Branding - A Beginner's Guide for Startups

Michal Gat, VP of Business Development at TitanBrandWise
A Last Minute Thing? 

From our experience, entrepreneurs will usually turn to a branding firm at the last stages of the product development phase - literally right before the launch.


The reason for this lies in the fact that most "creative minds" who lead start-up companies are exceptionally technical and thus heavily rely (often too much) on digital speed and optimal use of social platforms, rather than investing in branding.

The truth is, in the real, fast start-up world, where the race for funding and recognition is harsh, developing a clear brand strategy is precisely the added-value a company needs.  

Why Do Startups Avoid Adopting an Early-Stage Branding Strategy?

High dependence on social media
Concerns regarding lengthy and consuming process
Belief that branding strategies are irrelevant at an early stage
As technical-oriented people, Startup executives seek to immediately quantify results into a specific number. Branding however is a process and takes time especially in startup companies where targeted audience is new and in its early stages.

So When Should a Startup Start Thinking About a Brand Strategy?  

"The truth is, Startup companies need a brand strategy the moment they start seeking for funding. Regardless of how creative or absurd it may be", says Eric Pinkert, CEO of Brand Culture. "Everybody knows", he adds, "that a killer application or a jaw-dropping product is not enough to make a statement".

As such, Pinkert advises Startups to brand early, starting with their team: name, title, hobbies, special insight about each team member along a picture, of course (preferably one with a smile, with a dog, at the gym etc). The reason for this is that investors will always look for a trust element and personal connection in companies. When these elements are correctly presented, the road to getting investors on board is shorter and easier.

According to Pinkert, conglomerates such as Amazon, Dropbox, Facebook, etc. were so successful simply because they offered a product people really use - mostly via viral marketing with minimal budgets.

Startup Branding, How is it Done?

Whether early stage or not, the road to a successful brand is paved with good intentions and awful mistakes. It's been said a lot that a brand is more than its "logo" and what a critical part branding plays in overall success. How do you accomplish all of these options successfully and safely?

Your First Question Should Be "Why"?

Believe it or not, most CEO's have a hard time answering this vital question. Why do you do what you do? People know what they do, how they do it, what are the added values of their technology, what target audience they are focusing on, etc., but when it comes to answering this simple question they are left silent.

Why is it that you do what you do?
Why is it that you chose to do it in the way that you do?
Answering these questions in-depth is the first step in acquiring your "differentiator factor" and shaping you story. The deeper your answer to these questions, the greater and more precise your story. Sounds silly, right? But for most executives, answering this question is mind baffling. They often go back to answering by repeating what they do - not why they do it.

We dare you to start.

If You Have a Story, The World Needs to Know About it

Now that you have formulated a comprehensive answer to the above question, you are ready to start working on your brand story. Why you do what you do is a core value and often serves as the foundation of your brand's story. Once you have a story, it's time to build your strategy.

Since every company has a product, and since the world needs to know about this product, a brand strategy centralizes the sum of the actions needing to be taken and creates a structured implementation plan. This plan should include: your company's description, product, features, added values, goals, targets and all that is required to achieve those goals.

Where are you Located?

It's time to roll up your sleeves and research your competition, targeted audience, preferences, wishes, alternatives, strengths and weaknesses, business opportunities, and pitfalls to avoid at all costs. Data is priceless and there is no limit to the value it brings with it. Here are three mistakes to avoid at all costs:

Using Data As-Is
When using data without interpreting it into emotions, companies lose their connection with the target audience. Data therefore should serve as a platform - never as an end in itself.
Failure to Understand Your Target Audience
Understand your audience not just in terms of numbers but in terms of personality. What is your target audience's interests? Hobbies? Lifestyle? Challenges?
Receiving Feedback from Limited Resources
Often, especially in Start-ups, we tend to fall in love with our product/service; as a result we tend to listen to positive feedback only. Positive feedback, we feel, will take us forward, while negative will regress the process altogether; nothing is further from the truth. Remember you only have one chance to make a first impression and once you launch your product/service, you want to make sure all aspects have been considered and dealt with prior to launch.

Clarify. Fine-Tune. Repeat.

If you can't differentiate your product from the competition, why should anyone choose your product over all the rest? The right brand strategy will identify precisely what makes your product unique, will engrave it in the minds of your target audience and spread the word by creating a clear, precise, and original message that will bring something new to the market.

And Now….. the Logo.

Think about Nike's "swish" or Orange's "orange square". There is no greater logo than a simple, recognizable logo. Visual presence has a meaning. Choosing the right color scheme, font, business cards, graphics, etc., has a meaning. Add to this the right tone of voice and you have an effective way of penetrating a market with a new brand. All this needs to be based on your story. Your logo should reflect your company's story and narrative, your values and your crucial answer to the above question of "why?".  

Michal Gat is VP of Business Development at TitanBrandWise. TitanBrandWise is a global branding firm that works with businesses to define, create and nurture effective, cross-platform branding experiences that cultivate business growth, engage with customers and raise awareness.

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