Build your startup brand, by Jennifer Tietze, DCMN Brand Solutions.

So you’ve come up with a great idea for a business and after doing initial market research in the ideation phase, you are comfortable that you can start building a minimum viable product (MVP). Although this is the phase where the real hard work begins and you need to clearly define your business strategy, it is important to remember that you also need a brand strategy that is closely linked to your business strategy. Having a well-defined brand strategy early on (and including as many stakeholders as possible in those decisions) will act as a roadmap for growth and will prevent you from having to spend a lot of money and time later redefining your brand.

But what is a brand strategy?  You just get someone to design a logo, decide which colours you like and roll out your marketing material, right? Unfortunately not. Branding is so much more than putting your logo on things.

Think of your brand as an iceberg. There is a small part that is entirely visible, but the larger part is hidden below the surface. The visible part is your overall visual identity and your company name and the invisible part is your brand identity. It might seem less fun to start with the invisible part, but strategically you need to define your brand identity (e.g. your vision and mission) to inform your visual identity.

According to Simon Sinek’s famous model called “the golden circle”, and a theory that DCMN’s Brand Solutions team believes in, it is important to think about the WHY, HOW and WHAT – this is a good starting point to understand where you are going with your brand.

WHY are you doing what you do? What is your purpose?  Having a true purpose is relevant for the company’s overall success. HOW do you achieve your goals? WHAT is your offer to the customer? What problem do you solve? When thinking about the HOW and WHAT, make sure you know your unique selling point (USP). Know who your competitors are and what they are best at, understand your target audience and their needs, think of the emotional and rational benefits your brand offers and find the clear point of difference that meets the customers’ needs. These answers can all be gained from doing proper market research and competitor analysis in the early stages of your business and also understanding your own product or service and its benefits to your target audience.

Defining your brand identity – the bottom of the iceberg

Vision: Describe where you are heading

A vision statement is a clear and inspirational roadmap of your company. It sets a defined direction. It is a catchy, one-sentence statement that clarifies the ‘why’ of your company. What are you trying to achieve? If everything goes according to plan, the vision is how your brand will have changed the world.

Tips: Make it as short and clear as possible, be ambitious and focus on success, make sure it’s future-oriented and keep it specific to your business.

Example: Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company, to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online (Amazon)

Mission: Define how you reach your goal​

A mission statement focuses on today and what the organization does and how you do it​. Your mission statement drives the company, it is the core of the business, and from it comes your objectives and finally, what it takes to reach those objectives. It can also shape your company’s culture​.

Tips: Keep it short and concise, be specific​, focus on the customer​ and align with core values​.

Example: Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. (Google)

Brand values: What do you believe as a company?

Values should answer the questions:​ What do you stand for, what do you value most and what do you believe as a company?​

The brand values are at the core of the brand and can influence other elements of the visual brand identity​.

Tips: Make sure your values are memorable​, meaningful​, actionable​, unique​ and timeless​.

Example: Focus on impact​, move fast​, be bold​, be open​, build social value​ (Facebook)

Brand personality: Put yourself into your brand’s shoes

The brand personality is the set of characteristics that are attributed to a brand​. It gives an answer to the question: “If your brand was a human being, how would you describe him or her?”​ The brand‘s personality drives how the brand looks, acts and sounds and makes your brand unique​. It attracts the target audience and creates a connection​.

Tips:
Limit the number of characteristics that best describe your brand to no more than six, be unambiguous​ and align with the brand values.

 Tone of voice (ToV):  This will inform all written copy​

The ToV is the expression of your brand’s unique personality and values. We know that the same thing can be said in so many different ways, so clearly defining your TOV will set a framework for how you communicate with stakeholders (what words and phrases you use, in which style you use it, etc.). By promoting consistency, it helps to maintain a high quality of communication​. ToV contributes to differentiating yourself from your competition and building relationships.

Tips: Make sure the ToV reflects your values and personality, use unambiguous and actionable terms to define your ToV​ and draft examples.​

Remember the iceberg? Now let’s go to the visible part

Brand name: One of the most important decisions​

A name can be descriptive, evocative, invented, lexical, acronym, geographical, contain the name of a founder, etc. When choosing a name, consider that it is (almost always) for life and it needs to work in the future too. Also, do your homework before deciding on a name – check domain availability and make sure the name isn’t already registered. Keep in mind that certain names have specific associations among your various target groups and cultures and the name should also be internationally suitable. And equally important, be distinctive to be memorable. ​

Colours: don’t underestimate the psychology of colour

A picture is worth a thousand words. Colour increases brand recognition by 80% and 84.7% of consumers cite colour as their main reason for buying a particular product.*

Think about the following: What personality and/or values do you want to express? What kind of feelings do you want to evoke? What are the trends in the industry and how can you be different within the known visual codes that come for specific industries?

*University of Loyola, Maryland study.

And what about shape?

Similar to colour, shapes have a psychological effect. Something as basic as logo shapes can convey emotions and each shape triggers a different emotion. Colour can also amplify the effect of the shape.

These are examples of associations that your customer can have with different shapes:

Round – soft; positive emotional message; community, friendship, love, relationship and unity; commitment

Rectangular – stability and balance; safety; strength, efficiency; comfort; professionalism; bold

Triangle – strength; speed; direction and movement, substitute for letters ‘A’ and ‘V’; science, religion and law

A brand is more than just a logo. Everything you communicate and display to the audience, even if you don’t consider it consciously to be ‘branding’, has an effect on your brand. Your visual language needs to reflect the identity and core of your brand. It is very important to know your competition as well as understand your target market. Always know your why and make sure you stand out.  In short, do your homework properly in the early stages of your business so that it can be your roadmap for future growth and success.

As you move to the next stage in your startup journey, consider how you will incorporate your brand strategy into the communications and marketing strategy that you need to develop next. Keep a holistic view of your business strategy and understand which marketing activities fit in where.