An overwhelming majority of businesses fail within the first year, and the culprit is usually some mix of shortcomings in finance, management, product, and marketing. But it’s your startup’s branding that can derail all of your other best efforts if not done right early on.
Theoretically, if you secure funding, you can hire a skilled team to work on your marketing campaigns and increase return on investment. But even if you’ve got the finances and resources, marketing can go awry if branding was not done the right way from the start.
Good branding is often dismissed as frivolous, or too expensive. Sometimes, business owners don’t have a clue what to do about it. But if you’re reading this, you probably want to learn about transforming your brand from nothing to something.
This is what we call “brand transformation,” or the process that takes intangible ideas about your brand and brings them into reality. If this is what you’re after, and you want to do it affordably, that’s exactly what you’ll find in the following sections.
Why Is A Powerful Brand Essential to Your Success?
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as, “a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers”.
For instance, if your startup is set to launch bottled water as a product, how will your product stand out from the sea of bottled water out there?
The answer is branding. It’s a process that adds value to the product by building a relationship between the brand and the consumer through feeling, imagery, thinking, and if done right, ownership.
Good branding provides:
- Competitive Advantage – A startup desperately needs an edge, a unique aspect that will blast its way through the competitors, and that edge can be secured with brand differentiation.
- Recognition – Your startup needs that spark of recognition to help transform your product from invisible to visible and differentiate it from the crowd.
- Easier decision-making – Among 20 boxes of cereal on a supermarket shelf, it’s a challenge for the customer to pick one. You want to make their decision easier.
- Reputation – Consumers are naturally distrusting. They tend to be cautious in selecting a brand because they feel personally connected to them. With good branding, you can earn their trust.
- Loyalty – Customers can be tenacious when brand loyalty is concerned. Just look at the Apple fans! However, loyalty only comes with quality and consistency.
- Sustainability – Once you’re an established and reputable brand, you can be sure about the sustainability of your business in the long run.
Branding for startups is crucial and if you’re convinced of that fact, let’s move on to the real deal.
How To Brand A New Business: The 4-Step Brand Transformation Process
Brand transformation, according to author Dawn Deeter-Schmelz, is a system of translating “an intangible brand story into its physical expression through a step-by-step process.” It involves both the management and marketing teams working together to align the company’s vision and mission with the actual brand design and translating it into tangible forms.
Brand transformation from scratch is anything but easy. Sometimes it takes years, but the end result is worth it, as you can see with household names like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, KFC, and Microsoft.
The transformation process involves four steps:
However, these four steps are just the tip of the iceberg. Keep in mind that this is a never-ending process; the only constant is the change.
Step 1: Defining the Brand
Your company is your brand, what’s the difference?
Well, there’s no difference actually.
While your company is the sum of management, marketing, and finances etc., your brand is a distinctive identity created by virtue of the attributes you assign to it. The first step in branding is to define what you want your brand to be—think of it as creating a personality (aka brand persona).
If you don’t know where to start, then here’s your cue—start with your mission and vision statements.
Go back to your “aha” moment and look at your big idea. What is the aim of your business; how does your brand inspire; what do you want it to achieve in two, five, or even 10 years?
From LEGO’s mission and vision statement, it is clear who their target audience is.
Try to think of these core elements of your brand as attributes of a person.
Now, let’s dig deeper. What kind of personality do you want your brand to adopt? Look at your company culture. View your product from the customer’s vantage point, while keeping in mind your target audience. Ask yourself: Is it hip and young; or is it mature and reliable?
For example, Coca-Cola’s mission is:
Coca-Cola wants its customers to be happy when they get a Coke. What do you want your audience to feel when they buy your brand?
What you want your brand persona to exude depends on how you choose to portray it. And it becomes a part of your brand personality. Along with this, also think of the brand voice and tone—energetic and snarky, or staid and professional? Make sure it matches your vision and mission statements.
Step 2: Building a Visual Language
“Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.” –John Medina
That’s why branding is king (or something like it). Visual language is powerful, and you wouldn’t want to lose the opportunity to capture your audience’s attention.
Ever enter a store and feel like everything is wrong and your mind is not processing the information surrounding you?
In one store, everything is in sections but it is chaotic, with no visual cues about where to start shopping. In contrast, the other one is easy to absorb, and most importantly, shoppers can immediately find what they want to buy.
Similarly, a well-built brand understands what the target audience wants, what they are looking for, and what motivates them to take the desired action.
OK, so how do you do this for your own brand? First, you’ll need a logo that will form the basis of your brand identity. In graphic design terminology, a brand identity comprises a logo, business cards, stationery, a website, and an email signature etc.
But the logo’s job doesn’t end there. It is the visual cue that will make your brand recognizable, memorable, and will create an association with your product or service.
For a customer, a brand identity is the whole look and experience of the brand. That’s why entering an Apple store is a whole lot different than visiting a local mobile shop.
What’s that I hear? Big brands, big bucks? Actually, there is so much you can do with the little you have.
First, use your logo to create a visual experience that resonates with your brand persona.
It can be as simple as using the color, theme, and fonts that appear in your logo, throughout your other materials—brochures, banners, the entrance, office paint job, coffee mugs, clothing racks (for retailers), website design, your email signature, etc.
By helping your customers to understand your visual language, you can encourage them to interact with cleverly placed touch points.
In a store setting, for example, touch points would be organized in a color-coded sequence to determine products by price, size, age, or colors, so shoppers can reach their target product faster.
Another good example is in online experiences. Opportunities and promotional offers can be delivered in brand-colored call-to-action buttons, navigation bars, or graphical elements so that they easily catch the customer’s eyes.
The best part of branding is that once your visitors are familiar with your layout, colors, and the navigation, they develop a sense of ownership because they understand your brand. Isn’t that a great feeling?
Step3: Setting Brand Guidelines
Your brand is finally connecting with your customers. Now that you’ve got their attention, what next?
Enforce and endorse.
Once a connection is made, you’ve got yourself a winning formula. Try to replicate it at all touch points, and any future ones that you create. Whether it’s a mobile application, a reception area, or a booth at a conference, touch points should follow consistent branding.
You must make sure that your brand sustains its consistent approach at all times. What that means is that you should incorporate branding guidelines for styling your brand. Branding guidelines are made for businesses to evolve and strategize accordingly. These guidelines help brands stand their ground and remain consistent over time.
Basically, brand guidelines outline how you want your brand to look and feel every time it interacts with the target audience. Before sitting down to write the rules and style guide, first consider these factors:
- Where will my brand be used (placement, outdoors, indoors, online)
- Who will be interacting with my brand (adult, children, seniors, professionals, illiterate)
- How will my branded materials be used (read, write, play, activity)
- At what times will my brand be used (night, day, emergency)
You’ll notice that a brand style guide is not just about setting rules of how to use your logo; it’s a lot more than that. Here are some points to get you started.
- The Brand – First and foremost in your style guide, define your brand. What is the mission or vision of your brand; who is your target audience; what does your brand stand for, etc.
- Logo – It’s obvious that your logo is the core of your brand identity, so you don’t want anyone to mess around with it.
Famous brands, like Medium, are consistent in using black and white logo only, with green as the thematic color. Educational institutions tend to have even stricter guidelines for using their logo designs in any type of publication, online or offline.
Also, you should define how your logo will be used and look in print, online, or in store. Acceptable forms of the use of the name of your company, symbol, and colors of your logo should also be clearly outlined, both in visual and in written form.
- Font – If you’re thinking that people won’t pay attention to the font, that’s where you’re wrong. Take IBM for instance; no one would recognize IBM’s logo if the font were different. While many versatile options exist, some logos have their fonts etched as their identity. Their rigidity and validity become the face of their brand and makes them what they are known for. You just can’t deny the power of an evergreen font!
- Color – There are thousands of colors out there, which one is the right shade for your brand? There are even 50 shades of grey (no, not the movie!), but which one is yours? That’s why hex codes are a lifesaver. Be sure to define your color scheme in Pantone color codes as well if you want an interior designer to use the same color (as your logo) to paint the office.
- Other – Other elements to consider in your brand style guidelines include the context of branding usage, content type, and limitation of access etc. You don’t want your sophisticated corporate logo to end up branding a banner on a porn site, would you?
It’s also useful to note that your brand style guide should follow copyright laws, and set up a content misuse policy too.
Step4: Adapting and Growing
Did I mention earlier that branding is a continuous process? Transforming your brand from invisible to visible is not the work of days, weeks, or months; it takes years.
Hear that? Years. Yes, it may sound tedious and you’re already bogged down with the never-ending tasks of launching a startup, but guess what? It is a part of the launch, and what’s more, it continues after the launch. So you might as well get on with it now.
As your startup grows and evolves, so does your brand. Your ultimate goal should not be just to get things sold, but rather how to sustain your brand for as long as possible. The whole idea is to keep your brand alive. Brand transformation continues even if you’re well established.
Check out the evolution of PepsiCo’s logo over the years and how it has transformed the brand from a traditional sweet drink company to an iconic brand for the youth of the 21st century.
Here are some ways to keep your brand looking interesting, youthful, and full of life:
- Trends – Trends come and go but they do drive consumer purchases. Depending on the type of industry you’re in, keep up with trends and adapt, whether in branding, production, or marketing. If you’re not changing your visual image, you can stick to the trend in your brand voice, product offering, or even support.
- Product Development & Innovation – You can’t stick to one product for a century without adding some innovation to it. Develop new products to add to your brand’s offering and innovate new features to cater to a larger audience. Customers will feel proud to own a brand that is always evolving, and you’ll expand your market.
- Target Audience –To harness diversified groups of consumers, your brand evolution is directly related to the market.
It’s great that you’re a credible brand for middle-aged professional men; wouldn’t it be better if you also catered to women, who make up the other half of the population? For this, you’ll have to extend your brand, just as YouTube has done with YouTube Kids, for example.
Your Startup Brand Strategy
While there is a lot more to know about branding transformation, you don’t want to get overwhelmed when you have taken the brave first step—deciding to brand your startup.
The process of branding transformation may take time but there are many benefits that you can reap from it. The three most notable benefits that pertain to the survival of your startup are:
- Return on investment – When you have an established brand, then you’ll get your return on investment sooner or later. Moreover, as your ROI grows, so will your company.
- Brand credibility – The more credible your brand, the more consumers will trust and buy it. Not only this but, it will also increase your brand’s valuation.
- Long-term growth – You’ve started your venture with sweat and tears, you want it to live a longer life, and you want it to keep growing, won’t you? Branding can help you go a long way in retaining customers, company’s growth, and adding more customers.
What did you find useful in this guide? Any brand questions I can answer for you? Let me know in the comments!