Branded for Life – 5 Things You Should Know Before Branding Your Startup
“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is —
it is what consumers tell each other it is.”
Sound familiar? If you are reading this you’ve probably heard or read something like that before, maybe in a Forbes article or an interview with a top marketing exec or even a book entitled ‘How to Build a Billion Dollar Business in 2 Steps.’ It’s advice which is both helpfully instructive and hopelessly unattainable for a startup.
When you start from point zero, often all you have is your story to tell or your promise to keep or your commitment to deliver – and, of course, your unbelievably limited funds and resources to do it. You build your brand on these foundations and you hope and often pray you have done all the research and testing you can in the time that you have…
And you agree that shouting your message in a crowded office space while holding up a cluster of new amazing feature releases is in no way comparable to a colleague quietly telling another colleague to use a service because the experience is awesome. You get it.
And you know your brand is more than your colour palette.
Taking an idea from concept to reality is a journey littered with small battles, big wins, big setbacks and most often compromise. And nowhere is compromise more apparent in a startup team than when it comes to branding.
So here are 5 things you need to know before embarking on your own branding journey.
- You need a value proposition first …
If you think you can build a strong brand without a strong value proposition you are setting off with your hands tied behind your back. Whether you create yours through word clouds, storyboards or simply writing it down on a shared word document you need to nail the reasons why your business, your services, your customer experience is the best fit for your stakeholders.
Great brands represent a set of values – values which instill customers with emotion or feeling. They mean something. They aren’t just a logo and they are not just a slogan.
Understand what your business value is and build a brand on top of that.
- You need an MVB (minimum viable brand) and the assets that go with it.
Having gone in with the big guns to begin with let’s also talk design practicality. You need to know what you need to launch with and how long you are willing to wait.
You know that your brand is much more than your logo or brand mark, your typography or colour palette but when you are working with, or funding, a designer to make your brand a reality – speak in actionable language too.
- How many versions of the logo to you need? Black and white, colour, stacked, horizontal?
- Do you have a limit on colour variations or any ‘no-gos?’
- Do you need assets branded for launch – supportive collateral, social imagery, business cards?
- If you are outsourcing design can you itemise the cost of branding and any ongoing support?
Branding can be an expensive and drawn out process. You and your team need to set out from the start what you are comfortable launching as a 1.0 and the funds and resource available to do this.
- Milestones. Set them, miss them, wave goodbye to them in the pouring rain, but have them.
It may be obvious given the last point but you need milestones during the branding process. Sit down with your team and start mapping these out early on. Talk about how comfortable you are ‘waiting for’ or ‘developing’ the brand. Bring your developers or technical team to the table too, and if you have investment – investors as well. The more buy-in you have for milestones the more likely you are to hit them.
Can you pause a launch date because the marketing team haven’t found that perfect slogan or colour background – while your technical team are itching to launch the beta to gather invaluable data?
Do scenario testing and question yourselves. What are you willing to wait for, what is the market likely to do, what can you afford to do?
Your brand may change and evolve – it may stay the same (though unlikely). Getting into good and realistic milestone habits sets you up for a more productive and healthier brand future.
- Prepare to severely dislike each other during the process and talk about it when you’re drinking
Branding is subjective and often driven by individual opinion. Don’t expect everyone to love the brand you end up with. In fact, expect to reach points in the branding process where you do not understand the perspective of your counterparty.
If you accept this going into the process you are less likely to be surprised when your idea isn’t the one everyone loves or wants plastered all over the product.
Find a method which works for the team to provide constructive feedback and move forward. Create anonymous polls, set face to face brainstorming sessions, elect a ‘trusted’ arbitrator.
While disagreement is to be expected if you want to meet your milestones and best represent your value proposition create communication mechanisms to achieve effective and useful compromise.
And if you’re in the pub together discuss the brand before the third beer.
- It probably already exists in some form, somewhere.
This may be the least useful thing to know before branding your business but it’s worth throwing into the mix anyway. It also neatly brings us back to our starting quote.
Thousands upon thousands of brands have been created over the decades, they have evolved, dissolved, changed ownership and changed shape. At some point, somewhere in the world, someone may have replicated your brand or they may go on to replicate your brand – you or they probably won’t even know it.
The point is that in the process of creating your brand you learn about your proposition, your customers, your customers’ customers, your team and your future. And all of this moves you a step closer to understanding how to elevate, move forward and further with your business.
Some other company out there can stand in the same crowded office space and shout with the same shape on their logo as yours or a similar slogan plastered on their brochure but because you’ve built a brand based on more than that, and you have done it practically and together as a team, it will be your business’ name that is talked about.