Few things are as critical to business success as establishing a strong brand. And yet, too many startups get it wrong or even skip startup branding entirely. Whether you’re trying to attract venture capital or just ensure that your fledgling business resonates with its audience, a strong, vibrant brand is absolutely crucial. But how do you build one?
First, understand what a brand is. Many entrepreneurs assume that it’s all about the company. In truth, it’s actually about your customers and how they perceive your startup. Remember that consumers make decisions based on many factors that go far beyond features and benefits. Ask yourself, how do you want your customers to perceive your product or service? What emotions do you want them to feel when they see your logo or product? Keep in mind, your brand can change as consumers become more familiar with it through various touchpoints and interactions within the sales funnel.
Your brand can be a deciding factor when customers decide to interact with your company, but only if you take steps to build it. Here are a few tips for building a strong name for your startup.
Define Your Brand Elements
First, you need to define your brand and what it stands for. To do that effectively, you’ll need to answer a few important questions:
- Why is your startup necessary? What does it do better or different than others out there?
- What’s the underlying need your startup addresses and what does that mean to your audience?
- What is the fundamental promise you make to your audience? This isn’t about services or features – it’s about the core value you deliver that makes their lives better.
- How does it feel for a consumer to engage with your brand? Are you casual and laidback? Polished and professional?
- Where do you see your startup in five years, 10 years, and 20 years?
Be Okay With Losing Control
Another important element to brand building is accepting that you will lose control over things. In fact, you have very little control over your brand at all as the company grows beyond the very early stages. While your business might be a reflection of your personality at the very beginning, that may change.
That’s because it’s really about your customers and how they perceive your brand. It’s built out of the customer experience with service personnel, products/services, navigating your website, and every other interaction they have with your business. All you can do is lay the groundwork and make smart decisions that should influence the brand as it develops.
Know Your Audience
Who makes up your audience? Startup marketing and branding efforts must be highly targeted to be effective and that requires a solid understanding of your ideal audience. No company appeals to every demographic, so take the time to determine who you want to target. While researching, answer some basic questions to help flesh out the picture:
- What are your ideal customer’s pain points? What is driving their interaction with your startup?
- What do they want your product or service to achieve?
- When, where, and how do they interact with your brand in the physical and online worlds?
- What are your customer’s interests and how do they talk about them?
Check the Competition
No brand exists in a vacuum and in most niches you’ll have at least a few competitors. Make sure you know what they are doing and how they position themselves. As a startup, you will likely be seen as the challenger—the upstart versus the established brands. How will you position your company in relation to those competitors to ensure maximum visibility with your target audience?
As an entrepreneur, you need to promise your customers a specific experience with your products or services. Now, imagine that before launching you had positioned yourself as an affordable version of a luxury product without any sacrifices in quality. However, once you launched, your customers found that things were very different – perhaps you weren’t as affordable as they had assumed, or maybe the quality didn’t live up to the hype.
Whatever the case, you now find that you have overpromised – you claimed to deliver something and then did not do so. That causes severe damage to your brand. Many startups may never recover from such a misstep. Once damaged, consumer trust can be incredibly hard to rebuild, and that’s essentially what overpromising and underdelivering does: it erodes trust and corrupts your brand.
Create the Collateral You’ll Need
While your brand mostly exists within your customer’s minds, outside elements help to communicate your message and keep your startup top-of-mind. These include things like your logo, your tagline and your mission statement. Those should be created with a few key things in mind:
- Fonts and colors should be chosen with great care. They reflect your organization but also inform customer experience. Think of the difference between Apple and Samsung. Both are consumer electronics companies (amongst other things), but they are worlds apart when it comes to branding, brand positioning, and collateral to support those.
- Define what you want your brand to evoke in the minds of your customers. What do you want a customer to feel when they see your logo or interact with your company? Should you communicate loyalty and strength? Ease and relaxation? Trust and security? This should inform your brand voice, which will need to be present (and accurate) throughout all of your startup marketing and brand-building efforts.
Use Your Resources
When it comes to accessing entrepreneur resources and building a robust brand that will stand the test of time, you’ll need a helping hand. A business incubator provides turnkey services designed to help you answer vital questions, such as who your ideal customer is or what you want to communicate with your logo and brand colors. The right partner can take things further, as well, such as developing an accurate marketing strategy, drive demand for your products or services, improve website conversion, and provide rich analytics and reporting to deliver critical insights and information.
Building your startup’s brand can be challenging. You must stand out from your competitors while still managing to communicate your core message to consumers accurately with little control. You can only stand steady at the wheel and attempt to steer your startup toward success and growth. For more useful tips on getting your venture started the right way, check out JumpStart’s Go-To-Market Strategy Tool and Go-To-Market Strategy Worksheet.