One of the biggest handicaps of a start-up is that you’re not recognized...yet. But the flipside advantage of the same coin is that you get to build a brand from scratch.
You have no baggage of the past and you get a fresh slate, in this age of ‘tech’ and ‘social-networking’, to determine exactly what image you wish to put out there.
Here are some tips to help you define a fitting and effective brand and implement it:
1. Know your USPs and Play on Them: Being a start-up, it’s quite likely that although your target group is similar to that of many others companies, you have something different to offer. It could be something as explicit as lower prices and more value for money to something more subjective like enhanced style or comfort or simply classic or trendy.
It’s important to know and identify what need you actually serve and why you are relevant. In a nutshell, know who you are. Then, make sure that your brand says what your unique strengths are and who you are, loudly and clearly.
2. Know Who You are Targeting: Just like books for children and books on theology are completely different in terms of style and content and everything in between, your brand communication must be tailored to the audience you plan to address. There’s always a trade-off between targeting more people and having a powerful message – so, don’t try to address everyone.
Once you are certain who your target group is, study who they are, what they enjoy doing, what they really want from your start-up and how they like to be spoken to. All these attributes will help you define the content and tone for your brand message. It will also help you to determine which medium(s) you should use to address them and save you the effort of being present on a wide range of mediums, which may become difficult to monitor and expensive to sustain.
3. Study Competitor Brands: You don’t have to go reinventing the wheel (every time…). Look at all the brands that exist in your own industry. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. Find out how they come across to the target group and where they have succeeded and failed. Use this information as the basis for your own brand. Naturally the suggestion here is not that you should copy what is successful in their brands. Simply understand the motivation behind their choices and why it has delivered success. There will always be scope to be better.
4. Personify Your Brand: If you would like to speed up your branding exercise considerably, there’s an age old trick used by most ‘master branders’. Ask yourself: If your company was a person, what sort of person would it be? So, for instance, would it be masculine or feminine? Young or Old? Casual and Comfortable or Chic and Trendy?... And so on. Naturally, the answers to these questions will never directly be communicated to your potential clientele but it will quickly tell you what colours, images and tonality your brand should adopt.
5. Involve Your Entire Team: Branding is all about creating a perception. So while it’s your company, very often your employees become its face to the world. So ensure that your entire team – be it functions like customer service, finance legal, product development or tech support and R&D – is on board with your branding strategy.
They need to understand how you are projecting the company and its brand and internalise it. In fact, as your company grows, it would make good branding sense to hire people who have a natural tendency to fit in with your branding strategy to ensure that the ethos is strengthened.
6. Get Professional Help: Once again, there’s no use re-inventing the wheel. There is plenty of knowledge about branding that is captured in theory and in the experience of various branding consultants. So, if you believe that hiring a professional to help you could get you more mileage than it would cost you, go ahead, get someone on board. Naturally, this will in no way exempt you from getting one hundred per cent involved in the entire branding exercise. It is, after all, your company’s brand so only you can decide what it should be and which strategy should be used to build it.
Once you have a brand in place, ensure that every visual, communication and product that emerges from your company is compliant with your brand. At the same time, be alert for feedback on your brand image and regularly introspect on whether it still applies as your company as it grows and evolves.
To pre-empt a situation where your company and brand eventually seem poles apart, when you start building your brand, give it enough scope for flexibility. It should be able to accommodate modifications so it can remain relevant despite changes that your company is likely to undergo as it matures.