Don’t fly unprepared: 2017 small business branding trends

Did the unpredictability of 2016 leave you dusting off an old Magic 8-Ball? Tea leaves and Ouija Boards can be fun at parties, but they aren’t branding strategists. Don’t fret! We’re here to help you plan ahead for 2017. Sure, there are no guarantees and surprises will happen, but planning is the best way to minimize the unexpected and maximize potential. Opportunities will arise. Here’s our forecast for a few 2017 small business branding trends.  

Consumer Audiences:

  • Millennials, as the largest consumer group, will be the largest target audience with more than 75 million members. This should be about as predictable as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West… but the seasons may have flown by quickly since these little people were in little league. Take a look at the numbers, released by the Pew Research Center.


  • Crowdfunding will surpass venture capital funding. Hold on a minute… you’re probably thinking I thought this post is about branding, not how I generate capital!? It is. Consider for minute: how do you identify your target audiences? Social media platforms and online groups? Crowdfunders are a group (sometimes large) of people (consumers) who have pooled money to fund projects. Where else can you find an identifiable target market that is invested in your brand? When you have crowdfunding, you have a potential audience. Is the perception of 1,000 consumers more reliable than the perception of 3 venture capitalists?
  • It’s worth watching this phenomenon and know what the crowd is supporting, and perhaps giving it a shot with your next product launch!


  • Inboxes will be opened much less this year.
  • Have we gone mad?? A drop in use of email? This Forbes piece points out the rise in collaborative tools that don’t require employees to email each other. Email isn’t dying (yet), but, when inboxes are opened and checked less, an external email is less likely to be seen.
  • What’s that mean for branding? Isn’t how my brand gets communicated a marketing question? Yes… partly. Your visual and verbal identities—part of branding strategy—must consider the tool used to share your brand. If emails are read with less frequency, what will supplement that gap? Will it be video on social media? How does your perception change when you use those platforms? What works for email is unlikely to work as a video script.
  • Your verbal and visual identities must expand across media as your advertising and marketing strategies move into alternative channels.


  • Mobile devices will become the primary point of contact for consumers or, as one commentator describes it, marketing must become mobile-centric. Two years ago, this commentator predicted that a smartphone will be a consumer’s only computer. What’s this mean for branding? How does your visual and verbal identity work on a smartphone? Does the design shift into complete disarray when the phone is rotated? Are images sized to fit? Is text easy to read and easy to scroll? Are opt-in and call-to-action buttons easy to tap? Do pop ups cover the screen and prevent a consumer from even interacting with the site?
  • Fewer desktops will be used for purchasing decisions by consumers. Don’t ignore how your brand is perceived on different mobile devices.


  • Twitter may have shut down Vine, but that doesn’t mean video is on its way out. Conversely, video is becoming essential to crafting an identity, particularly when the video is tied into content that “helps the consumer to feel like they know you better than if they had just read an article.” More than half of consumers now watch an entire video (although that study doesn’t note the length of the video, which is critical to remember).
  • Well-branded online videos are on the rise: are these part of your toolkit?

Targeted Messaging

  • New technologies and marketing strategies are seeking ways to get specific data on individuals, with the goal of helping brands identify target audiences with greater accuracy.
  • Have you heard of beacons? If not, you might wish you still hadn’t. Beacons are devices used by retailers to interact with customers, through their smartphone, while shopping in specific locations. Didn’t know this was a thing? Take a look at this list of 25 retailers using “proximity marketing” in 2016.
  • Another effort is “hyper-local marketing” which can only be successful when knowing your brand’s positioning in a specific community. Rather than worrying about global or national trends, focus on regional or local needs and reputations. Would you market grits as a breakfast food for Bostonians? It’s no different: know your position in multiple, smaller markets, rather than telling the same story to everyone.
  • What do both of these strategies tell us about branding? The improved capacity to gather data and provide targeted messaging means that you have potential access to specific information that helps you accurately identify the most relevant audience. Because you can know your position in different markets, you can see how and when the identity that works for you in Nebraska won’t work in Memphis, Tennessee. Note of caution: understand the nuances of  these approaches and the consent required, or you’ll come across like Big Brother and alienate an otherwise perfect customer.

No forecast is foolproof, but preparation is half the battle. Will our 2017 small business branding trends become big issues? Or will some of these carry forward into 2018? What trends would you add to this list?

If your brand has taken you as far it can go, there’s only one way to take it further. It’s not with a marketing agency. Not with a business coach. Not even a graphic designer.

It makes common sense to hire a branding agency … for branding. And, you can do that in just 2-days with our “Branding Intensive“.