Posted: Sun 30th May 2021
Centuries ago, the word 'brand' referred to the way people identified their livestock – they'd burn a mark onto each animal so everyone knew exactly who it belonged to.
Much later down the line, when manufacturing businesses started to grow and sell their products across wider areas, they'd use this same concept of branding. It was how they helped their products to become recognisable across different regions and stand out from the rest of the market.
These days, there's far more to building a winning brand than simply whipping up a logo and whacking it on your product.
Sure, strong imagery and design are key, but brand identity has grown into a much wider concept that also includes your company's offering, message, values and unique personality.
Essentially, branding is a vehicle for communicating with customers, conveying a clear message and influencing the way your business is perceived.
A solid brand, then, is the foundation of any successful start-up. It's a way to create traction and connect with potential customers. Your brand encapsulates your business's personality and value – a powerful marketing tool.
It's also a point of reference and set of principles for your business: something to return to when making decisions about strategy and direction, and a steer for employees.
The brand you come up with has the potential to boost your business in lots of ways. Invest your time in getting it right and it'll really pay off in the long run. Here are some ways your branding can help you:
One of the first aims of a new business is for people to know who you are. Branding is the perfect way to introduce yourself.
Lots of information about your business is communicated by your brand in a sharp, succinct way – critical in a world where we consume endless amounts of content, minute by minute. If it's clear to customers who you are and what you offer, that's the first hurdle taken care of.
Build it and they will come, right? A well-thought-out brand will resonate with its target audience and piquing their interest – whether by promising the solution to a problem or inspiring them in some way.
Your brand is your chance to convince a potential customer that your business is relevant and desirable. It encourages them to delve a little deeper and sticks in their minds. A brand acts as a first impression for new customers, so make it count.
If your brand is consistent with your purpose, it lets its audience know what to expect and starts to build trust, which fast-tracks you to cultivating loyalty. A professional-looking brand does wonders for credibility, too – another way to build customers' confidence in your business.
Having a compelling brand makes it easier for people to really get behind the business and share in a joint vision, whether it's customers, contractors or future employees. It can bring focus to a team and boost productivity.
In short, there's a whole lot of business value that your brand can win. But it takes no short amount of work to make sure the brand really fulfils its potential.
As Hannah Russell, founder of Mini and Mighty, says:
"Establishing a brand early on will save time, effort and ultimately money in the long run. It will allow a start-up to be more focused with its marketing and reach the right people at the right price point – and therefore make more impact."
To start work on your brand, you first have to define your business. What are you offering? Where is the value for customers? What are your guiding principles? What sets you apart from the competition?
Think about the gap you want to fill, the niche you hope to become known for, and how you want customers to perceive you. Consider the 'why' and the 'how' as well as the 'what' of your work.
It might help to go crazy with out-of-control brainstorms at this stage. You can then condense your ideas down to make a more digestible document that you can return to throughout the brand-building process.
To get the right people to notice your brand, it's important to understand them as thoroughly as possible, so you can create something that resonates. Write down their motivations, tastes, beliefs, values and attitudes. If you're partial to a spider diagram, that will be to your advantage right now.
Think about all the ways you can communicate those personality traits in your brand, considering offering, message and tone. This will help your audience draw connections between your business and their own interests and needs.
To create a brand that stands out, you need to know what it'll be standing among. Take a look at your competitors' websites and products to see how they present themselves to their customers through visuals, messages and tone. What do you like? What don't you like?
This should not only inspire you as to what you think works and what doesn't, but also allow you to create a brand that's unique and distinguishable from others in the marketplace.
As Sue Campbell of KIND2 says:
"I did lots of research on trademarks, social media handles and domains to find out what was already taken, which eliminated quite a few of my early choices of name. For any new brand, it's worth taking the time to do this research before committing to any logo or creative work; you'll save time and money in the long run."
According to Forbes, marketing experts have calculated that most people see around 4,000 to 10,000 ads every day. The world is saturated with branding, meaning our brains have learned to filter out a lot of it. It's no small feat to cut through the noise.
Shouting louder is one tactic, but perhaps a more efficient one is to work on creating a distinctive and engaging brand voice that speaks directly to your audience.
Think about whether it should be formal, chatty, authoritative, playful, reassuring or intellectual, for instance. And also consider how this will translate across the platforms you use to communicate with – dealing with a customer's problem by email versus, say, posting on social media.
When trying to dream up a name, aim for it to be relatively short and snappy, and easy to say. Try some word association games to get ideas flowing, and play around with joining words together. Get other people involved in this process if you can - be they team members, friends or family.
Once you have a shortlist, think about whether each idea could have any undesirable connotations or double meanings. Then try them out on people, collecting thoughts and reactions.
It's a good idea to check at this point whether any of your favourites are already taken, to save you kicking yourself later down the line.
When it comes to crafting a tagline, refer back to the brand voice you've come up with, to make sure it's sending the right message.
Taglines should be concise and compelling; there's no time for mixed messages or muddy concepts. This is your chance to engage your customers and convey exactly what you want them to know about your business.
Think about some of the most recognisable logos out there. What makes them work? Perhaps it's their simplicity, striking design or the way they reflect the brand's character in a visual way? Have a look at some logos you love and consider why you feel strongly about them.
Logos can be based on an image or on text. Perhaps the name of your brand will form the logo – in which case, typography will be a key consideration – or maybe you'd like to find a way to represent the name in an illustration.
Whatever you choose, remember that the logo might not just be going on your website and above your shop door. You could end up using it on adverts, communication materials, literature, merchandise and packaging. So think about how it'll work across all these potential canvases.
There are some great businesses out there who specialise in creating and developing brands for start-ups. From conceptualising to realising your brand, they'll be able to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you in this process.
However, no-one knows your business like you do, so you'll need to be able to clearly communicate your ideas in order to steer the creative ship. That means much of the research and work on defining your business will still be essential for you.
As Sue Campbell of KIND2 says:
"If you can afford it, work with a professional designer at least to create your logo, choose a colour palette and create brand guidelines. We did and before we met with them, spent time writing a really solid brief together with examples of brands and colours we liked. It's money well spent to help your brand stand out and give you a solid foundation to build on."
To harness your brand's full power, it's important that you stick to its guidelines in every facet of your business.
Refer back to the research and the decisions you made in the process of crafting your brand, and make sure you're aligned with them as closely as possible. After all, for your brand to incite trust in customers, it must follow through on its word.
If, over time, you find it gets increasingly difficult to stay true to the brand values you set out, perhaps it's time to consider a rebrand.
Businesses need to evolve and adapt to stay relevant and retain customers, so tweaking your brand to keep it relevant is a good idea. Stay dynamic.