Five things startups say about branding
The Internet is a wonderful thing. Whether you want to fix an issue with your smartphone camera app, find out how to make hollandaise sauce or add some CSS code used for your website, you're going to find lots of sources that could help answer your questions. Therein also lies the problem, since you'll find different opinions and contradictory advice and none more so than on how to brand your startup venture!
The question of how much to invest in your startup's brand is one of those questions that seems to have a wide divergence of opinion, from those that advise not to bother with your brand until you can count your revenue in six figures, to those that recommend building your brand as square one. However, if you'll permit me to save you some time, much of this apparent argument is just semantics. Some people think that the words brand, branding and brand advertising are synonymous, which often then confuses all the otherwise sensible advice that follows.
Here are five statements on the subject of branding that I've heard from startups over the years and why these can sometimes confuse the job at hand.
1. We don't want to spend a fortune on a logo
Your brand is not your logo. If you have established a startup venture, in whatever form, and are working purposefully to develop it, then you are, in fact, already building your brand. Your brand is the perception of your offering in the minds of your customers and other stakeholders. You may have a logo, a core proposition and some branded assets, such as a website, office signage etc., but your brand is more than all of these things. Your brand reflects everything you say and everything that you do (and a lot of that simply can't be bought).
2. We can't afford to promote our brand
New ventures are normally obsessed with three things: product development, revenue and cash flow. This is healthy and it makes perfect sense that any spend on advertising and marketing promotions should be chosen wisely and prioritise acquisition and customer experience. Funding brand advertising that aims to shape perceptions of your company for the long-term isn't going to be a priority. However, ensuring that your brand is positioned appropriately in everything you say and everything you do, should be.
3. Amazon and Alibaba didn't spend money on a brand design
No, they didn't. But those ventures were started in 1994 and 1999 respectively. The world has moved on. There were just 10,000 websites on the Internet in 1994. Today, there are more than 200 million. As a startup, you probably don't need to spend much on brand design, but you do need to put some thought into it and get some professional design advice. Whatever you spend on the design of your logo, materials, website, app or other assets, your brand is likely to be your first impression on your target customers and so needs to positively reflect your promise, your business value and all your hard work.
4. Brand guidelines are for big companies
This is another question of scale. Big companies need lots of guidelines, templates and standard communications. In general, startups don't. However, simple guidelines to help make sure that your communications are consistent in how they look, what they say and how they say it, can prove to be very valuable, especially when early success stretches resources, oversight and approvals processes. There's nothing that sends out warning signals more effectively - when you're finally starting to achieve your numbers - than messy, out of control communications.
5. We don't advertise enough to need much branding
Most startups don't spend much on advertising. Startup budgets are tight, and your website, messaging, email, social media, highly targeted social ads and the good old telephone will normally prove to be more cost-effective than broader, higher-budget advertising campaigns. For many, it is outreach activities like these that play a key role in building new brands, and that's why ensuring that all of those different communications are consistent, good quality and professionally presented is so important.
Building your startup's new brand is as much about planning, as anything else. You can't know the future, but you can put some effort into future-proofing your brand by aligning it with some of the things that are unlikely to change (eg. your values). You will want to be careful about what you spend on brand design, but with some quality thought and professional advice, you are better equipped to design once and use many times, rather than design once and change many times!
Lastly, if you take the time to develop and refine what it is that your brand stands for, its positioning and how it should be communicated, then your growing team is more likely to embrace and embody your brand. And having your whole team 'on brand' and 'on message' is one of the most powerful brand building campaigns you will ever run.
New startups will want to be careful about what they spend on brand design, but with some quality thought and professional advice, they can lay the groundwork to both elevate their brand and perhaps even save money on future design requirements.