Five Tips For Building Your Startup's Brand Strategy The company brand is your personal calling card- it can stay with you forever.

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Founding a new company? Great. So, how much time, money and effort should you put into branding? Established brands seem to be worth a lot of money. But the operative word there is established. More important than the brand is the product you are trying to get market traction with. While it may be exciting to have a brand name that you identify with, you are not the target- the market is! Even investors will fall in love with a not-so-perfect brand that smells of profits. Here are a few tips to help you on your way with your branding strategy.

1. Separate the brand of the product from the company Many aspiring unicorns want to reach a point when they can sell their company, but then the only brand they created is the brand they also have to give away. I can imagine some of the separation pains with that. You get more leverage when you legally separate the company from the product brand. Of course, you have to invest in accounting to keep things transparent. Also, you need money to register your trademark. There are many ways this strategy can help you. For example, you can own patents in the company and "lease" them to the product brand, for example. You have more flexibility in how you wish to distribute stock. In this case, you can launch multiple products from the company, and look at potential spinoffs for each product (if you get sufficient funding). This also allows you to cut your losses without hurting your core brand (and you can decide which it is- the company or the product). More importantly, the company brand is your personal calling card- it can stay with you forever.

2. The brand values are more important than the brand Rather than wasting a lot of time, money and effort on the graphic design of the logo, do spend more time on the brand values you want for your company and the product. The brand values of the company should showcase your culture, and you need to live by them as well as invest time for training so all employees understand what it means. The brand values of your product are your promise to the market. You oversell this promise, customers will be dissatisfied with your performance, no matter how better you are from competitors. You should be able to reduce your brand promise into a tag line of not more than five words. Test it to see if the meaning is clear- ask the final customer.

Related: How To Choose A Name For Your Company

3. The logo design can change- focus on the name Brand names are important. There are all sorts of fads going around for branding: founder name combinations, native language translated names, morphed product names. All of this does not really matter though- what matters is the question: "what does it mean?" The meaning is important. Customers will make assumptions based on the font, the style, color, and graphics associated with the brand. You should be able to take your brand values and brand goals, and translate that into the brand name. Keep it simple and uncluttered. The next important thing to ask yourself is how the brand is being perceived by the customers. The more easy it is to remember and pronounce, the easier it is to ask for it when making a product choice. If you are in the B2C market, emotions matter more than performance. In B2B markets. reliability and value are key for relationship marketing. The more complicated the name, the more money you need to spend educating the customer what it means. How much money do you have to waste when you are setting up a startup?

4. Future potential The brand name should have future potential for product expansions. If your brand name is specific, for example, XYZ Cola, you are pretty much stuck in the cola beverage business. Consider questions like: do you want to be global? What does this name mean to other global customers? Do you want to enter into other target segments- can it make the transition across generations and genders? Where can the spillovers lie? Who would you like to form partnerships with- what are the synergies? Will there be enough physical space on product variations to put your brand name? These are important questions that will help you determine the future potential of a brand name.

5. Storytelling matters Get out there and preach. Your story and your aha-moments do matter, as the greatest brands have a cult following based on magnified stories (think Apple and Steve Jobs). More recently in the Middle East, you can look at Ronaldo Mouchawar and Samih Toukan and their company Souq (which was the auction site of Maktoob). In the international market, take the case of Harry's, the razor startup that is giving the big players a close shave. Brands can take the role of heroes or anti-heroes. Both work, but you do need to understand the market mood. Being a hero is a safer bet, while a campaign can use the anti-hero theme. But remember that anti-hero themes are exhausting to manage, and require significant funds, even though in the short-term, you get a lot of expose. Don't make the mistake of thinking exposure equals success. There are many startups that grew too big in valuations though over-exposure, and then have had to face a hasty public downfall.

Related: Infographic: Believable Branding In The UAE- Who Do We Trust?

Dr. Melodena Stephens Balakrishnan

Professor of Innovation Management, Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government

Professor Melodena Stephens is the author of the book, Business with Purpose: Advancing Social Enterprise. She is the Professor of Innovation Management at the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government, Dubai, UAE. She can be reached via email on and on Twitter @melodena.

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