Why start-ups shouldn't be professional

Why start-ups shouldn't be professional
Emily Penny
Emily PennyColourful Design Strategy Ltd

Posted: Tue 5th Jun 2018

Brand consultant and Enterprise Nation adviser member Emily Penny talks about why it's important to think beyond smart graphics and find a compelling brand idea.

Recently I have been working with a few start-up brands. These are exciting projects because when it's blank sheet of paper, there's everything to play for.

But finding clients with high levels of creative ambition is a challenge.

Understandably, business owners are consumed by the delivery of their actual product or service and ensuring its quality. When it comes to launching, above all they want to be seen as credible, as professionals. But herein lies the problem.

There is a tendency for businesses to use branding simply to 'look professional'. They just want something that doesn't look DIY. It's the equivalent of the keen new recruit turning up to the office in a shiny suit and tie overcompensating for a lack of confidence.

This kind of shiny suit branding can be done by anyone who has a basic knowledge of graphics software. It's the kind of output you get from online design competition sites. It follows a template.

But it's a huge missed opportunity. The role of branding is to help you stand out, not fit in.

I do understand the impetus. It's a pragmatic mind-set around needing business cards and labels. Trying to fit in. Basic branding may well do the job of communicating what you do. But will it enable you to compete?

The truth is that can't rely on your quality product alone to drive your success.

You're not a commodity, are you? Your product is only part of your offering. How you behave with customers online and offline and build a relationship is all part of your brand. And how you do the same with the packaging of your product (physically or virtually) is a massive part of it too.

I'd like to urge small businesses to ditch the desire to look 'professional' and start thinking about finding a brand idea instead of a generic logo.

This is exactly what constitutes a 'challenger' mind-set. And as a small enterprise, being a challenger is your secret weapon. So, it's a shame to aspire to be corporate.

A brand idea might take the form of a metaphor or a mission. It's about telling a story. It should be meaningful and reach out to audiences, helping them understand and remember your brand.

Make them feel something. It should start with your name and provide a concept with which to join up all the images, graphics and words that form your brand identity.

A brand idea transforms a brand into 'a something' with a point of view. I call it being Colourful. 'Colourful' is my business name, my brand metaphor and point of view.

I've helped a few businesses find their brand idea and story, like beauty brand Good Science Beauty, stationery brand Busy B, and creative studio Almighty.

Enterprise Nation member brand names that stand out for me include Gruhme and Professor Scrubbington's.

I'd suggest that other brands that nail their 'idea' and story starting with their name include Vivid, Rude Health, Snact and Ugly Drinks.

The trick is in being meaningful and charming, while appearing effortlessly simple.

These brand ideas transcend individual products and set the tone for the culture of a business.

This kind of branding is an investment.

It's not apologetic because it has a job to do. It's there to make a difference. And yes, it's a risk. But that's what makes it special. As entrepreneurs, you know only too well that you have to be in it to win it. You're already striking out, making a mark, doing something you believe in.

Don't let boring branding undermine all that hard work.

Thinking about starting your own business? Sign-up to the StartUp Course, a free e-mail course to kickstart your business in seven days!

Emily Penny
Emily PennyColourful Design Strategy Ltd
I am an independent brand consultant. My aim is to develop simple, memorable and effective branding by helping to define exactly what you stand for and bringing this to life, beautifully.

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