//Joyce Berelle & Rasmus Busk Hyllemose for The Hub
Let’s start out by agreeing on the fact that there’s a difference between marketing and branding. Short and simple, marketing is what you say and branding is what they say. Marketing makes consumers enter your business in the first place, while branding is what keeps them coming back.
Successful branding is crucial to all businesses, but perhaps startups most of all. After all, we have examined key characteristics of ‘What is a Startup?’ and identified a “focus on growth” as one of the most important things to consider. While most companies would typically like to continue growing, it is this focus that separates a “startup” from any other small business; a startup is designed to achieve early and prolonged growth above everything else. And to meet that goal, it has to have successful branding.
This is also the reason why a lot of investors are emphasizing a lot on customer acquisition costs (CAC) and customer retention rates (CRR) when deciding whether they should invest in a startup. Because branding is crucial in penetrating a market and beating your competition in the long run. Therefore they want to see you hone that skill already in early-stage 👊🔥
So, how exactly is this done? Some, even among those who have had success with startups or helped to build larger companies, will argue that some degree of luck is involved. On the other hand, there are specific strategies that come into play as well. Our general rule of thumb in branding is that you as a minimum should have these questions prepared and answered when building your brand:
- Why does your company exist (mission & vision) ❓
- What does your company stand for (values) ❓
- How exactly do you differentiate yourself from competitors (USP) ❓
- What do you promise the customer ❓
- What connects you with the customers ❓
In this post we’ll identify five key ways to brand your startup and help you get started with extra concrete how-to-tips.
1. Create A Story ✒️
Why is storytelling so crucial for your brand? Because since the beginning of dawn storytelling has had the ability to teach us lessons on how to love, to fight, to be fair or to strive for something better. Storytelling is a powerful tool to influence and inspire others since it is a master of creating connections between people and ideas.
The goal with storytelling is to make your audience turn your story into their own ideas, perceptions or experiences through something we call neural coupling 🧠⚡
Now this might sound super technical, but hang on for a moment and understand why this is useful knowledge. Neural coupling happens when the listener reads, hears or sees a story. The brain then sends off neurons in the same patterns as in the speaker’s brain, creating coherence between the brains through the story. This is when relationships blossom and why storytelling is powerful in branding.
Think about Nike for a second. The obvious example of a storytelling brand – what’s their motto? I am willing to bet you $10,000 that “Just do it” resonates the exact same way right now with you as it does with me. Why not just go do it, why not just go chase your dream, and become great?
Nike has powered thousands and thousands of athletes through more than 50 years who all had the same thing in common. They just did it. Nike’s storytelling is making us as consumers establish relationships upon empathy that we start sharing with athletes like Michael Jordan or Serena Williams through their hard fought battles for greatness 💪🌟
Now think about a noteworthy startup in your life. Chances are, whether it’s a trendy new bedding and mattress boutique that opened in your local mall, or a shaving kit delivery service that advertises on your favourite podcast, it has a story. Businesses like these, have come to recognize the power of establishing brand identity by way of telling the tale of how and why they were founded.
Inc. looked into the idea of startup stories, and put forth some specific points that also apply to most of the examples we could think of. As they put it, it’s important to build a mission around a conflict, inject some emotion, make the story unique, use it to spark action, and then tell it repeatedly. That may sound like a lot, but ultimately it comes down to a simple formula: Craft a unique story that explains how your startup solves a problem, and don’t stop telling it.
To put this idea into action, we’d suggest taking an honest approach. Do some self reflection on where you were when you started the business and what really led you to start it. Even if the answer to that question is simply that you needed to make money, it’s okay to start with that!
Just be sure you also work in how you came up with a specific idea and what problem it’s solving. We’d suggest coming up with three or four different versions of the story and running them by some friends or connections in your network. They might be able to tell you what sounds most authentic or alluring.
2. Determine Your Look 🎨
Sometimes a great brand is almost as simple as a logo or general appearance that catches the eye, stands out from the crowd, and conveys the company’s mission to some degree. But no logo becomes a brand without the branding. Look through Complex’s lists of iconic brand logos and you won’t be able to help acknowledging that great visuals can play a key role.
However, try to notice also how the visuals represent the brands beyond your own familiarity with them. For instance, note that the Nike logo is clean, minimalist, and sleek, speaking to the sharp, athletic designs the company is known for. Observe that the Google logo represents the simple power of the brand: just a word, in ordinary font, for a company that has one primary function for consumers.
Granted it’s easier to spot these representations once a brand has made it big. But let’s put it into perspective, because they can still inform your own decisions in crafting a look that says what you need it to about your startup.
Needless to say, your look should reflect your brand – which ultimately is the promise you make and the expectations your customers have. If this is distinct, you have earned yourself a spot on the market. If not? Then you’re just another commodity that will become another victim of the notorious “sort-by-price” feature haunting the digital realms 👾
The logo depends a great deal on the nature of the startup and your own taste. One of the tips we have though is to try several different design tools or online logo makers. The tools you use can lead you to come up with completely different designs on different platforms. So it’s a good idea to give yourself the flexibility of trying a few different options.
There are tons of free design tools like Canva, that should at least get you settled with your first drafts – we at TheHub have used Canva’s design tool for multiple SoMe purposes.
Also, if you are stuck or tend to not be the creative type, you can go get some inspiration and follow online education platforms for creative entrepreneurs such as The Futur on Instagram (@thefutureishere) or the branding.mob (@branding.mob) – team favorites!
3. Figure Out Your Target Audience 👥
Branding is largely about how you present your startup, but it also has a lot to do with who you present it to. For instance, showcasing your company to a group of 50 people who are known to have an interest in your product or service is likely to make for more effective branding than displaying it to 100 completely random people.
What this means functionally is that part of branding is determining your target audience. This can be done partially through things like surveys and social media interaction, but it will also require analysis over time of where your page views, sales, and other engagement comes from.
There’s not really a trick here, unless you have the resources for massive, AI-driven data gathering. So our tip on how to do it is simply to be as active with your outreach as you have time to be. Opening social media accounts and posting once or twice a day does not count as a social media operation.
Engage with customers, watch what your followers are doing, and spend some time each day gathering what relevant information you can. Luckily Google Analytics is free, so you have the opportunity to go through the data of your website visitors to learn more about their interests and where they come from.
4. Maximise Your SEO 💻
This ties into the last idea to a great extent. But once you do figure out your target audience, you can start to engineer your content online specially to reach said audience. This is done largely through SEO strategy and content optimisation, both of which can be fairly complex for a small business. To that point, common hurdles for startups are explained by Ayima, and include technical SEO work, a lack of content, and a lack of development resources.
Content has become king and this ties very well into your timing of determining your brand – because content is more than likely the number one factor that’s going to help you communicate your branding 💬
With content marketing you can arm your brand with an SEO operation that will simultaneously make the business more visible to its target audience and attract more attention from new visitors.
Get writing. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical side of SEO, and it’s certainly necessary to understand it. Ultimately though, you can only generate so much traffic without first generating content. Whether you do the writing yourself or you have a writer or a team to handle this, make sure that your business has fresh written material on a regular basis, and that if possible you’re also contributing material elsewhere that can link back to your site.
Go for evergreen content in the beginning so your content doesn’t get outdated. Use Google Keyword Planner to find relevant keywords to integrate in your content and try to get an overview of your competition on Google. Find out what they are doing and what they are writing about? What keywords do they use to rank higher?
5. Conduct Ongoing Assessments 🔎
As you undergo the efforts outlined above, it’s also important to conduct regular assessments regarding the effectiveness of your brand. The real pain in the ass is that you can’t just analyze the statistics and measure a brand or logo every day.
Brand marketing is just difficult if not impossible to measure. The simple point here is that when you’re driving the brand forward you can come to believe that everything you’re doing is for the best, and therefore objectively good.
However, others may be able to tell you where you’re falling short, or where things aren’t coming across as you intend. Forbes recommends objective assessment in the form of asking friends or even asking your audience to provide feedback on the impression your startup is giving, and these are excellent ideas. Only by seeking out this sort of objective analysis can you have full confidence that your branding efforts are in fact working! 📊
When assessing your ongoing branding efforts the small things can be easy to sweat. Every interaction your (potential) customers have with your product or service is a chance to reinforce your brand and messaging. Counting everything from microcopy to what meets customers in calls.
This idea more or less speaks for itself. But our tip here is to do all of this on a schedule. Don’t just check in now and then with an audience; set up a monthly assessment (or something similar) so that you can strictly monitor the perception of your startup as you continue to develop it.
If you are interested in some great visual content on brand building, have look at The Futur’s YouTube series ‘Bulding A Brand’.
Are you and your startup looking for funding? Why not try out The Hub’s own investor matching tool? It’s all free 😉 🔥