Suppose you have had an idea for a profitable business. In that case, chances are, you have probably resorted to some freelance site. Or you had a friend with Illustrator draft up a couple of concepts for you as startup branding.
Suppose a startup decided to hire an agency to help them define their brand. They went through several classic exercises. There were questions such as ‘If your organization was a car, what kind of car would it be?‘
At the end of the process, they were given a brand book. It provided guidelines on how they should use our new logo. They received a list of words to include in their product messaging.
The agency also provided a list of potential campaigns. These were supposed to enhance their brand.
On the list were expensive projects such as hiring a celebrity to endorse their app. It also included holding a launch party that served Veuve Clicquot.
They asked how they would measure the return on these activities. They were told that they probably would not get any new customers. This was an investment in their brand.
The campaign suggestions were parked for when they had some spare cash. That day never came.
How crucial is it for early-stage startups to define their brand? What is a brand in the first place?
For this article’s purpose, I will walk you through how to build a startup brand from scratch.
Let us go ahead and get started with an understanding of what branding is.
What is Branding
Branding is a marketing strategy aimed to make people quickly identify a business. It helps them to experience a firm’s products and select them over others.
The strategy involves creating a name, a logo, and other design assets. These are readily identifiable as belonging to the organization.
An organization’s brand has to be an accurate representation of who they are as a business. It should say how you want potential customers to perceive and think about you.
Note that an organization’s brand affects all its stakeholders, including consumers. This helps them distinguish a business’ products and select them over competitor’s ones.
It helps team members define the company’s values and mission. Shareholders can decide which company they feel connected to more.
Why is Branding Important for Startups?
Many startups prefer not to spend their time and money on their branding. They copy their competitor’s identity or current internet trends.
That does not work.
A long-term reliable brand identity system is required to market service.
Gerald Zaltman is a Harvard professor. He has written the book “How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market.” On it, he claims that 95% of customer purchasing decisions are subconscious.
That is why the rational reasons for buying your product over competitor’s one will work only in 5% of the cases. These factors include pricing, features, convenience, etc.
On the other 95%, the customers will be driven by other factors created by your branding. It will be affected by how customers feel about your company.
This also means that competitors may have a broader range of features. They may have better pricing models, more experience in the market, etc.
But excellent branding can motivate a customer’s subconscious to go with your services.
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This is particularly important for startups. They tend to have 1-3 bigger competitors (usually larger corporations). Large firms have more resources, employees, and market knowledge. They can beat the startup if only rational factors are considered.
So, it is true that startups need a strong financial foundation to survive in the long term.
But, startups that do excellent branding work will win. They transmit their missions and objectives and connect well with their buyer personas. They do well in emotional motivations over corporates competing in the same niche.
Focus your attention on building a style guide. It will make all future design projects a breeze.
You may need to design a business card, website, or flyer. Then you will have your logo, color palette, fonts, and usage examples on hand. It will help you to simply plug in and go to the market.
After all, time is of the essence.
Essential Considerations for Startup Branding
Define Your Brand’s Topic
The first step is to define the topic your customers are interested in more.
Your brand topic should be narrow. It will help people have clear opinions. But it should be broad enough that it is not just about your product.
Consider this list of brands and their topics:
Notice how the brand topic is not necessarily the same as the industry. For example, Zappos famously built a brand around customer service. They happen to sell shoes.
Articulate Your Belief System
To help tease out your beliefs, it is often helpful to look at the extremes. This includes both good and bad. You might consider a competitor. Reflect on why their product fails to meet a particular virtue that you believe is important.
You might also consider what an unachievable ‘perfect’ solution might be. Try to uncover ideas that you can strive for in your product.
For example, Zappos believes that the right way to do customer service is to deliver ‘wow’ through service. You may believe this too. Then you probably want to buy your shoes from Zappos.
How to Establish Your Startup Branding
You now know what branding is, why it is so essential, and the whole process of building it. It is now your turn to work on your startup’s brand.
You can follow different paths to get such a branding set up (although it will need to be continuously worked in).
It is not one path or the other, but you can follow a combination of them to get a successful startup brand.
There necessarily is a part of the branding process that you, as the founder, will have to work in most times.
The branding of your company has to include your values, beliefs, objectives, missions, etc. That is the best way to keep it unique and with a strong character.
It is super easy to identify those businesses with a fake “perfect and ideal” image from those who build one that represents the reasons that that company exists & the values of the team’s values.
You may outsource your startup branding process. But you need to be the one with the final decision over the brand created.
Remember Rupert Murdoch’s quote: “our company is a reflection of my thinking.” The branding values cannot be different from the founders and team members.
Approximate Cost: Your Time
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Hire a freelancer
A cost-effective alternative to branding services can be hiring a freelancer. They can help you with specific items of your branding process.
Branding consultants can help you with your brand positioning. Graphic designers will assist with the visual identity part. Web designers & developers with help with your website & app.
Approximate Cost: $100 – $3000
Hire an unlimited design service
An unlimited design service has created this website (and part of the visual identity), the fourth option to get your startup branding done.
These are services you pay every month (tend to cost $300-$1000), and you get as many design tasks as you want to be done.
The unique limit is that they work on one task at a time (if you pay more, you can get 2, 4, or even six tasks at a time in some cases).
When bootstrapping your startup, these services are cost-effective. They can be a cheap way to get a logo, website, and any other design deliverable.
Approximate Cost: $300 – $1000 every month
Hire a startup branding agency
There is a current debate on whether hiring an agency to work on your branding has any sense or not. Those against it claim branding consists of many items and constant work that people cannot do outside the business.
However, many startup branding agencies have been born in the last decade. The practice has become more frequent than ever before.
Some startups prefer to outsource parts of their branding (call it the logo, website, social media look). Others charge these services the whole process listed above.
Do a web search on “startup branding agency.” Pretty sure you will find one that fits well. You may also want to search according to your location, or maybe your startup niche.
Those branding agencies that have worked/generally work with your industry businesses will be a much better fit.
Approximate Cost: $150 – $600 per hour
A marketing campaign is a project. There are a start and end date, specific deliverables, and measurable results. Building a brand is not a project, and you cannot treat it like one.
Building a brand can be more similarly related to growing as a person. You might spend your first five years figuring out who you are and adapting your brand elements as you go.
Your brand will mature over time, develop more traits, quit bad habits, and might even end up being the opposite of what it was when it first started.
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