When your company is in its early stages, presumably you’ve thought through your offerings and done the hard work of choosing a company name. You may even have a logo or website. In terms of building your brand, these steps are a good start in the right direction—but these things alone do not add up to your brand.
Your brand, like your company culture, is everything. It’s how you present yourself to existing and potential customers, what you have to offer, who you are. It’s the promise you make and keep everyday.
Taking a thoughtful approach to branding is a way to actively help to mold public perceptions of your company. Designing a functional product that solves a pain point, and continually refining the product to make it an ongoing solution? That’s branding. The key words and images you associate with your company? That’s branding? Providing consistently excellent customer service? That’s branding.
I’m a firm believer in business planning. Without planning, how can you know where you’re going and make sure you get there? Planning your brand is an important piece of the planning process. So how can you create your branding strategy? Here are the first steps:
1. Competitive analysis. Who is your competition in the marketplace? What do they have to offer? What customer needs are not being met? As you can see, in this way branding is so closely woven into the fabric of your business that it’s hard to see where business development—and product development—ends and branding begins. They really go hand in hand.
2. Develop your brand positioning statement. Once you understand your competition and have a crystal clear sense of the demand for your offering, you need to create your differentiating message. This is your brand position which essentially boils down to:
[Your Company] is the X that produces the Y to Z.
In this equation:
X – What are you? What solution are you providing?
Y – What is your unique selling proposition? What do you do that is critically important that nobody else is doing?
Z – Who is your audience?
The key rules are to be honest and keep it simple. This is the foundation of your company so take the time to think it through. And remember, what you exclude from your brand positioning statement is as important as what you include. You can’t be all things to all people—and shouldn’t try to be. Figure out your niche, your core audience, and don’t deviate.
3. Create space for growth. As a startup, there’s a good chance that your company is going to change as you grow. Perhaps your offerings will become more refined, or you may increase your offerings. A major pivot could substantially impact who your company is and what you do. When developing your brand, you need to build in enough flexibility to allow for these kinds of branding adjustments. What happens if you expand to a new market or new segment? Will your brand still make sense? As long as you can keep the core message on-target, you’ll be in good shape.
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4. Think through your visual presence. Colors, fonts, graphics—all of these things communicate your brand. Even if you’re not a visual person, you can see how important it is to have a connection between how your company looks and what it does.
5. Establish your brand voice. Is your company an authoritative leader in its field? A social company that’s playful and quirky? Part of thinking through your company, is finding what voice is best to communicate who you are.
6. Enforce your branding guidelines. Once you’ve thought through the details of your visuals and brand voice, you need to come up with some rules that encapsulate them. This makes it easy for everyone in your company to be aligned with the brand, and to avoid any confusing off-brand messages. These guidelines don’t need to be overly formal; a short list of do’s and don’ts along with specifics such as approved fonts will suffice.
7. Get buy-in. A brand is nothing if the people working for the company don’t believe the message and feel personal responsibility for living the brand. When you’re just starting up, it’s easier to get employee engagement right rom the get-go. Your team should believe in the brand and take pride in the message it delivers.
Your brand can’t be an afterthought. Building your brand, like any kind of business planning, is a powerful exercise to help give you greater insight into your company and to set your company up for long-term success. But branding, again, like any kind of business planning, isn’t a “one and done” kind of exercise. It’s a constant process of checking in to ensure that your brand is resonating the way you want with the people you want.
How are you building your startup brand? Tell us about it in comments below or contact Early Growth Financial Services to support your growing business.
David Ehrenberg is the founder and CEO of Early Growth Financial Services, a financial services firm providing a complete suite of financial and accounting services to companies at every stage of the development process. He’s a financial expert and startup mentor, whose passion is helping businesses focus on what they do best. Follow David @EarlyGrowthFS.