When to brand:
A guide for startup founders

February 2, 2023
5 min read
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As branding specialists with a wealth of experience supporting startups, we understand the central role that a strong brand plays in determining a business's long-term success.

A company's brand is more than its name or logo — it represents its values, vision, and promise to customers. By carefully crafting and nurturing a brand with precision, a business can differentiate its products, delight customers, and drive margin-enhancing growth.

We have seen firsthand the transformative power of a well-developed brand. It can single-handedly double conversion rates, boost LTV and customer retention, and speed up positive word of mouth. And competitors can't easily steal it. Without a strong brand, growth is exponentially more challenging. In this piece, we will impart our understanding of branding for startups. We will cover topics ranging from the ideal time to brand to the key factors that make a brand unforgettable.

Whether you are a seasoned entrepreneur or a newcomer to the startup world, the insights and practical advice shared here will equip you with the knowledge to create a brand that reinforces all aspects of your company's growth.

When should the branding process start?

The answer is as soon as possible. In fact, we should see the branding process as a top priority for any startup, as it is the foundation of your company's identity and what sets you apart from your competitors.

Starting the branding process early allows ample time to refine and perfect your brand, which is crucial for your long-term growth. The first step in building a solid brand is conducting thorough research on your target market. This includes understanding who you're selling to, what your ideal customer worldview is, who your competitors are, and what trends are currently shaping your industry.

This research serves as the foundation for your brand's positioning and helps you determine what sets your brand apart in the market. By starting the branding process early and investing in the research phase, you'll be able to establish a solid, distinct, and successful brand that resonates with your target audience.

Stages of the branding process

The typical stages of the branding process include:

  • Market Exploration. In the early stages, it is crucial to focus on your target market by identifying who will most likely purchase your product or service. This way, you can minimize wastage and maximize your return on investment in marketing and advertising efforts.

  • Strategy Formulation. The next step is to create a strategy that communicates your brand's positioning and personality. This is critical to align the visual design and language with the emotional positioning you want to convey. For instance, if your brand is playful, the design and copy should reflect that. And if your brand is all about reassurance, the design and copy should feel calm and confident.

  • Identity Development. The aim is to differentiate your brand from competitors in the same market category. We achieve this by using visual design and language that is unique and distinguishes your brand from others. If your competitors are all blue, then consider using red, or if your competitors do not use illustration, then consider using it to make your brand stand out.

  • Brand Activation. Putting it all into action. The final stage is to communicate the key value proposition of your brand and promote your product or service to your target market. They are now ready to learn about your brand and make a purchase, so use this opportunity to communicate all relevant information and promotional offers.

Key elements to develop your brand

Developing a successful brand requires a combination of clear messaging, a unique identity, and consistent communication. To achieve this, it is essential to focus on the core components of branding, including the brand name, logo, visual identity, messaging, and guiding principles or values. These components work in harmony to create a robust and memorable experience that accurately represents the brand's personality and values to its target audience. By carefully crafting these elements, you can ensure that your brand stands out with a distinctive personality and has a greater mental availability in the minds of your target market.

The essential rules of branding

We can distil the essential rules of branding into five fundamental principles:

  • Consistency. Maintaining consistency in your brand identity is vital to effectively communicating your brand's idea. You can achieve this by consistently expressing your brand idea in as many ways as possible and never straying from it.

  • Distinctiveness. To establish a distinctive brand that is easily remembered and chosen, it is critical to intentionally and strategically break away from conventional approaches. Selecting a unique design can be challenging due to our cognitive bias towards the familiar. Still, by being conscious of this bias and choosing a design that is genuinely distinctive and impactful, you can differentiate your brand from the competition and leave a lasting impression on your target audience.

  • Memorability. For a brand to be memorable, it needs to have strong distribution and be easily found through channels such as Amazon or Google searches. When a brand is both well-known and memorable, it's more likely to be bought.

  • Relevance. To create a relevant brand, you need to navigate towards the type of emotion you want your customers to feel when they come into contact with your brand. Think about the emotional connection you want to establish with your audience.

  • Authenticity. Guaranteeing authenticity in your brand requires aligning your higher-order purpose with what your product actually does. Your brand strategy should be rooted in an emotional idea supported by functional benefits, ensuring that your brand's purpose and product are in sync.

Remember that branding is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires time, effort, and well-executed strategies to establish a solid and impactful brand that connects with your target market.

How long does it take to create brand guidelines?

The creation of brand guidelines can take several weeks to several months, depending on the complexity of your brand and the size of your branding team. But don't let the timeframe scare you. A well-executed set of guidelines is critical to brand-building success.

Approach the process with a solid strategy, a thorough understanding of your brand's personality and messaging, and a dedication to extensive research and testing. Don't skimp on revisions and fine-tuning, either.

In the cut-throat world of startups, your brand can make or break your business' success. Don't fall into the trap of treating branding as a secondary consideration. Invest in your future and put in the effort to create a brand that represents who you are, what you stand for, and sets you apart from the competition. The payoffs in recognition, credibility, and growth are incalculable, and your survival in this fiercely competitive environment may hinge on it.

Don't delay. The time to act is now.

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