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How Are Startup Branding Strategies Evolving?

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In the fast-paced world of startups, having a strong brand identity is crucial for success. To help founders stay ahead of the curve, we've gathered insights from PR managers and CEOs on the trends that are expected to shape the future of branding. From developing unique brand offers to adopting emotional branding, we've compiled 21 valuable insights to help guide startups toward building a successful brand.

Develop Unique Brand Offers

Building off competitors and developing a unique strategy and offering: this is what will set brands apart in the future. Each brand should strive to create an original offer for potential consumers, but the offer should be aimed at closing the needs and solving the problems of consumers. It is important to answer the following questions: Why your startup? What makes it different from the rest? What new things can you offer to the audience?

Variety and loyalty programs for potential customers also play a major role, thus attracting a wide audience and helping someone to become an ambassador of the brand. Loyalty programs are not new to the world of marketing and branding, but using and developing them helps businesses reach the next level.

Julia Voloshchenko, PR Manager, Usetech

Embrace Omnichannel Communication

I think one of the ongoing trends in a successful startup branding strategy will remain omnichannel communication, and those brands that were critical of its implementation will eventually undergo a transformative process in 2024.

We've observed firsthand the evolving demands of modern consumers. They expect seamless transitions across various channels, spanning apps, mobile browsers, desktop browsers, physical stores, and social media platforms. Any deficiencies in design or personalization within these channels have the potential to deter consumers, and it is a critical need for brands to adapt swiftly.

In 2023, we witnessed a significant shift, with 80% of our orders focused on app redesign, concept creation, and development from scratch, aligned with startups' omnichannel strategies. I think this trend is expected to continue in 2024.

Scaling the omnichannel environment for startups will become a significant task for PR specialists this year, to ensure brands meet consumer expectations but also engage to avoid any potential alienation. Through clear communication and strategic initiatives, I believe brands can reach these goals.

Kate Derkach, PR manager, Alty

Diversify Communication Channels

Spreading efforts across various channels—such as multiple social media platforms, various media outlets, and participation in offline events—is a strategy that mitigates risks. Relying exclusively on one communication channel becomes precarious in uncertain times. By adopting a diversified approach, startups can expand their reach beyond a limited audience, differentiate themselves from competitors, and safeguard against complete communication breakdowns in the event of a single-channel failure.

It's crucial for startups to establish visibility and, whenever feasible, create touchpoints with the audience across different channels. This not only enhances their presence but also facilitates smoother navigation through the marketing funnel toward the desired outcome.

Ksenia Eremina, PR Manager, HypeFactory

Utilize Advanced Audience Insights

Startups, often limited by budget, tend to leverage all possible low-cost opportunities for promotion. The principle of virality suggests that to make something viral, you need to create content with which people can associate themselves. This principle has led businesses of all sizes, from small startups to large corporations, to seek every minor insight they can about their audience. Thanks to advanced analytics technology, which has become much cheaper and, therefore, more accessible, startups now have access to deeper insights into consumer behaviors, preferences, and trends than ever before, which they can use to achieve this virality effect.

For brand strategy, understanding your audience allows you not only to offer a better product but also to promote it more effectively using relatively low-cost channels. For example, one of the messages we used in our brand strategy is positioning ourselves as a "safe space for mistakes" because we believe that there is no educational process without mistakes. After conducting a brand survey where we asked our users how well our messages resonated with them, we discovered that the audience most appreciative of this message was aged 18 to 24, Gen Z. This is unsurprising, as they are considered to be the generation most aware of their mental health.

I believe that over time, startups will make more and more informed decisions. This will allow them to position their brands correctly and to gain not just visibility but preference from the target audience.

Alena Kozub, Head of Brand and Global Communications, Promova

Advertise in Augmented Realities

The recent release of the Apple Vision Pro is a glimpse into the future of advertising. Soon, many brands will find themselves advertising in virtual and augmented environments. Today, people are posting videos of themselves walking around outside with headsets as a novelty. But as augmented reality headsets become smaller, more portable, and more stylish, it will be commonplace for people to wear them out of home. At that point, brands will be able to choose points in space to display their ads to people wearing headsets. Such advertising is already possible without headsets. Games like Pokémon GO display virtual objects in real space that are visible when using a mobile phone. It's only a matter of time before augmented reality is fully integrated into branding strategies.

Dennis Consorte, Digital Marketing & Leadership Consultant for Startups, Snackable Solutions

Execute Bold PR Stunts

One future trend that seems likely to take off is startups doing bold PR stunts. For example, Snoop Dogg announced he was not smoking anymore as part of a series with Solo Stove, a smokeless fire pit company, and his smoke-free tweets and Instagram posts generated a lot of press and social media chatter.

This strategy works well for startups who are looking to make a name for themselves in crowded and increasingly commoditized markets: for example, by aligning themselves with celebrities or influencers in ways that challenge how those celebrities or influencers are typically seen or expected to behave, brands can make a memorable impact on their audience that will really stick. But the key to success with such a stunt lies in finding the unique angle that's so bonkers it feels totally on-brand, then delivering the message hard and fast so that it has a great chance of sticking.

I predict that this tactic will be employed by more startups, who will leverage the shock value and novelty of offbeat pairings or announcements to get press and stand out amid the crowded market of online startups. But careful thought needs to go into executing these stunts so they don't come off as gimmicky or insincere, and instead embody a company's values and message—which, in the end, makes that company more memorable and engaging in the already-saturated market it's looking to disrupt.

Blake Smith, Marketing Manager, ClockOn Rostering, Attendance & Payroll

Leverage Early-Stage Brand Influencers

Startups are going to begin leveraging brand influencers in the earlier stages of their growth. Companies will attach their brands to micro-influencers relevant to their ideal customer, or they'll find household names willing to be associated with their product. The brand partnerships may be paid, in exchange for a board seat, or as part of an investment agreement. Zac Efron and his relationship with Kodiak Cakes is a solid example. Expect more of this approach when it comes to brand strategies.

Logan Mallory, Vice President of Marketing, Motivosity

Focus on Purpose-Driven Branding

As someone who's been in the PR space for a bit, I do foresee a major shift happening in branding strategies. Specifically, startups are starting to focus more heavily on purpose-driven branding.

Today's consumers, especially younger generations, care deeply about the 'why' behind companies. They want to buy from and work for brands that align with their values. And they can spot disingenuous purpose statements a mile away.

That's why I encourage any of the clients we work with to identify their core mission and beliefs from day one. Figure out how your product or service actually improves people's lives, then make that the keystone of your brand. Let it guide everything from your logo to your partnerships to your internal culture.

The startups that will break through the noise in the coming years are those that stand for something bigger than profits. It's no longer enough to slap a cool slogan on a startup and call it brand-building. Consumers expect substance.

Zachary Bernard, Founder, We Feature You PR

Prioritize Thought Leadership

In light of the growing influence of thought leadership, it is apparent that startup branding strategies will increasingly focus on leveraging the power of this approach in their branding, marketing, and PR strategies. Thought leadership, which involves the creation of innovative and intriguing content that positions a brand as a credible authority, is proving to be a highly effective way for startups to establish themselves as leaders. As such, startups must prioritize thought leadership as a key element of their branding and PR strategies, especially in the startup phase, to build brand awareness, credibility, and trust with their target audience.

Ashley Graham, Founder, The Conscious Publicist

Implement Micro-Influencer Strategies

Using influencers for branding is nothing new for large businesses, but a future trend for small businesses will be to implement micro-influencers as a part of their strategy. Influencers with massive followings presented a twofold problem for small businesses, as their followings cast too wide a net, which hurt their ROI, and they were generally way outside of their budget range.

However, micro-influencers offer several advantages for smaller niche businesses in that their audiences are more specific, they are often viewed as more genuine, they can be aligned with smaller brands more easily, and their cost is significantly lower than influencers who have millions of followers. Moving forward, a strong future trend in branding for small businesses will be the use of micro-influencers, who offer a great way to message to a target audience without breaking the bank.

Kevin Miller, Founder, kevinmiller.com

Utilize Virtual Influencers

One future trend I foresee in startup branding strategies is the utilization of virtual influencers. These computer-generated individuals, with highly realistic appearances and distinct personalities, have been gaining traction on social media platforms. Virtual influencers can be programmed to reflect the core values and vision of a startup, making them an attractive option for branding purposes. For instance, a health-tech startup could create a virtual influencer who leads an active lifestyle while advocating for their innovative products or services. By leveraging virtual influencers, startups can not only reach a wider audience but also maintain complete control over the messaging and image projected by these digital brand ambassadors. This emerging trend in startup branding strategies could establish deeper connections between brands and consumers while offering unique storytelling opportunities that resonate within niche markets.

Michael Alexis, CEO, teambuilding.com

Shift to Authentic Branding

I foresee a major shift towards more authentic and purpose-driven branding. In the past, many startups focused heavily on having a slick, trendy brand that felt aspirational. But today's consumers, especially younger demographics, crave realness and a sense of meaning. They want to support brands that share their values.

So I think branding strategies will pivot to highlight what makes each startup unique—its founding story, its social impact goals, its commitment to quality or innovation. Startups will get creative in showing their human side versus trying to appear perfect and untouchable. They'll embrace transparency and have a voice on important issues. And they'll build brands that authentically reflect their ideals. This shift towards authenticity and purpose will help startups better connect with their target audience.

Gauri Manglik, CEO and Co-Founder, Instrumentl

Build Brand Through Partnerships

Most of the founders and start-ups I meet with are focused on how to build positive brand sentiment and how to build social followings that lead to sales. The most efficient way to strategize content for a brand's marketing funnel will be through partnership and creator marketing. Long-term strategic partnerships with other 'like-minded' brands and ambassador programs with creators allow startups to affiliate themselves with trusted, credible, authentic, and loved figures and brands—building their brand awareness. Long-term content programming can eventually turn audiences into customers.

Brooke Persich, Founder, Onlign Lab

Integrate Ethical Practices into Branding

One future trend I foresee in startup branding strategies, through my experiences as a brand reputation manager, is the increasing emphasis on ethical and sustainable practices as core components of brand identity. While sustainability has been a growing concern in recent years, startups will likely prioritize integrating ethical and environmentally friendly initiatives into their branding strategies to resonate with socially conscious consumers. This goes beyond simply adopting green practices; it involves transparently communicating the company's values, sourcing methods, and environmental impact throughout the entire brand narrative. Startups that authentically embrace sustainability not only appeal to a growing segment of eco-conscious consumers but also differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace by demonstrating a genuine commitment to ethical business practices.

As consumers become more discerning and socially aware, startups that proactively address these concerns in their branding strategies are likely to gain a competitive edge and build stronger connections with their audience over time.

Matt Earle, President, Reputation.ca

Own the Conversation

Instead of trying to win over traditional press outlets, many startups are now speaking directly to their customers and owning the conversation. This trend will only become more popular as newsrooms shrink and audiences segment into more niche groups. For example, fintech startups like Ramp are taking to social media to announce fundraising rounds and control the narrative. Bigger companies like Airbnb are also doing the same, with CEO Brian Chesky using his personal Twitter account to unveil new features on the platform.

Newer companies understand the importance of being digitally native and having a large audience where they can directly control the messaging and flow of information. A newer trend many founders and companies are embracing is the newsletter model. This not only allows organizations to operate as their own newsroom but also enables brands and founders to show more personality and humanity in a safer space than in an interview with a reporter, where there is a risk something will be misinterpreted or taken out of context.

Ebony Lewkovitz, Founder, Eden Communications

Foster Digital Brand Communities

The use of community building—take Zumba, for example. They built an entire community from a startup through user-generated content and a community manager system. This meant that Zumba community leaders could get work and a full career through this, while building out a community which they support.

Now, one thing we are seeing is community building on a digital level. Startup brands are beginning to consider pockets of their businesses where they can build an online hangout for their community, customers, and users.

For example, a new skate shop may consider creating an interactive map on their website which allows users to browse through the best local skateparks and leave reviews for other community members. Not only does this redefine the value they are showing the customer, but it also creates an online area where their community can gather.

The same applies to an interactive 'design your own skateboard' feature. Nike did something similar with the 'design your own custom shoe' on their website. This gave the younger audience a place where they can 'hang out' online, share their designs with their friends, and become a part of their community.

So for me, the biggest startup branding trend I see being taken on more and more is the use of building a brand community.

George Panayides, Digital Marketing Specialist, The Digital xx

Recognize Brand as Success Key

According to data from the US Census Bureau, there were a record-breaking 5.5 million new businesses launched in 2023, compared to 3.5 million in 2019. This means that the market is saturated, and competition is fierce. Simply having a great product is no longer enough to succeed. Now, the only metric that matters is attention. If a new startup is not capturing people's attention, it is likely on its way out.

This is where branding comes in.

For a long time, 'branding' was the secret weapon of Corporate America. However, with the rise of influencers and the popularity of entrepreneurship, startups are beginning to recognize the power of building a strategic brand.

As a brand consultancy, we have noticed a significant shift this year in how founders think and talk about their brands. We are having more mature conversations with prospective clients, with less focus on 'logos' and more discussions about leveraging their identities to strategically position themselves for success.

Founders have become more brand-savvy and now recognize the human element behind successful brands. More and more of them are choosing to invest in hiring a seasoned team over freelancers, crowdsourcing sites, or AI.

Having a strategic brand will soon become the minimum requirement for new startups as more and more continue to flood the market. Remember, if you are not investing in your brand, your competition probably is–and they are coming for your lunch!

Rani Sweis, CEO, AtticSalt

Incorporate Sustainability into Branding

In the dynamic landscape of startup branding, a trend that I foresee gaining significant traction is the integration of sustainability into core brand narratives. This change is about businesses incorporating sustainable practices into their business models and building their brand identity from the ground up, not merely about selling green initiatives. Customers of today, who are more and more inclined to support companies that show a sincere commitment to social and environmental responsibility, find great resonance in this strategy.

Drawing from my experience, in "SAFC's #IamGREENHERO Reduce, Reuse, Redrive" campaign, the impact of such an initiative goes beyond mere promotion. Through a basic alignment of the brand with the values of its audience, it cultivates a stronger bond and increased loyalty. This campaign demonstrated how, in addition to differentiating us in the financial sector, including sustainability into our offerings—in this example, encouraging the financing of used automobiles to lessen the environmental impact—also improved consumer opinion of our brand.

As consumers grow more aware of the environmental and social impact of their purchases, startups that truly incorporate sustainability into their branding strategy will have a competitive advantage. I believe this trend will become a cornerstone of startup branding strategies, shaping how emerging businesses build their brand, engage with customers, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Robel de Jesus, Corporate Communications Group Head, SAFC

Practice Kindness in Branding

In today's world, kindness matters more than ever. Startup organizations need to make sure this is practiced internally as well as externally. Leadership must demonstrate this to staff and clients through traditional and social media, as well as just the day-to-day operations. People only work with people they like and trust, and when a startup can demonstrate these key features, it will seep into all of its branding. It can be through corporate social responsibility, such as working with the community to provide warm clothing and food for those who are in a difficult position. It can be partnerships with larger firms or even sports teams to obtain discounted items and/or tickets to share with their customers. A startup needs to ensure they are seen as community members, leaders, and community builders. If your branding demonstrates that you support the community, the community around your startup will always support you.

Michael Wood, Consultant, Professor, Ottawa Consultants

Offer Tactical Coupons

We work with a lot of newer brands and find that offering tactical coupons works really well in the early stages.

Consumers are trained to understand that these promos don't run forever. For an untrusted brand, that sense of 'quick - the train is leaving, and you're not on it!' can be the push needed to convert awareness into customers.

Consumers today are trained to seek out a coupon code, and if you don't offer one, you're often just losing out to companies that do.

I think the more that attitudes start to shift away from traditional 'money-off' deals, the more you'll see smaller companies adopt coupons.

A popular alternative, for example, is free shipping on orders over $X. With this style of coupon, your customers feel like they got a deal while you just increased your AOV.

Clay Cary, Trends Analyst, Coupon Follow

Adopt Emotional Branding

Given the growing demand for authenticity and social responsibility, I think the new trend is emotional branding.

This approach goes beyond traditional marketing (features and benefits) and allows for a deeper connection with your audience.

Today's consumers aren't just looking for products or services; they seek to partner with brands that have values and beliefs that align with theirs. Thus, startups need to be bolder in declaring their values.

For example, a startup can not only sell eco-friendly products but also actively participate in environmental conservation efforts, openly share its sustainability journey with its audience, and engage customers in meaningful conversations about the importance of protecting the environment. By doing this, they are not just selling a product; they invite their clients to be part of a movement that aligns with their personal values and aspirations.

Olga Natalchenko, pr manager, Wiserbrand