29 May 2018
You have a great product. You have a fantastic startup, a great team, enough seed money, and a good idea of where you want to go, but there is one thing blocking your way to success: no one knows anything about it or you! Branding for startups, a crucial part of your business plan and the most effective way to win customers, is often overlooked by new entrepreneurs starting out. It is all too easy to get wrapped up in the technical specs and logistics of your startup to see that you need to get the word out!
Thinking about a branding strategy for your startup will help you sail over this hurdle and sprint to the finish line. Branding is not only about advertising and marketing, but it is about establishing your identity. If you have spent time and money and effort to give life to your startup, you have to make sure everyone shares your dream, “gets” it, and understands it on both a rational and emotional level. Let these 10 tips help spark your thinking about branding and your startup!
People are Not Rational!
The first thing you have to remember in branding your startup is that it is not about the reasons – it is about the feeling. Remember that people are not rational in their buying decisions, and they finally click the checkout button because they “feel” that it is right. Is your startup accounting service software? In that case, think about who will buy it. A family decision-maker needs to connect you with the feeling of financial security for his or her family. Once you have them in that frame of mind, then they are more likely to listen to your 16 practical reasons to buy.
ASK YOURSELF: Who is my target? What do they need to feel about my product or service? Love, friendship, trust, freedom from fear? All of them? Think about Coca-Cola. They are selling belonging and happiness, not flavored sugar water.
A Brand is Like a Friend
Do you trust your friends? The answer is most likely yes – otherwise, they would not really be your friends, right? A brand is no different. Brands need to be trusted first and foremost. When you are launching a startup, it is all the more important to let people get to know you. Tell your story. Tell them about the mistakes you made as well as the successes you achieved. A brand engenders trust when we can identify with it and relate its story to our own. If you are launching a startup pet care service, tell the story of your first dog, Chester. Make us care!
ASK YOURSELF: Is there some part of your story that might be a little embarrassing but that will endear you to your customers? Is there an anecdote that shows your character (or the character of your startup) in a relatable way? That’s your brand!
Your Startup is the Brand, Not You
This is important! Remember that your startup is separate from you and has its own life, its own character, and its own personality. Because it was your idea and you put it all together, of course, you are part of the brand – but make sure you do not talk about yourself. Branding your startup is about giving it real human dimensions. Let's say that you start up a Sales Consulting business. The personality of your consultancy is different from yours – it may be steady and trustworthy while you are excitable and flamboyant. Or the other way around! Your startup's branding strategy should identify the kind of customer you want, and then you can match your business to it. Uber, for example, is not about transportation. It is about the freedom to choose. It is about personalization. It is about convenience.
ASK YOURSELF: What do my customers think about themselves? What kind of personalities do they have? And how will my startup “match” with them? Think about The Gap. Gap customers think of themselves as smart, down-to-earth, and have a lot of common sense. And when they walk into The Gap, they feel like the brand speaks directly to them!
It’s All About Action
How many times have you read a corporate mission statement from a startup? Not too many, because startups have to show what they can do more than tell what they think. Make your texts all about action – stories that show your startup motion, solving the customer’s problems and getting the job done. Use a lot of dynamic verbs and avoid the passive mood. If your startup is all about helping companies maximize their efficiency in hiring new employees, don’t tell us about it – show how it works. Introduce us to Helen whose only job is to find diamonds in the rough. Don’t start out (like many big boring companies) by saying “we are committed to excellence…” but instead show what your commitment looks like!
ASK YOURSELF: What are the real-life situations in which you can show your startup working? Is it an app? Let’s see it in action, solving problems, finding solutions, and how it makes us feel when it works! Nike is not committed to excellence. Nike is about you and being your best self.
Keep It Simple
Oftentimes, innovation can be confusing to potential consumers and customers. If your startup is working with innovation in any field, it is extremely important that you speak the language of your customers. They need to know what you know – that your solution is the best around! The risk in this is becoming too technical and too wrapped up in details that do not actually help the customer understand. From a branding perspective, you do not need your customers to be experts; you need them to be believers. Imagine what would have happened in the 1970s if Xerox had tried to "explain" their first fax machine? Instead, they showed us – simple and effective!
ASK YOURSELF: How much of the technical detail do people really need to know to understand your innovative product? Is there a way you can show them without delivering a lecture on advanced physics? Rayban does not sell protective eyewear designed primarily to prevent bright sunlight and high-energy visible light from damaging or discomforting the eyes – they sell cool! And it is ok for your eyes too!
Got a Good Name?
Names and naming for startups is another extremely important aspect of branding. The name you choose does not have to have a deep philosophical meaning, but it should be somehow related to your business, it should be short, and easy for your target customers to pronounce. If they cannot say it, they will have a hard time remembering it! The word apple, after all, has nothing to do with computing. But IBM, on the other hand, is a direct acronym for International Business Machines. Apple customers, from the beginning, were young and open-minded and the unconventional name was perfect for them. IBM, on the other hand, appealed to businesses, to older and more mature customers. The solid name IBM still sounds like a corporate giant.
ASK YOURSELF: What kind of name will your customers respond to? Do they like the imaginative, the literal, the name of a person? Law firms are often called by the partners’ names, like Crane, Poole, and Schmidt. But when ice cream does it too, it can be very memorable: Ben and Jerry’s.
How Do You Stack Up?
When creating a branding strategy for your startup, it is a good thing to take a long hard look at the competition before you start. It does not matter if you have competition – on the contrary, competition will help drive interest in your startup – but it does matter that you look and sound different from the others. If your startup is an event planning service, look at the competition and be different. Use different colors, tell your own stories, and highlight all the ways you are unique. Maybe you could invent something new just for the purpose – like edible invitations, for example!
ASK YOURSELF: If you are doing the exact same thing in the exact same way as everyone else, why are you in business? Dig deep and pull out all the reasons people should choose you over the others and make that part of your brand. Pringles potato chips took the market by storm in 1975 because they were the only stackable, uniform size chip. Useful? Who knows – but it stood out!
Color My World
The science of colors and what they mean is complicated and there are many schools of thought about the real meanings. When you are branding your startup, however, you should think about colors. Primary colors (red, blue, yellow) are strong and stand out well. Red tends to indicate power and speed and yellow happiness. Whatever you choose, make sure it is a color that looks good and, like choosing a name, simple to remember. If you are using more than one or two colors in your logo or your company material, it will be complicated for customers to remember. Think Marlboro, McDonald's, Formula One – all we think of is red.
ASK YOURSELF: Have you chosen a color for a reason or just because you liked it? Is there any color associated with your business (i.e., water-blue, ecology-green, or bubblegum-pink)? There is no need to go with the conventional – only a need to consider your decision.
Logo or No Logo?
There is a really good reason why “logo” is all the way near the bottom of this list of branding tips for startups. The reason is that a logo is not the most important part of your branding. If, however, you would like a logo or feel that you need one, then make sure you choose something easy to remember and replicate. Many services do not use logos at all, while most products do. Getting a good graphic designer to think about your logo is always a good idea – it helps avoid clichés or overused symbols and provides an outside viewpoint. Remember it is not the logo that speaks about your brand, the logo is only a signpost that points to it!
Branding is a process – it takes time for people to really get to know you and you need to be patient with them while they do. That certainly does not mean you do nothing! As people are getting to know your startup through its brand, you should look for ways to keep putting it forward. You could write blogs about it, or try guest blogging. You could open a Facebook page. But patience is important because the temptation to speed it up with tricks or gimmicks could damage your brand! It is your startup and you have taken the time to give it a specific brand, so now is the time to stay true to its values and personality.
ASK YOURSELF: What could you do to help customers get to know you better? Events? Promotions? Advertising? And ask yourself also of it is in line with the brand. Lasting brands are the ones who stay true to themselves.
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