5 easy steps to keep in mind for your startup branding

This step-by-step guide with examples will help startup founders pin down their branding so they can stand out from competitors and reach their audience.

Photo: unsplash

6 min read

You're probably reading this because you’ve got a promising business idea, a great product, and now you need to build the brand. But how do you create a unique brand that communicates your value? 

Maybe you've already visited a freelance site or had a friend of a friend draft up a couple of logo concepts for you on Canva. But branding is a lot more than creating a beautiful logo.

What exactly is startup branding and why is it so important?

Branding is a necessary part of setting up and positioning your business. It aims to make people quickly identify and experience the essence of your company and, ultimately, choose you over your competitors.

Your brand has to encapsulate who you are as a business, the core values your business represents, and how you want potential users (and also investors or talent) to think about you.

Many startups prefer not to spend their time and money on branding (yes, we are well aware that money is super scarce at the beginning) and just go along with current internet trends, contract someone on Fiverr, or simply copy their competitor’s brand identity. This can work for very early startup phases, but this doesn’t work in the mid- to long-term.

You can only market your product or service successfully if you have a solid, consistent, and differentiated brand identity.

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, once said: 'In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish.' In other words, it isn’t the size of the fish (e.g. big corporations with huge marketing budgets); it’s their speed and agility.

Firms that are quick to develop and execute an effective marketing and branding strategy, regardless of their size, have the opportunity to stand out from their competitors.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Startup branding: 5 easy steps to get started

Branding strategy involves creating a name, a logo, and other design assets that are easily identifiable with your startup.

Before we get to the fun part, we’ll have to analyze and understand the surroundings of your branding environment, such as your core brand elements, your audience, and your competition.

Using the analogy of the fish example above, we have to see which type of fish you are and the direction you want to go in and identify the ocean (the other competitors as well and who you want to appeal to) before we start with the visual elements that will make your company unique and stand out from the crowd.

With these five steps, you should get an overall idea of your startup branding. Don't fall into clichés; be authentic! Take some time, ask someone else for help if needed, and drink a couple of coffees while you work on them. ☕

Step 1: The Brand Core

Identify your purpose, vision, mission, and values to build a brand with a strong foundation.

When you first thought about building a brand around your venture, your initial branding ideas were likely focused on what you offer as a product or service. This is good, but we need to dive a little deeper. Ask yourself the following questions and write them down briefly in one to three sentences:

  1. Why are you offering this product/service; what is the purpose of your venture at all?
  2. What future do you want to help create; what is your vision?
  3. Having your purpose and vision in place should make the process of coming up with the perfect mission statement a lot easier. Work on your mission statement by asking yourself how you can actually create that future. Your mission statement helps you to build an internal culture and drive your future marketing efforts.
  4. Finally ask yourself: what are your most important brand values?
Sneak peek of a brand core document we created for an interview intelligence platform

Step 2: Your target audience

Understand your audience and how your brand can speak to their unique needs.

Create up to three user personas based on your research in order to represent the different user types that might interact with your brand. If you already have Google Analytics or user surveys, great! If not, just create fictional personas where you put yourself in their shoes. Creating personas will help you to understand your users' needs, experiences, behaviors, and goals.

Despite their demographic data, it is super important to understand what pain points they have and how your product or service can help solve their problems.

User persona we created for a pet treat startup

Step 3: Your competitive environment

Pinpoint who you're competing against so that you can better differentiate your brand.

Create a list of three to five competitor brands, what their product offering is, their value proposition, their brand look and feel, and their brand voice. What is it that you like about them, and what is it that you don't like?

Most importantly: What are you offering that makes you different from them?

The other day I read an interesting article, mentioning that if you don’t have differentiation points, low pricing is the ultimate variable to get clients. This is valid, but you probably don’t want to be considered as the low-quality solution in your industry. Instead, find out what your core strength is and communicate that loud and clear!

Competitive analysis we did for a food marketplace

Step 4: Your brand voice

Create your brand voice to humanize your brand and communicate consistently throughout all of your content.

The easiest way to choose your brand voice is to pull out a piece of scrap paper and write down every adjective that comes to mind when thinking about your brand. There are no wrong answers here, just think about how those words are going to make your end consumers feel.

Once you have a solid list of words, go through them and pick three to five that best describe the vibe that you feel resonates most with your brand. For example, a toy brand might describe itself as playful, silly, and adventurous.

Another question you could ask yourself: If our brand were a celebrity, who would we be? For example, a hip luxury suit brand might describe themselves as George Clooney’s younger brother ... ;)

Sometimes, we also try to personify the brand and ask the following questions: what happens if this brand were a person and goes to a party? Is the brand male/female, how is he/she dressed, how does he/she interact at the party and how is he/she described by the people who are at the party?

Brand persona creation for an HR company

Another way of determining your brand personality is with this questionnaire below. Simply mark on the bar where you want your brand to fall on the spectrum.

Brand personality workshop we did for the rebranding of a consulting company

Step 5: Visual Identity

In the first four steps we were talking about your brand strategy. Now it's time to actually design an effective and comprehensive visual identity that communicates who you are.

Ideation and Concept

At this stage, it usually helps to do a brainstorming session where you put together all the information about your goals, values, and brand personality, translating it into visual concepts. The tricky part is now how to communicate these sentiments through visuals. Start with associations and write them down. (Yes, they can be super abstract, like in our case below: Travel pills → Your best travel mate → Sherpa → Helpful, Strong, Loyal etc.)

Conceptualizing graphic elements of a travel brand

Visual Identity

A brand identity is an intricate design system where each element influences the other (naming, logo, colors, typefaces, illustrations, tone of voice, etc.). The logo design is usually the starting point.

Logo

There are basically two types of logos: image or icon-based logos, and name-based logos, or a combination of both. See for yourself which type you are more drawn to:

  • Wordmark: stylized letters representing the brand’s name, e.g. Uber
  • Brandmark: an abstract representation or symbol of the brand, e.g. Starbucks
  • Combination mark: a combination of both words and symbols, e.g. Puma

Bear in mind the following:

1. A logo must be memorable: the most memorable logos (Ikea, Apple, Target) are made from the simplest forms.

2. A logo must be functional: a logo has to be functional to work in different sizes and in different circumstances; for web, app, social media, and print.

3. A logo must be contextual: the logo should be contextual to the company. It should feel appropriate and not visually awkward.

We usually design the logo in black and white first and then we work on the shapes and add colors.

Step 1: simple logo in black & white
Step 2: Logo with shapes (mountain & waves)
Step 3: Logo with shapes & colors

Colors

Once you have defined your logo, you can work on your color palette. Try to put all the colors in context and see which color can represent which brand value. A good color palette is clean and flexible and should basically include:

  • one to two primary colors
  • three to five secondary colors
  • accent or support colors
The color scheme for a pet brand including applications on packaging

Typography

Typography can be tricky in a visual language, especially when brands follow trends (at some point everybody started using Helvetica). Your typography should be timeless and original.To keep it simple, limit the number of font families to two–three. This generally includes primary (headlines) and secondary brand typefaces (body copy).

Further visual elements

Depending on what sector your brand is in you need to create further visual elements that enhance your brand imagery, for example, illustrations, photography, and iconography. The imagery needed also depends on whether your brand is applied mainly online or offline.

In general, use consistent, cohesive visual styles. Ensure imagery is high quality and high resolution. When using photography, be mindful of inclusive representation.

Packaging design of Co-Pilot including graphic elements

Step 6: Put everything together

Sorry, I said earlier it was only five steps – but this one is the last piece when building your brand. It’s important that you take the time to put everything together that you’ve worked on. Some call this a style guide, some call it brand guidelines, and some call it your brand book.

Your brand guidelines will be your bible in everything you do from here on out. You should look to it for advice on the best direction to go in, not only design-wise but also for your actions in general out there (e.g. if 'trust' is an important brand element, make sure that you make the necessary decisions and actions so that your employees, your trade partners, and your clients can actually trust your company).

Ideally, you should have all the necessary information for your startup branding by now. If you want some indirect propaganda here, keep on reading. 😇 I'll explain to you how we at The Branx work as a startup branding studio.

Our startup branding process in a nutshell

When a startup decides that we are a good fit for them, we check first on how advanced they are with their strategic branding. When we are working with already established startups who want to enter the next growth phase, we usually do a branding workshop with the management team so that everybody can share their opinion and is aligned with their new brand strategy.

For teams that have their brand strategy already sorted, we provide a framework to consolidate all relevant brand strategic information.

Once we understand their business environment, goals, and values, we start with the creation of their visual identity.

Usually, we sketch and refine ideas until we present the two best branding concepts (not just logos – we put everything into context). Their favorite solution will be selected and refined. Finally, we put everything together in a brand guideline book to ensure further brand consistency for our client's team.

As we work with startups, their most important touchpoint is their website. We help bring their brand to life with custom-built, interactive, and state-of-the-art web pages. Here are some examples in case you want to have a look.

Naming, branding, illustrations, web and growth for Muylocal
Branding, Web, Illustration, and UX Design for Impro

If you need help with your startup branding, don't hesitate to contact us. We're happy to help.

About the author

Ines Haitzinger
Marketing & Co-Founder

Ines is our expert in Brand Strategy & Activation. She ensures that your brand is well positioned, user-centric and consistent along all touchpoints.

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