Preview: "Building a Big Small Business Brand" by Dan Antonelli

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How to turn your brand into your most valuable asset.


How to turn your brand into your most valuable asset.

How to turn your brand into your most valuable asset.


Copyright ©2013, Dan Antonelli • Graphic D-Signs, Inc. • Graphic D-Signs, Inc. 279 Route 31 South • Suite 4 Washington, NJ 07882 Twitter: @dan_antonelli; @graphicdsigns All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without written permission from the publisher. All logos, trademarks, or registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Designed and printed in America. SignCraft Publishing Co. Inc. P.O. Box 60031 Fort Myers, FL 33906 Library of Congress Control Number: 2013934082 ISBN 9780988353909 Cover design: Jeffrey Devey and Joan Olkowski Art direction and layout: Joan Olkowski Editor: Shannon Peddicord First Edition

Table of Contents








Introduction: What is a brand and why do you need one?


01 Why a brand is so important to your business.


02 Why your brand is your most important asset.


03 Building a better brand than your competitors.


04 Standing out or fitting in. Choose wisely.


05 Different approaches to small business branding.


06 Selecting a branding firm or designer to build your brand.


07 Working with your design team.


08 When is it time to build a better brand?


09 Types of logo designs and models.


10 Naming, taglines, and the promise of your brand.




12 Brands in action: A collection of case studies.



Your new brand in use.

Table of Contents.

Dedication To the businesses who have trusted me and my company to build them a better brand, and allowed me to have a job that I love and am insanely passionate about: thank you for giving me that awesome responsibility. Thanks also for giving me the opportunity to hone my craft in the process, and share your branding success on these pages. To my family: thanks for putting up with my logo obsession and never-ending critiques all these years. And to my wife: thank you for putting up with the long hours and late nights spent in support of the agency, and this book, as well. To my dad: you taught me that good enough never was. Thanks for helping me strive to be better each day. Wish you were still around to see how it has all turned out.

Acknowledgement Since starting my agency 17 years ago, I’ve been blessed to have many close colleagues, employees, friends, and family contribute to my success—both professionally and personally. Here are a few who helped me along the way: To my creative employees at Graphic D-Signs, Inc., who continue to do great work for the small businesses who trust us with their image: thank you for giving it your all. I’d especially like to thank my talented illustrator and designer, Jeff Devey, who has worked for me for over eight years. We make a great team, and this book would not have been possible without your contributions. To my friends at SignCraft Magazine, especially Tom Mciltrot, who also published my first two logo design books and continues to publish my articles after 15 years. Thanks for giving me a platform to preach the power of great small business branding. To my editor, Shannon Peddicord, who took my ideas and drafts and made them sound oh-so-much better. Thanks for putting up with me during the process. You rock. To Joan Olkowski, my art director who designed this book. You took a huge Word document and gave this book life, made it look brilliant, and inspired me to see it through to completion. To the many designers who read my first two logo design books and thanked me for helping them better their craft: I appreciate your emails and am so happy the books have helped you. Many before me have given back by sharing their knowledge, and I firmly believe in the responsibility of sharing what you know so it can help others. To the design community that continues to recommend my books on various design forums: thank you for your support.




It was over 17 years ago when, while working as a graphic designer, I had the idea of building a small advertising agency that focused on the needs of small businesses. Having worked in the sign industry from age 15 through college, I already had experience helping small businesses. Many of those business owners had not been exposed to the concept of building a brand identity; they just wanted sign or truck lettering. Often, the layout we designed for their vehicle or sign became the foundation of their logo. Soon we’d see that design on their t-shirts, business cards, and other applications. We helped to build that small business brand, and it was fun for me to see our work in use. With the senior year of high school upon me, I had decided to be a fulltime sign painter. I loved creating designs for these small businesses, and I loved lettering—especially typography. But my parents thought I needed to get a degree, so I headed to the University of Scranton to study advertising and communications. I graduated in 1992 and began a career as a graphic designer for a large insurance company. The work was good, but I missed working with small businesses. I knew from experience that small businesses were tremendously underserved when it came to advertising and marketing, and that branding was lacking for nearly every small business I had seen. Nothing was coordinated. I thought, “What if I could do that for them?” In 1995, while still working full time, I opened Graphic D-Signs, Inc. in the basement of my home. My main goal was to begin with logo design and apply that logo to everything a small business needed for their marketing. We’d coordinate stationery, brochures, vehicles, signs, and uniforms. We’d make them look bigger. (Incidentally, an early company tagline was ‘We make small businesses look big.') A few years later, we became involved with web design. Nearly all the work we did for small businesses began with their logo. I studied everything I could about logos, becoming obsessed with logo design and its importance in the small business sector. I realized how critical it was to small business success, and preached its importance to my clients. In 1997, my work gained the attention of SignCraft Magazine, and they wrote a four-page profile about me. Making it into the pages of that prestigious magazine had been a dream of mine since I was 13. So began a long relationship with the folks at SignCraft. I began to write articles for them in 1998, and in 2000 they published my first book, Logo Design for Small Business. In 2004, my follow-up book, Logo Design for Small Business 2, was published. So here I am, 17 years later. I’ve been involved in the design and creation of over 750 small business brands. I no longer work in the basement, and am blessed to have a 14-person design agency with insanely talented people. Our tagline, ‘The Small Business Advertising Agency®,’ really says it all.


Building a Big Small Business Brand: Dan Antonelli

As an agency, we are obsessed with our clients’ brands. I often remind clients that no one will care more about their brands than we do. After all, each brand is our baby. Something we built. Each one is special and significant to us. We live for the sense of pride we feel when we see our logos properly implemented—and watch that translate into brand strategy and business success for our clients. The needs of small businesses have not changed at all since I started the firm, and, one might argue, are even more important today. If you’re a business owner reading this book, I hope you’ll gain a better understanding of why your brand is not only your most important asset, but a critical component in your success. My experience has proven, time and time again, that most small businesses miss the opportunity to brand themselves. It’s sad to see, because I know that if they built a better brand, they’d build a better business. For countless business owners we’ve spoken with who exclaim, “We don’t need a logo!”, I want to shake them out of their stupor and educate them about why they DO need a logo and a brand. And for the businesses who have built brands with us, we’ve proven this simple fact: a better brand builds a more successful business. Of the 750+ brands we have created, 90 percent are still in business today. Not bad, if you consider the typical small business failure rate of 50 percent. I’ve been fortunate enough to see firsthand the impact of a quality brand on a small business’s bottom line. I know how big of a difference it can make. For the designers reading this book, I hope it helps you understand how critical your job is when small businesses count on you to build their brands. It is a responsibility you should never take lightly. One last note: If you’re expecting to see a book on branding dealing with a lot of empirical research, impressive marketing terms, or bogus advertising jargon, you’re not going to find any of that here. This is meat n’ potatoes stuff. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and talk about the realities of small business branding, and leave all the pie-in-the-sky, imaginary ‘brand’ discussions for those textbooks dealing with corporate and Fortune 500 branding. We’re getting down to basics. We’re showing you how to build a small business brand that will help you crush competitors, increase sales, and serve as an asset that’s worth something, should you decide to sell your business.

Ready to go? Let’s build some brands!



intro What is a brand and why do you need one?


Building a Big Small Business Brand: Dan Antonelli

Without a foundation, there can be no brand. As I’ve studied the fine art of branding over the last two decades, I have developed a more evolved understanding of the power of a great brand. I have also learned why it’s so important for a small business. In the early stages of my career, I considered a brand to be little more than the logo itself, and perhaps some simple integrations of the logo within various applications. But I came to understand that there was more to it than that. And, while most branding experts agree about what branding is, most don’t give the logo portion its proper place in the foundation of a brand. Many years ago, a heating and air contractor had us redesign their existing logo. We created a retro-themed logo with a mascot, which was based loosely on their current brand. We felt the retro theme could be successful in communicating and evoking emotions about the company, such as trustworthiness, craftsmanship, friendliness, and family values. We went on to design every touchpoint imaginable, including stationery, vehicle wraps, website, uniforms, collateral, and billboards, and we used them to reinforce the company’s core qualities. (See page 132 for their case study.) It took about a year to get all of the elements launched, which was done in incremental stages. The last piece was a gorgeous, 16-page sales brochure. We discussed its effect on the sales process, and learned that the company’s close ratio had improved from 50 percent to around 90 percent since distribution began.

Control the message, or be controlled. You can’t control what people might say about you and your company, but you can control what message your brand communicates to them. It’s up to you to establish your talking points. If you don’t, I can assure you, people will do it for you. Chances are, it won’t be a pleasant conversation.

This was great news, and I sat back and marveled at how effective our brochure had been for them. But soon, I began to realize that it wasn’t the brochure that closed sales. It was the brand. People had already seen the website, the trucks, the business cards, and the uniforms. They had received our carefully crafted messaging embedded in every touchpoint, and it had resonated with them. It set this company apart from its competitors, whose brands did not evoke these positive feelings. And it all began with the logo. The logo is what set the stage for everything else. The logo gave us the campaign platform upon which we built our messaging. Without the logo to carry the messaging, there is no platform from which to build the brand. This is where I differ in my approach to brand

Introduction: What is a brand, and why do you need one?


02 Why your brand is your most important asset.


Building a Big Small Business Brand: Dan Antonelli

The foundations of your brand. When talking with clients about the importance of their brand in the grand scheme of their marketing and advertising efforts, I remind them that branding is to success as a proper foundation is to a solid house. Just like construction, a foundation is critical for building the parts of a small business brand. So, starting with the basic examination of a client’s logo: if it’s not a good logo to begin with, subsequent work lands on shaky ground due to that poor foundation. As an agency, we basically have two choices: explain why your logo is weak and convince you to build a proper foundation for your advertising, or do the best we can with a weak existing brand. Unfortunately, this leaves us hamstrung from the beginning. There isn’t a designer or agency on this planet who'd prefer the second option. Most want a fresh start—because a poor brand is ultimately going to hamper their ability to do the job they are being hired to do in the first place. It’s easy to understand the owner’s apprehension about acquiring a new brand. Quite often, they may have come to the designer with a request that has nothing to do with their company’s logo. Perhaps they need a website or brochure, and the designer suggests that they consider a new logo, as well. Often, no one has told them their logo needs work. Most have dealt with vendors who are more than happy to help them buy ad space, print stationery, or otherwise use their advertising dollars—because these vendors generally aren’t interested in what the company’s logo looks like. It’s not their job.

Building for the future. If you remember only one thing about your brand, it should be that it’s the foundation for every touchpoint and customer experience as you conduct business. In the absence of a strong branding foundation, nothing that follows is solid. It’s like swimming upstream or attempting to build a house without footings. In the case of Specialty Gardens, I expect them to be a premium landscape company because I can tell that a great deal of care has been put into their branding foundation.

So, when a designer suggests a new logo, are they just trying to upsell you— or do you really need one? What is it about the current brand that doesn’t work? It is important to consider this and respect the advice of a reputable agency or designer. They’re really trying to help by giving your business a solid foundation to build upon so they can effectively complete the work you need.

02 Why your brand is your most important asset.


Nostalgic or Retro Approach Probably my personal favorite branding strategy for small businesses is a nostalgic or retro approach. As a designer, it’s fun to imagine what today’s brands might have looked like if they were launched 50 or 75 years ago. This brand strategy often works well in service businesses. Nostalgic brands emanate feelings of authenticity and reliability. They also feel more established, and to a certain degree, instill a feeling of personal service that perhaps was indicative of the period. I wasn’t born yet, so I can’t really say if businesses in the 40s, 50s, or 60s really did provide a higher level of service than companies today. But people seem to believe that they did, so why not capitalize on that perception? So as we spoke about the “promise of the brand” in the last chapter, retro branding sets a tone that reflects that promise of trustworthiness, reputability, and craftsmanship. If your company actually does have roots going back to the mid-century, it’s important to emphasize that historical fact. By its very nature, a 40- or 50year-old company must be more stable than a company that’s only a few years old. Why not build a brand around that nostalgia? Of course, if you’re selling a high-tech product, you want to look modern and up-to-date—so a retro brand may not be the way to go. But perhaps you’re a tailor, an established bakery, or old-school food establishment. As a consumer, I want to enjoy the quality, craftsmanship, and personal attention people used to receive. I believe that these were true traits of the time period, even if it is just my sense of nostalgia that wants them to be real. When you see a company whose image harkens back to the day where service and personal attention were the cornerstones of American small business philosophy, you’ve got that warm-blanket feeling.


Building a Big Small Business Brand: Dan Antonelli

The retro push also works great for businesses with negative industry connotations. This may include service businesses like heating and air conditioning contractors, builders, electricians, plumbers, etc. When you present audiences with a brand that speaks to their emotions and comforts their apprehensions, you’ve got a recipe for success. On a subliminal level, the retro image helps people believe “this guy is going to take care of me.” We’ve launched several very successful retro-based brand strategies for different service businesses, and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. They really resonate with consumers, and the success of these campaigns has had our agency recommending that strategy frequently for businesses in similar sectors. Another reason I think the approach works so well is that it’s not mainstream, yet. When you look at the current brand strategies for many small businesses, there aren’t many companies deploying a retro-themed approach to their brand messaging. This fact, in itself, is one reason it becomes more memorable. If the overall goal of a small business brand is to stand out and not fit in, retro is a great way to go.

Duct Dudes. Warm, friendly, and ready to clean your ducts. That’s what this retro brand communicates. They also appear large, perhaps even like a franchise. The character is memorable, and the company has been very successful using the brand across media—including branded t-shirts and other giveaways. Their website serves to reinforce the brand experience as well, and avoids the common ‘scare tactic’ approach prevalent within this industry.

Testimonial. I can say unequivocally that my branding has had a huge impact on my business. My logo makes me stand out from all of my competition, and my website and stationery are unmatched. I am constantly getting compliments on my business cards, website—and Ductee, the air duct character. The name and brand work in perfect harmony with one another, and make it very hard for people to forget who we are. Thomas Lachowicz President, Duct Dudes

05 Different approaches to small business branding.


Main Street Heating & Cooling Creating an HVAC brand that transcends mainstream competition.

Deliverables. • • • • • • •

Logo branding Copywriting Brochure design & printing Web design Search engine optimization Stationery design Vehicle advertising & fleet design • Advertising strategy

Main Street Heating & Cooling was founded on over a decade of HVAC experience. They believe great service should be a given, and are insistent upon bringing customers the best in HVAC quality. To ensure their marketing supported their business model, the Main Street team reached out to us for branding and marketing expertise. Since service is often considered a lost art, it was refreshing to see this Salt Lake HVAC company go the extra mile for their customers. We wanted to do the same for them. Based on their traditional values and old-fashioned customer service approach, we designed a retro-themed brand that reinforced this unique service philosophy. Then, we integrated the new brand identity into their stationery, vehicle wraps, collateral, and website to tell the whole story of Main Street Heating & Cooling. The end result: a strong brand and marketing tools that crush the Salt Lake market!

Testimonial. I was a startup company, and I knew that brand recognition would be critical in an industry that relies on heavy marketing and strong customer awareness. If you don’t stand out, you do not succeed. I needed a logo and a brand created by a professional team, and understood this was not an area to cut corners. “You get what you pay for,” kept going through my mind. Money is always tight in a startup; every dollar is so precious that it’s hard to part with. To make a long story short, I have the best website in my market. My vans stand out better than anyone else, my logo gets burned into people’s minds, and customers are happy to see us. We are storming this market, and our success hinged on what the new brand image has done for us (and continues to do). Sure, we work hard and do what we say we are going to do, but without being noticed in the market we wouldn’t even have a chance. I cannot say how happy I am with the investment I made in our branding. It is simply awesome! Doug Sheneman President, Main Street Heating & Cooling


Building a Big Small Business Brand: Dan Antonelli

12 Brands in action: A collection of case studies.



We began this book with the premise that 95 percent of small businesses have a poor brand. That means that only one out of every 20 businesses may embrace the power of branding and integrate it well. Since you now understand more about what makes a great brand, it will be much easier to recognize companies that understand and employ those principles. As you look for quality brands in the marketplace, I doubt your observation will yield anything truly inspiring. I challenge you to drive through town, open the Yellow Pages, or go online and do a search for any type of business— and see if you can find the five percent minority. For those of you who are successful without that great identity, congratulations! But, I want you to consider my quote, “Success in spite of a poor identity is not a valid reason to perpetuate it.” Is that your business I’m describing? Where might you be with a great brand? How much more successful could you have been? With nearly 1,000 small business brands we’ve helped create over the last two decades, I know firsthand what happens when we give clients the right tools. Their businesses grow and prosper. They enjoy a greater influx of warm leads, and they’re able to close more sales at higher price points. They stand out from the clutter littering the marketplace. They have a brand promise that connects them with customers in a way competitors can’t even begin to understand. Never underestimate what that first impression can do for your bottom line. With so many businesses deploying a brand strategy (if you can call it that) that elicits a negative or neutral impression, this is your chance to really stand out and set a high level of expectation. It’s your opportunity to blend or emerge from the crowd. Think of the time saved trying to explain how your service is exceptional to new customers, when a healthy brand image can do the talking for you. When you choose to build a great brand and exploit the brand weaknesses inherent in your competitive landscape, you’re choosing to embrace your most important strategic asset. It’s one of the smartest decisions you can make to spur and sustain growth for your small business. Most of our clients, who now know the power of their branding, tend to become ‘brand snobs’ themselves. They really take notice of what’s vying for their attention; what stands out, and what fits in. And they mock their competitors’ feeble attempts at building a brand. Awesome. Mission accomplished. My work here is done.


Building a Big Small Business Brand: Dan Antonelli


You can follow the small business antics of our agency via the following channels. Feel free to reach out to us! We’d love your feedback.


Reviews “As a business owner, author, and Certified Nutrition Consultant, I know first-hand how challenging it is to manage a marketing plan while keeping up with dayto-day business tasks. Dan’s book contains solid tips that simplify this process and demystify the branding strategies that elude so many businesses. In addition, he provides a sound rationale for hiring a marketing partner that will take your branding as seriously as you do.”

“For many small businesses, branding is the last thing owners ever think about. It’s just not what we do. If you follow Dan’s advice, you’ll be capable of creating a memorable brand and image that big businesses (Fortune 500 companies) spend countless resources on. This book helps you manage your branding at a level most professional businesses can never achieve.” Marco Giancroce Morevent Heating, Cooling & Plumbing

Diane Sanfilippo Balanced Bites, NYT bestselling author

“Dan’s new book contains some of the most innovative and visually inspiring work in this industry, with a clear and engaging message that easily helps you understand the necessity that is Small Business Branding. The book solidifies the core elements of our business, and reinforces the message and process that we have spent 30 years conveying to our clients.” Rich Dombey Owner & Creative Director, Rich Designs, Inc.

“This book belongs in the hands of every small business owner serious about beating their competition and becoming more successful than ever imagined. Building a Big Small Business Brand shows how—with real-world examples and plenty of eye candy to make it worth reading over and over again. It also belongs in the hands of every graphic designer, since it provides the tools to help communicate to their clients the everincreasing importance of branding.”

“I am a small service business entrepreneur of over a decade and a half. Having survived the recent recession without layoffs and mostly staying in the black, I considered myself lucky and well-skilled in great customer service and business sense. It wasn’t until this year that I came to the realization that our homespun clip art logo and poor branding had been holding back our growth since the day we opened our business. A survey revealed that 45 percent of people in our rural town who had not used our services did not know who we were. Our new truck wrap design was turning into extreme frustration, and I saw our logo— which I thought was unique—on a bail bonds company! Talk about an eye opener! Dan’s new book, Building a Big Small Business Brand, is invaluable to new and seasoned entrepreneurs alike. The proven concept of building a brand around a memorable, unique logo—especially in small business—is priceless. My only regret is waiting for 16 years before being educated by Dan and his book. This is a must-read for potential and existing small business owners. I just hope my competitors don’t get wind of this!”

Glenn Taylor

Lamont Goldstein

Owner, ChromaGraphics

Owner, All American Plumbing, Heating & Cooling

“Dan’s passion for small business clearly shines through in Building a Big Small Business Brand. His focus on image, identity, and professional insight for small business is a true asset for all business owners. It’s clear that with the right image and brand identity, any small business can compete with the big guys.” Steven Goldstein Small Business Consultant

The Demonstrated Way to

Dominate Your Industry. A professional logo serves as a solid foundation for your brand: conveying expertise, delivering a brand promise, and creating an expectation for quality. In today’s cluttered marketplace, the importance of your small business brand cannot be underestimated—yet most small businesses put little time and money into developing their company’s logo and branding strategy. In this book, Dan Antonelli provides straight talk for small business owners as he sheds light on your company’s biggest asset: your brand. Learn industry secrets for selecting and working with a reputable design team, creating a logo that stands out, promoting your brand promise, and building a small business brand that outshines competitors. And, if you’ve enjoyed business success in spite of a mediocre logo, this book encourages you to rethink the power of a professional brand and its impact on your bottom line.

About Dan Antonelli Dan Antonelli has over 20 years’ experience in small business logo design and marketing strategy. As CEO and Creative Director of Graphic D-Signs, Inc., The Small Business Advertising Agency®, he has helped nearly one thousand small businesses develop a branding foundation that has driven their growth and success. A proven industry force, Graphic D-Signs has won over 150 design awards and has been published in dozens of magazines and trade publications. This is Antonelli’s third book. His previous works include Logo Design for Small Business I and II.

US $29.95 US / $34.95 CAN

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