and what that means for their brand strategy. From the brand logo to the brand message, taking some of your branding tips from what they’ve got right is a good place to start. Without further ado, here are 10 small businesses making a big impact.
Originally a specialty coffee company, Minor Figures burst into the cafe scene in a big way with the introduction of its barista-style oat milk. The company is carbon neutral and all its products are 100% vegan – and there’s quite a suite of them, from oat milk and canned specialty brews including black coffee, oat mocha, and matcha latte, to merchandise and apparel. Since starting the businesses in a microbrewery in East London, Minor Figures‘ three co-founder entrepreneurs have taken their plant-based products US and beyond (it‘s now stocked in Whole Foods).
The key to the success of Minor Figures is not just being a high-quality brand that’s found itself an ideal customer base of health and environmentally conscious consumers; it’s its strong brand identity. From the quirky illustrated logo design to the recognizably muted color palette, the brand positioning of Minor Figures evokes urban, aspirational, and fun in everything it does. This includes social media marketing and web design featuring animated elements and illustration,
Established in 2008, Stone & Wood Brewing hails from Byron Bay, on Australia’s east coast. While it started small, target customers can now find this brand and its iconic Original Pacific Ale on taps around the world. For those lucky to be closer to the brand‘s home, there’s still a big focus on limited release, small-batch brews throughout the year. Historically, creating a community and customer experience has been key to the brand’s ethos, appeal, and growth.
But though the brand remains proudly local and true to its down-to-earth values, it made some key changes after realizing relying on organic social media marketing wasn’t doing enough to nurture a direct-to-consumer marketing strategy. So, Stone & Wood looked to improve its digital marketing and overhaul its eCommerce strategy, using Shopify to improve its sales platform.
Stone & Wood’s Direct to Drinker and E-Commerce Leader, Steve Blick, recently explained one of the startup’s key tactics in improving emails to their mailing list was prioritizing segmentation, and then targeting specific customer groups. From here, the brand looked at introducing welcome emails as well as a newsletter from their Beer Club – which in turn, offers access to limited edition beers, discounts on events, and exclusive content for a monthly membership fee.
Bookshop.org is an online bookshop that attempts to bridge the gap between the accessibility of online retailers and independent, brick-and-mortar bookstores. It launched in early 2020 in the United States and has since arrived in the UK. At the time of writing, the small business had generated £2 million and counting for local bookshops.
Using Bookshop.org, customers get a typical ecommerce transaction experience: they select a book, add it to the cart and get their book delivered. However, the profit of the sale is split between Bookshop and the independent retailer the book has been sold from. Independent stores can also curate their own virtual shop front with Bookshop, providing images and biography, and selecting what stock to promote. In exchange, independent stores harness Bookshop as an online alternative if they can’t get to their physical store. A win, win, right?
The key to the success of this start-up is relying on organic word of mouth promotion within the existing publishing ecosystem. It deliberately decided not to become an industry disrupter (like its predecessor and main competitor, Amazon) but an industry reinforcer and supporter instead.
Hailing from the unworried and free-spirited seaside town of Brighton in the UK, clothing brand Lucy and Yak is famous for its ethical mindset and colorful dungarees. The brand mission of this label is all about creating a community around well-made clothes and knowing where they come from. And true to these roots, Lucy and Yak is a brand that uses one thing to its particular advantage: people.
Across the brand’s social media channels, you’ll find professional shots alongside snaps of staff and customers wearing their favorite pieces. You’ll also see people doing everyday things in the clothes – like sitting in a desk chair at work, dancing, rollerblading, doing yoga, or getting a takeaway coffee. It’s all about appealing to the target market by demonstrating authenticity.
And with this kind of realness comes great reward. Ed Sheeran recently showed off a pair of his own Lucy and Yak dungarees on Instagram, and he didn’t need to call attention to them for the brand‘s fans to notice. Plus, you’ll also spot a few appearances from Lucy and Yak in Season 3 of the Netflix series, Sex Education. That kind of exposure is priceless for a small business.
Veja Shoes is a French footwear and accessories brand with the environment and an ethical supply chain front of mind. In the last few years, the label has acquired a cult following thanks to a strong brand identity and a know how for promotion. So, what is it about Veja shoes? It might be a case of being the exact right product at the right time. The brand champions organic cotton and sustainably-sourced leather, as well as high-quality recycled materials, credentials that set it apart for modern eco-conscious target customers such as The Duchess of Sussex, who wore a pair in October 2018, sparking sales that have been dubbed ‘the Meghan effect’.
But in fact, Veja Shoes have been at it since 2005, creating a range of sneakers for men, women, and kids. And according to the entrepreneurs behind Veja, any celebrity endorsements are less important than the brand mission they had in mind in the beginning and have never compromised on. They deliberately grew slowly and they are keeping it small. They have shops located in New York City, Paris, and Bordeaux, and are notoriously selective about stockists.
No one with access to social media, TV, radio or printed media in the last 10 years could have missed the Ice Bucket Challenge when it took off in 2014. And though it hasn’t hit quite the same viral reach since then, it remains the exemplar of a campaign idea.
A brand of a different kind than the product-focused companies on this list, the American nonprofit organization, the ALS Association, funds global ALS research and provides services and programs to those affected by the disorder. The challenge they set was simple – it asked nominated participants to film themselves having a bucket of ice water poured over their head, share it on social media, and in turn nominate someone to do the same. Striking the right emotional chord and leveraging social media to its best use, it harnessed the perfect combination of entertainment, personalization, mass appeal, and low barriers to entry.
As a result of the campaign, aside from a big uptick in donations to the cause, the association also saw an increase in its number of award nominations and wins, and more opportunity to collaborate globally.
Next on the list is a brand name many will have seen on the high street and in luxury department stores around the world, Aesop Skincare. While it can’t really be classed as a small brand anymore, the distinguished brand did come from humble beginnings, and even as it’s grown exponentially has maintained an exclusive, artisan feel in every single store around the globe.
Known for bringing architecture and interior design into its brand identity just as much as for its evocative product descriptors like herbaceous and woody, Aesop sets the benchmark in luxury branding with modern design.
It brings its visual brand to its ingredient selection, product designs and copywriting, store fitouts, communications, and everything else it touches – to the extent that its brand awareness is so high, the ‘Aesop aesthetic’ can stand alone from even its own products. It’s not easy to achieve this level of cohesion, but there are branding tips out there that can help.
True to the Aesop brand, you’ll never find sales and discounts here, either.
Another Australian skincare brand doing all the right things in the space is Go-To Skincare. While a much smaller and younger brand than Aesop, there is one thing that sets this brand’s content marketing strategy apart and makes it memorable to customers: its copywriting.
The copywriting this brand uses is the backbone of its customer experience. Quirky written messaging starts on the website, continues through on all email communications (including any order confirmations and delivery updates), and finishes on the product itself via the instructions. It’s even on the packaging your products come in.
Front and center for the brand is excitement, realness, and a little bit of silliness – but it also never loses sight of the customer and what they’re expecting from the product. This brand deliberately addresses pain points and offers up fun, no-nonsense solutions.
The Sill started with a simple proposition: to deliver plants to New Yorkers. Founded in 2012, the company has seen massive growth – especially through the pandemic – as people turn to improving and greenifying their home spaces. The business now has several locations across Manhattan and Brooklyn, and has expanded beyond New York to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston.
What The Sill does particularly well is make plants personal, with clever product categorization and product names. If you’re a beginner plant parent? No problem. Have a pet? They have a curated selection for you. Accompanying this simple personalization is a holistic marketing strategy that includes a ‘Plant Parent Club’, hands-on workshops, a Plant Care Library, and a blog – so when you purchase from The Sill you’re not just getting a plant, but a hobby.
Tony’s Chocolonely is a chocolate manufacturer that’s committed to making chocolate that’s 100% slave free. The Dutch chocolate company is unlike most other edible products out there, in that it gives as much weight to its brand mission as it does to selling chocolate bars, through interactive marketing focused on the message rather than the product. One example of this is their ‘design your own wrapper’ option, aimed at the gift market (but think ‘new home’, ‘best teacher’ and ‘be an activist’ as well as the usual wedding gifts and happy birthdays).
Going further than this and wearing its heart on its sleeve, Tony’s Chocolonely also uses brand activism and immersive experiences (both branding trends we’re seeing in 2022) to elevate the brand to be more than just another confectionary brand. For example, the UK and Ireland branches of the company recently set out on a ‘Tony’s tour’, using slogans like ‘raise the bar’ as they promoted the cause at pop-ups around the UK.
So there we have it: 10 small brands that, for a range of reasons, are making a big impact in the space they play in. Though they all offer different products or services – from consumables to skincare and fashion, to research – what they have in common is a clear idea of who they are and what they stand for.
Once you’ve distilled what this is for your own brand, you can start looking to build effective branding around your own personality and ethos. Remember to always play to your strengths – you might have a great customer base sharing images like Lucy and Yak, or benefit from a direct email marketing overhaul like Stone & Wood. So look at what you’ve got, and take inspiration from brands that are already doing it well. Happy branding!
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