The 5 Gate-Opening Keys to Branding Your Startup
//Joyce Berelle & Rasmus Busk Hyllemose for The Hub
Let’s start by agreeing with 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 like to continue growing, and that’s what separates a “startup” from any other small business; a startup is designed to achieve early growth above everything else. And to meet that goal, it has to reach a successful branding. This is also why a lot of investors emphasize customer acquisition costs (CAC) and customer retention rates (CRR) when deciding on their investment. Branding is crucial in penetrating a market and beating your competition in the long run. Therefore they want to see you excel at that skill already in early-stage.
How exactly is this done?
So, how exactly is this done? Some, even among those successful, will argue that luck is involved. On the other hand, there are specific strategies that come into play. Our general rule in branding is that you 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 to get started
1. Create A Story
Why is storytelling so crucial for your brand? Because since the beginning storytelling taught us lessons on how to love, fight, be fair or strive for something better. Storytelling is a powerful tool to influence and inspire others as a master of creating connections between people and ideas. The goal of storytelling is to make your audience turn your story into their 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 throughout the story. This is when relationships blossom and show why storytelling is powerful in branding.
The power of storytelling
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 with you as it does with me. Why not just do it, why not just go chase your dream, and become great? Nike has powered thousands and thousands of athletes for 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 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, recognize the power of establishing brand identity and telling how and why they exist. 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, and 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 keep 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 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 on 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. Then run 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 or stands out from the crowd. But no logo becomes a brand without branding. Look through Complex’s lists of iconic brand logos and you won’t be able to help acknowledge that great visuals can play a key role. However, try to notice also how the visuals represent the brands beyond your 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. 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 👾.
One of the tips we have 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 you are not 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 favourites!
3. Figure Out Your Target Audience
Branding is largely about how you present your startup. 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 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 a trick here unless you have the resources for massive, AI-driven data gathering. So our tip 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 especially to reach a wanted 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 with your timing. The timing where you determine your brand – because the 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. Whether you do the writing yourself or a team to handle this, make sure that your business has new material regularly. If you may be also contributing material elsewhere that can link back to your site. Use Google Keyword Planner to find relevant keywords to integrate with 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 di 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.📊
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 similar) so that you can monitor the perception of your startup as you develop it. If you are interested in some great visual content on brand building, have look at The Futur’s YouTube series ‘Building 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 🚀 🔥