Entrepreneurs invest a lot of time, energy and money into launching their startup. The hours are fueled with excitement, anxiety, and a sense of urgency to launch and generate revenue before running out of seed capital. The marketplace is filled with competition, hence the need for a startup to differentiate; and this is where branding comes in.

Branding: the Customer Experience

Branding is as crucial to a business’s success as having a vision, good employees or financial homogeneity; it is the foundation upon which lies a company’s communication. A mistake that some startups make is to spend much time perfecting the business, while allocating little time and resources to such an important step. Once the strategy and goals of a startup are well defined, companies should start branding.

Branding should precede and prepare the ground for any marketing effort. Marketing may contribute to a brand, but the latter is the basis; it is what remains in the minds of people as they associate with your product, service, or company. Marketing finds and activates buyers, but branding creates loyalty.

Your brand is the experience you deliver to your customers. Brand experience is a good place to start, before creating brand identity and awareness. You may approach your branding process from a design thinking point of view, with the customer experience in mind, then gather feedback, adapt, iterate, and repeat until the brand resonates well with the target. By receiving customer feedback, resources can then be utilized as a way to improve what customers care about, rather than be wasted on items of little value. Focusing on brand identity, while neglecting brand experience, is rather pointless.

Setting Your Startup Apart

Many entrepreneurs fail to recognize the essence of their own company, which results in a poor identity for their brand. While many view branding as costly, what they may fail to notice is that the lack of proper branding is even costlier; a startup cannot afford not to differentiate. Your brand is your key value expressed and communicated, distinguishing you from other companies. The essence of branding is not merely a logo, slogan and color choice, but the psychology behind your business, and its connection to your customers.

There are many ways to set your startup apart. Before going into the details of branding design, let us first take a look at the general approach.

  • Tell Stories
    One way to approach branding is by telling stories; we are naturally wired to listen to stories. They are powerful in evoking emotion and can help create loyalty in the future.
  • Take a Stand
    Your startup should have a mission (wanting to make money is simply not enough); this in turn helps erase the line between cause and marketing.
  • Defy Expectations
    Create a buzz around your product, something that creates some sort of defiance within the existing industry.
  • Great Design
    Focus on making products or experiences that are truly remarkable – the overall user experience is important to succeed.

Designing Your Brand Identity

It is much easier to get a brand design right from the first time, as opposed to fixing it later. Before starting work on a new brand identity, it is helpful to draw up a brand strategy with your graphic designer. After all, your brand is not your product, logo, website, or your name; it is in fact much more than that.

  • Introduce Your Startup
    You should be able to explain what you do in as little words as possible; if you really know your startup, then others, including your designer, will too.  
  • Tell Your Story
    What are your core values and the driving force behind your startup? How will you change the lives of your customers? This will help in creating a strong mission statement.
  • Build a Buyer Persona
    Define your target audience in as much detail as possible. Who are you trying to reach and why? How will you connect to them?
  • Your Name & Logo
    Look into your brand name and choose the words you wish to have in your logo, or slogan, and figure out the tone of voice to be used.
  • Give Examples & Clarify Deliverables
    Show the designer examples of logos and designs you like, and others you do not. Do convey your expectations as to what you want.

Keep in mind that all items, from your logo, to the colors, fonts, images and writing, should come together into a unified and recognizable brand identity. Make sure to have a consistent tone of voice everywhere.

Startups that attempt to build business momentum without a real brand do not make it very far. A brand requires significant research, brainstorming, and development, and must be one of the first priorities when building your startup.  Once the basics are set, consistency must be maintained as you adhere to your own branding standards, across every marketing channel. Your customers need to become familiar with your brand over time, and be offered what you promised to deliver. Your branding will serve as the foundation for countless strategies in the future; do spend time setting things up properly so that you may sustain your startup in the long run. 

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