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How Does Branding Help a Startup?
Is that even a real question?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve got to have noticed the importance of branding – especially for the new kids on the block, the startups.
Without great startup branding, your company might as well not exist in the consumer’s mind.
And unless you’re selling something so basic that only the price matters (and you can significantly undercut other people’s prices, possibly by not spending any money on branding) you’re going to have to spend money on branding.
Why has branding become so important?
The reason is two-fold. Firstly, people don’t interact as much in person anymore.
Originally if you started a business you and your colleagues met your customers.
This meant they had a face to go with a name.
People came into your shop, people spoke with you on the phone and people saw you at the social gatherings.
In effect, you were the brand. Nowadays that personal element is gone.
Instead, people only think of most companies in an abstract sense, where they don’t really have much of an emotional connection.
That is why branding for startups is so important.
It puts the personality back into your company and creates a character.
By using design, style, and even colour in the correct way you’re telling your users what kind of company they’re dealing with, much like your style of dress, your shop front and your personality did before the era of the internet.
The second reason is that what companies produce has moved from being something that is utilised by the user to something that defines the users.
You can thank Apple for that. They realised that people didn’t just want function from their products, but they wanted to use them to show status and character as well.
The product, in other words, was a way for them to express their personality.
This means that if your product does not have brand design – unless it’s incredibly well designed – it will not have a personality.
And that means you don’t have one of the key elements that people look for when buying most products – especially when those products are both visible and expensive.
What that means for startups
The more visible and niche your product, the more important it is that you have a well-defined brand.
Selling screws? Thank you for reading this far and I hope you took away some lessons for if you decide to expand your market.
But if you’re selling any kind of lifestyle product, then you need to work on branding.
How Does Branding Help a Startup?
In some ways, branding will be more important than your product.
Especially initially, if your branding is way ahead of the competition and you’re product is middle of the pack, you’re more likely to be successful than if your product is excellent and your branding doesn’t make you stand out.
That’s because people only get to handle your product when they’ve bought it while your brand is out there for them to look at long before anybody has even made any decision about what product to buy.
This is why the iPhone is nearly three times as expensive as an average android.
That might sound like heresy to some, with many arguing that the Apple phone is inherently better, but even if it is can you really say that it is nearly three times better?
Are the standard things you use it for – calling, texting, surfing the internet, finding where to eat – really three times as enjoyable on the iPhone as on some other gadget?
Of course not.
Therefore, the difference has to be down to branding.
People like to be associated with Apple and what it stands for. For that reason, they are willing to fork over more money to have one.
It’s like a Rolex versus a more common brand.
Yes, it confers status, but only because clever marketing people have convinced people that this is what it does.
And that is why having good brand pays.
How to use this to your Advantage
Now, as a startup, you have an advantage and that is that nobody so far has any association with your product or your brand.
This means that you’re starting with a clean slate, which is a far better position to be in than if you try to change your brand when it’s already well defined.
To fully take advantage of this situation, it is vital that you work on getting your brand defined early and that you define it well before others beat you to it – because that is what smart competitors will do when they see you as a threat.
They will bad mouth you, discredit your product and make certain that customers become aware of any bad publicity that they can find or possibly even generate.
And as customers don’t yet have any other information to go on what your competitor says will weigh disproportionately heavily.
You can beat them to this by making certain that the first time your customers hear of your Brand, they do so with your branding already in place.
This way they’ll not only find out who you are and what you do but also have an idea of what your brand is.
In this situation, the competition can obviously still influence how you are perceived but will have a much harder time of it.
In effect, by branding early you have defined your product and anchored it, which will make it far harder to remove.
What to pay attention to
To best establish a brand decide on a direction and your audience early and stick with it unless it’s becoming absolutely clear that it is not working.
This will create the illusion of cohesiveness and that you know what you are doing (something that isn’t always true inside a startup).
Also, as brands are associated with the total range of the products that a company offers, make certain that everything you offer is of high quality.
It is often better to have only a few products which are very good, rather than many products with some of them being subpar, seeing as bad is more powerful than good in people’s minds (which is called the negativity bias) and therefore their bad experiences will weigh heavier than their positive experiences will.
It’s comparable to what restaurants do.
Only cheap restaurants have menus of dozens of pages.
The better restaurants have far fewer options but make certain these options are all of a high quality.
This way they make certain that the chance one of their diners has a bad experience is reduced, as one person that is dissatisfied at dinner, is enough to leave a bad impression for all the people who went.
Next, make certain that your website says what you want it to say.
This is your new shopfront and if it looks messy and unorganised, people will assume you are messy and unorganised.
Don’t just assume that because you like the way it looks, it’s actually on the money.
It’s a much better idea to ask other people’s opinions.
For example, try contacting customers that you already have and ask them whether they like the new layout. Tell them this is to enhance the user experience.
You can even use this to get back in contact with a customer that you’ve lost touch with.
If you can get them to agree, then this can lead to them seeing you in a more positive light through the paradox of when people do you a favour they like you better.
Finally, create a good logo design, or even a mascot as these can become the focus of people’s affective associations.
Unless you’ve got real inspiration, a creative gift or are a great designer, it might be worth getting people involved who know what they’re doing.
If you don’t have the money for that, make certain that you spend some time looking at how the big boys do it so that you’ve got a good idea of what matters.
Also, the internet is full of advice, so make sure you study up.
It’s your most valuable asset
It isn’t your product, or your people or even your hardware that ultimately is the most valuable thing you have.
It’s your brand identity.
As it will turn you into just another abstract page on the internet into something memorable that people will recall the next time they go online.
So whatever you do, you can’t ignore it. After all, other people won’t (or even worse, they will and then you’re in real trouble).
Don’t believe me?
Think of it this way, if you had to replace your team could your company continue going? It would be hard, but it would be possible.
How about if you lost one of your products? If you’ve got a few it should also be survivable.
But what about if your brand either suddenly ceased to exist or – even worse – went completely into the toilet so that nobody trusted it anymore?
Then you’d have to start over. You’d have to reinvent your company and even modify your products.
And even if you kept the same people, even the same location, could you say it’s the same company?
I think not.
So don’t ignore your brand. Instead, nurture, hone and protect it.
For it is the model of the modern company.
Diana Beyer is an experienced creative director who is passionate about writing. Her purpose is to share some value among interested people. Apart from work, Diana likes travelling and reading. Personal motto: “Do one thing every day that scares you”. You can contact her through Twitter.