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How to brand your startup

Branding by nnorth for Caitlin Brianne

Since at least 2,700 BC, ranchers have known which livestock was theirs. How? Branding. An easily identifiable unique mark representing the owner, seared into the skin of each animal. Times have changed, but the essence of branding remains.

About 99designs

Branding isn’t just something you happen to stumble into. It requires expertise. 99designs is the global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together to create designs and branding they love. With 99designs you get a creative partner, faster results, and quality design at a good value.

Why branding?

Many is the challenge facing a startup: the sea of competitors calling for investors and clients, generating trust and brand awareness among customers, and people don’t know your product or why it exists, to name a few.

Branding can help with those issues.

With strong genetics, you can tell members of a family by their looks and behaviors. Not unlike strong genetics, branding distinguishes your merchandise from competitors by weaving a unifying theme throughout your entire product experience.

That unifying theme generates a trusting relationship between you and customers by giving them the emotional satisfaction of what they’ve come to expect from your product in every detail. From opening the packaging to using the product or service, branding makes your core message consistently present, building trust and brand awareness with every interaction.

Branding’s ability to unify your product experience also shows potential investors that you mean serious business. Knowing who you are, what your brand is, and where you want to go instills confidence in investors. It shows them that you come with an entire cohesive concept and brand, not just with an idea and a business plan.

Branding is so powerful it can even set you head and shoulders above other startups that produce a higher quality product than you. There are higher quality, less expensive sneakers than Nike, but their loyal customers buy Nike every time because they love the brand. If your branding is on point, you can capture hearts and minds, gaining the winning edge.

A brief branding brief

Clearly, branding is of the utmost importance, but how do you make it happen? Before you can show the world who you are, you have to master it yourself. This is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Break out the microscope and do some serious introspection into your beliefs, motivations, and goals. The good news is you’re probably passionate about what you do, so this should be a fun exercise!

Brand mission

People don’t buy what you produce, they buy why you produce it. This is proven biology. The brain’s limbic system runs the decision-making process, and it responds to emotional appeals. It doesn’t even understand language. So, having a strong belief about why you’re selling is what activates customers. The same goes for employees: the goal isn’t to recruit people who need cash, it’s to recruit people who believe as you believe. So, what do you believe? That’s your brand mission.

Brand values

Think of your brand values as the ten commandments of your company. There don’t have to be ten, but these are the guiding principles regarding what you represent and what you don’t. These values will ring true for customers who share them and serve as a guiding light for your company’s strategic decisions. Don’t be afraid to alienate certain groups with your brand values. You won’t please ‘em all, but you’ll feed your grassroots. Be specific, and choose values which can be acted upon.

Brand personality

Who would your brand be if it was a human being? A no-nonsense technical expert, or a charismatic salesperson? Serious and trustworthy, or lighthearted and funny? What words would you want your customers to use when describing you? The particular mix of human characteristics your brand exhibits is its brand personality. Once you figure this out it will inform your style, tone of communication, and the type of content you present.

Target group

Time to put on your detective cap. Who are your customers? How old are they? What sex? What’s their personality profile? What kinds of merchandise have they bought in the past? And for how much money? Where can you find them? What social media do they use? This information will allow you to picture your typical prospect and imagine having a friendly discussion with them. Visualization makes it clear how best to communicate in order to persuade them to buy your product or service.

Brand positioning

Determining your brand positioning doesn’t only depend on knowing your own product inside and out. You also have to know your competitors so you can discover what differentiates you from them. In what areas are you stronger? What value do you represent that they don’t? Maybe you offer equal or better quality for cheaper. Or perhaps your product has more aesthetic value than your less visually appealing competition. And remember, focus on emotional benefits, it’s not just about features, it’s about how your product will make customers feel.

Brand naming

What will you call your brand? Consider all of the above and let it marinate. Bear in mind what you want your brand name to communicate, and understand how your choice of name will influence the impact of your brand. Whether you create an imaginary word (Velcro), come up with a term which is incongruous with what you’re selling (Apple), use someone’s name (Tesla), characterize an action (Sprint), or depict what business you’re in (Alaskan Airways), your brand must have a name.

Brand design

Good brand design means your audience should be able to pick out your brand even if they can’t see the brand name. This can be done by remaining steadfast in the execution of your brand mission, values, and personality, throughout every facet of your customer’s experience. Take into account the effect of color and shape on your customer’s mind, the value of creating the right logo, and the importance of details like packaging.

Start with a logo

Leap Startup logo design by Suede for Dr.Hariri

Once you’ve identified all these elements, you can begin to decide how you’ll communicate it to your audience. It’s time to get the perfect logo for your brand. Your business won’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and more often than not that impression is made by your logo. It will instantly give your customers information about your brand and give them a feeling for whether or not it’s right for them.

There are 7 types of logos: lettermarks (typically a company’s initials), wordmarks (simply a company’s name in text), pictorial marks (a graphic based design or icon), abstract marks (an abstract geometric pictorial logo), mascots (an illustrated character standing for your company), combination marks (a mixture of a lettermark or wordmark and an abstract mark, pictorial mark, or mascot) and emblems (text inside an icon or symbol).

Use a fine-tooth comb to go over these different types of logos, along with color schemes, shapes, typefaces, and fonts, because it all influences the way you are perceived. These elements translate all the information mentioned above into a design. In case you have no idea what to chose, get in touch with a designer. He or she will know and help you. But don’t expect the designer to be a mind-reader. Have your brand research (all the info from above) ready and communicate it. Let them know as much as possible to create what’s right for you. No one knows your business better than you do!

Once you have a logo, take it out for a test drive. Ask friends and family what they feel when they look at it. Compare it to competitors and check for glaring similarities. Does it conjure up your brand personality? What’s noticeable about it after a quick glance? Does it set you apart from competitors? Would it work on all of your communications materials in any size?

Now what?

So you have your logo, now what? Get busy with the other necessary branding assets: website, social media, stationary, etc. Have an answer to questions like, “What’s your URL?” Or “Can I follow you on Instagram?”. And go all the way with your user experience. Even as your customer unwraps the package they should be feeling the vibe of your brand. Every design should follow the same branding guidelines and be aligned.

Going all the way! Design by CogitoDesigns for simplesoilsolutions

Game changer

Great branding brings game-changing alignment to your business so that what it thinks, speaks, and does all feel consistent. This gives investors confidence that they are getting into a worthwhile venture and helps ensure that clients won’t be disappointed in any part of their emotional experience with your product. Great branding builds up an emotional relationship with clients, which is crucial for marketing.

So many startups betray their great product or service by not going all the way with branding. They think branding is too expensive or only for big companies. Don’t make that mistake. Invest in great branding and chances are, your clients will see to it that you get a return on your investment.

Ready to get your perfect logo? Download 99designs’ logo ebook – your free step-by-step guide!

Feature image: Branding by nnorth for Caitlin Brianne

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