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strategic branding for startups

Branding for startups – advice from strategic designer Luke Brookes

Luke Brookes - Distinct BlueprintThis is a guest article by Luke Brookes, CEO/Director at Distinct Blueprint. Distinct Blueprint is a strategic brand design agency which helps businesses express their true value, connect with their ideal customers and achieve their goals, giving them a competitive edge within their desired marketplace. Luke is developing his business during a placement year on his Product Design with Professional Experience BSc(Hons) course at the University of Brighton.

A brand is a company’s most valuable asset. It helps to define what the business is, what it stands for, and how it differs from the competition. A brand both attracts and relates to a company’s desired customers. It helps to build trust, and it allows for the business to demand a higher price. It can be the difference between profit and failure, innovation and struggling to get by, market domination and a dissolving idea. As it holds so much value, it’s important you get it right!

To start building both an effective and valuable brand we need to first start with the definition: “A brand is not a logo. A brand is not a corporate identity system. It’s a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company (The Brand Gap, by Marty Neumeier).” It’s often believed a logo is all that is needed to build an effective brand, something which is definitely not the case. A brand is something you tweak and watch grow steadily over time. It forms the pillars that your business is built upon. That being said, like any strong tower, the foundations need to be set first. The following steps will help you do just that, and help you build a brand that stands out from the crowd…

strategic branding for startups

Photo: Unsplash

1) Customers

The first step is quite possibly the foundations of the foundations. It’s like levelling off the ground before applying the concrete. It involves getting to know your customers.

Knowing who your customers are, their needs, behaviours and pain points, is vital when building an effective brand. If you don’t know who you are selling to, how do you have any hope in relating with them and attracting them to do business with you?

There are many ways to gain a deep understanding of your customers. First, start by laying out all the information you already have on them. This could be built up of insights you have gained working with previous clients, any research you have carried out before, or even just general knowledge of your industry. After that, you can try a range of other techniques including, but not limited to, market research surveys, questionnaires, polls, focus groups etc. Once you have all the insights together your next step is to make something useful of all the gathered information. Tip: make sure you are not solely researching customers you already serve but the customers you want to serve.

Next, you can start to group the customers into key customer segments. These customer segments can be grouped by any means, demographics, buying behaviours, needs, pain points, etc, as long as you can clearly identify them as separate segments.

After, it is then possible to build a single customer persona for each of the different segments. “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers (The Definition of a Buyer Persona, Hubspot).” Each persona should be a representation of the segment. This doesn’t necessarily mean an average of the customers but should portray the characteristics of the segment.

These personas can now be used to ensure your branding decisions will resonate with your audience. They also allow you to consider how each may interact with your business, allowing you to decide the best way to let them interact with your brand.

2) ‘Start with Why’

This is more complicated than it sounds. Simon Sinek’s book ‘Start with Why’ explains this concept in great detail, and why it is so important. It is a definite must-read for anyone who would like to build a brand. In this step you should be reflective of why you are doing what you are doing, so you can use this to inspire your brand’s audience.

Apple’s brand stands for the ‘Crazy Ones’, the round pegs in the square holes who refuse to follow conformity and want to change the world. This allows their customers to connect with this philosophy and as they also want to change the world, or at least make their own impression on it, they relate with the Apple Brand.

Ask yourself why you wanted to start your company? Why you set out to do what you do? And what you are getting out of doing it? Besides the money that is, giving you the opportunity to truly inspire your audience. Money and profit are an outcome of business and are needed to ensure it keeps ticking, they are not the reason why you decided to build your business instead of simply getting a job.

3) The core pillars

Your Vision and Mission Statement, your Core Values, your Value Proposition, and your Brand Voice each form the pillars for which your brand is built upon. You have now considered everything you need and built the foundations, now its time to create the next layers.

The vision statement should be easy if you took notice of step two, as it effectively defines the reason you get up every morning to run your business. It is the inspiring, visionary statement that defines why your business runs. It can be as life-changing as Apple’s ‘change the world’ or as simple as ‘providing a local community hub’. As long as it’s yours, and different, its what will make you stand out! Make sure it’s a clear, interesting and also inspiring statement you can use as a filter for every business decision you decide to make in the future. Does this move us closer to achieving our vision?

The Mission Statement defines how you will achieve the vision statement. Its still visionary, but it defines how you will get there and is grounded in what you do. If your vision statement was to explore the ever-expanding final frontier of space, your mission statement would be to build a rocket that could take you there.

Your Core Values are what you stand for. They should define how you do business, drive your behaviour, and impact every touchpoint helping to ensure your customers can relate with your brand. They should be a list of 5 – 10 key values you hold dear. Consider social, environmental and psychological factors when deciding on your values. Core Values are used every day to make important decisions and every employee should be aware of what they are and the steps you take to ensure you meet them. You could use Distinct Blueprint’s™ Core Values, posted on our about page, as examples of a brand’s core values.

Finally, your Brand Voice defines how you speak. Consider the tone and personality you would like to portray. The Brand Voice effects all your content and largely determines your Brand’s personality. Define it with a number of adjectives that describe how your content should be both written and sound.

4) Positioning

This step requires you to define your positioning. This is where you sit within the marketplace, and how you are different from the competition. Its what allows you to demand a higher price, and what allows you to dominate a space in the market.

Don’t be afraid of really honing in on a particular niche. Often business owners are wary of doing this as they feel they will cut off their options. It’s usually quite the opposite. When you have identified a particular niche, you own that space in the mind of your consumers becoming the market leader. You become the big fish in the small pond. This doesn’t mean that if customers will benefit from your value proposition, they will not buy from you! Just that you set out to help a particular customer with a particular problem and for them, you are the best money can buy.

To define your positioning statement, include the product/service you provide, the target customer you provide it for, the benefits it provides to that customer, and the key difference it provides over the competitions products.

5) Your visual identity

The Identity is what many believe is the brand. The Identity serves to help the customer relate the experience they are feeling to the brand in which is giving them that experience. It is your visual signature.

A logo is probably the most important feature, it should be legible, versatile, and memorable. Other elements that build up a brands identity include colour palettes, typography, imagery, iconography and any brand patterns or textures. The identity design should match the image you are trying to enforce and the value your business gives to its customers.

If you were giving off a high-end feel, you may incorporate gold foils and delicate patterns to give the impression of luxury, whereas if you were a rugged brand you may match earthy, dull colours with tarnished metals to give the impression of strength and rigidity. This is where it is best to hire a professional graphic designer, as they will have the experience and skills needed to give off the message you want to portray.

6) Application

Now you have built the foundations for your brand it is time to apply it. Start by updating every channel and touchpoint to ensure they are consistent. Consistency is key to a brand’s success. It enforces the brand message into the consumer’s mind and helps to build trust that you will deliver on what you promised.

It may be useful to hire a branding agency to create a set of brand guidelines for your brand identity. Brand guidelines are a set of standards that must be followed when using a brand’s identity. This will ensure your brand’s identity can easily, and consistently be applied to all your current and future business collateral.

Remember your brand will adapt and grow over time, and this is a good thing. However, it is important to continually make little tweaks to steer it back on track as it grows. Make sure that even though things will change, they will stay coherent with your original why.

7) Ignore what other people think, it’s yours!

Now you have a strong brand, it’s likely you will run across those who want to put you down. This is a good thing! It shows you have created something that stands out from the crowd. They will tell you shouldn’t stand out and you should conform to how others do business. Ignore them! Their opinions are irrelevant, even if they are close family members. For every one person who doesn’t like your brand, there will be many that do. Don’t be afraid to stand out and own your brand.

Here’s a final tip: If you get stuck thinking trying to think about what brand you want to build, try flipping it on its head. Start to think about what sort of brand you don’t want to build. Often this will help to shine a light on what you do want to build.

Want to find out more? Get in touch with Distinct Blueprint


Luke Mitchell • 26/01/2018

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