Start Up Branding Tips

Branding is a tricky business. It’s one of those things where you see a better return on investment with the more you invest. In the startup phase, you don’t have the budget to put aside for branding, for many, it’s an afterthought, which is a bad way of looking at your company’s branding efforts.

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When we talk about branding, we’re not talking about how pretty your logo design is. We’re talking about your whole company, what you stand for, what you’re about and what you believe in. So how is it acceptable that that’s an afterthought? It’s what you build your whole company around, you can’t afford for it to be an afterthought.

Start-ups are notoriously strapped for cash, so how should you best plan to spend your branding budget? Let’s take a look.

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1. Get a Plan

Without a plan from the outset, you’ll find it hard to nail down ideas and make decisions. You need to dig deep with your research, decide on who you’re targeting and then work out how you’re going to do it. How are your competitors doing it? Is it working for them? Is there room for someone else doing the same thing, or do you need to head in a completely different direction?

Without this information, you’ll find it hard to accept or reject ideas further down the line. You need to be thinking about your end goal and thinking of how you’re going to get there. This leads us nicely on to…

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2. Research, Research, Research

Speaking of competitors, you’re going to need to get a little sly. If you’re a service provider, you’ll spend ages deciding what you should be charging. You’ll hear low prices, you’ll hear ridiculously high prices, should you just shoot down the middle? No. Do your research. Set up an email address or two and email your competitors. Email all of them. Email people further down the country and further up too and see what they’re charging. Evaluate how much work they’re doing and decide what you think you’re worth. Decide your prices after you have an overview of your competitors. It’s all in the research.

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3. Don’t DIY

Branding involves a lot more than a logo design (not that you should do that yourself either) and you really really shouldn’t attempt branding your own company. If you want to install a new shower unit in your house, do you do it yourself? Of course not. You hire a professional. Branding and design agencies train for years and years, hiring other professionals from the world over, they know what they’re talking about, listen to them. If you’ve got a plan and a target audience, a great design agency will make you a lot more money than they cost you.

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4. Try Thinking Like Your Customers

You’ll have strong personal attachments to your business and your branding, however, you absolutely must try and detach yourself from those. When your designer or design agency comes to you with their ideas and presentation, try and think like your target audience, not your usual self. Would they buy it? Would it appeal to them? Okay, fair enough, you don’t like the colour purple, but if it’s right for your new business, try to accept it.

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5. Be Transparent

If you’re thinking about using content marketing as a strategy for your business – think extra hard about your posts. What do your customers want to know? How can you help them? One of our most successful posts has been about the price of logo design, driving us numerous leads and solidifying some great business relationships. What can you offer your customers that other people aren’t? By knocking down the walls and being transparent, your customers will come to you knowing what to expect and learn to trust you from the outset.

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5. Perception

You might work from your bedroom in your underpants and slippers, but do you want the world to think that? Or do you want to be known as a top business in your respected field? Hiring a professional branding expert will help you achieve the brand positioning that you desire. Think about the way you want your brand to appear. Are you a freelancer or a big corporation? Do you want your customers to know that you’re working out of your spare room? First impressions count, make sure you get it right.

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6. Get a Message

Whatever your business is about, to go along with your plan, you’re going to need a message and a set of brand values. Is your business all about being the best barber shop in the North East of England? Or are you a printer who focuses on printing great quality letterheads at the lowest prices? Whatever the message is, make sure your branding and brand identity are geared towards it.

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7.Keep It Simple

Keep your business name simple and your strap line short, and use them. Use them all over the place. No matter what you’re producing, make sure you’re using your company name and logo wherever possible. Keep it all simple and laid out in a good and easy to read fashion. Following confusing trends and strange layouts will only bamboozle your viewer. Give them what they need in the easiest way possible and eliminate barriers that could prevent them being a customer or client.

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8. Be Consistent, Establish Brand Guidelines

Whatever you’re doing, be consistent. By establishing a set of brand guidelines at an early stage you can ensure that everyone applies your brand identity in a consistent manner. This is essential to ensure that your target market begin to become familiar with your brand and start trusting it. Consistency is key to growing a brand. How often do you see Nike mentioned without the swoosh?

And away from the purely visual links, think about other consistent brand experiences. When you go to Starbucks, you know that their coffee and drinks are going to be the same the world over. The same with McDonalds, it might not be particularly tasty, but you know what you’re getting. (You can leave your McDonalds jokes in the comments.)

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9. Review Your Brand Often

Don’t just start to establish your brand and then forget about it when business picks up. You need to take some time to work on your company, rather than in your company. Think of ways to drive your brand forward and work towards your end goals. Is your branding communicating efficiently or could it be time to overhaul your brand? Only by measuring results and reviewing your brand at regular intervals will you get the answer to that question. Being consistent with your brand is important, but don’t be against change if it isn’t working out for you.

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10. Be Authentic

Don’t try and force your brand to be something it’s not. Choose your values at an early stage in the
programme and shoot for the stars. If you’re all about green energy and supporting British businesses, make that a focus, but if you’re not, don’t try and pretend that you are. Falsehoods show through crystal clear, be what you are, and be proud of that. Stick to your guns, believe what you write and believe what you put out there and that will help you build a loyal base of followers.

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11. Focus on a Niche

As we mentioned earlier in this post, you need to get plan. Your plan shouldn’t be “I want to target everybody and sell them my services.” That doesn’t work, believe me, we’ve tried it. You need to narrow your focus. You can’t target anybody and everybody. It’s much easier if you say “We want to target independent travel companies in the North East of England with a turnover of over £1m.” This gives your business a focus and makes it easier for you to target potential customers and clients.

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12. Let People Relate to You

People connect with brands and others because of an emotional response evoked in them. Controversial
subjects are talked about often because of the responses they evoke from us. Brands and businesses are no different either. People want to be let in on the brand’s history and their story. Try and bring some personal touches into your social media accounts, let the fun out now and again, it’s what makes people want to connect with you.

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13. Do What You Do and Do It Better

You’re always going to have competitors. Don’t enter into a battle that involves you trying to beat them on price, always try and beat them on quality. People are willing to pay for quality, even if it comes at a price. That’s why Levi sell so many jeans at £100 when you can buy Asda jeans for £3. Cutting and slashing prices not only harms your income, but can also damage your industry, so always try and offer a better quality of product or service and win the business that way. Rather than lowering your quality/time spent on jobs just to get money through the door, increase your prices and spend more time on each project, doing it better than your competitors.

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14. Don’t Do Work on the Cheap

Following on from the above. Quality is everything (unless your brand is about cheap and tacky things – then quality tends to go out the window.) Everyone at some point has done a job for “mates rates.” And sometimes, not even for a friend. This is a vicious cycle to get into. If you do a cheap job for somebody, they should be pleased. However, if they tell 10 of their friends “This guy did all of this work for me at [x] price” then it’s going to be really really hard to change your reputation as “that low cost guy.” Set your prices and work to them, if you’re finding it difficult to bring in clients or customers, don’t panic. If your service or product is quality, people will come. Don’t lower your prices just to bring in work, it devalues you and can have a lasting negative on your business.

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15. Get a Website and Make Sure It Works

One thing that really annoys me when I’m trying to find out information about a company is when they
either a) don’t have a website b) have a bad website or c) their website just doesn’t work. With the
amount of solutions their is in the marketplace right now, there’s no excuse for not having a website. You can get a professional site designed, you can buy a template from the Envato (or similar) marketplace and set that up. There are a million options available for creating a website these days (don’t use Wix or 1&1 My Website – that’s another post in itself) but there are options such as WordPress that allow you to get a basic site up and running in no time, with little to no previous knowledge of the subject. And remember, a simple holding page with contact details and social media details is better than having no page at all!

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19. Get On Google Places

To go along with your website, head over to Google and fill out the information for Google Places. This means when people search for keywords related to your brand, you stand a better chance of coming up in the results. If people search for your brand name directly, they’ll be shown your opening times, business address, contact details and more. Registering for Google Places can really help your search engine visibility.

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16. Be an Advocate For Your Business – Not Just a Salesperson

Don’t just shove your brand in people’s faces and hope for the best. Bring your staff in on your new
branding efforts and start believing in and promoting your brand between the workforce. You could ask staff to tweet about your brand on their own Twitter accounts, or share posts that your company post of Facebook. Begin living your brand, not just selling your brand.

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17. Build a Community Around Your Brand

Getting involved in online forums, groups and discussions is a good way of marketing your business, but, how about doing something different and building your own community? At Canny Creative we are involved in the running of Design Forums, a website for the design community. Through our involvement in the site, we’ve made a lot of great connections that have allowed us to expand our brand and raise brand awareness. Could you start a forum based around your brand or brand idea? How about something in the “real world.” Could you start a monthly meeting group to discuss and shares ideas with likeminded people. How about setting up something on Eventbrite and inviting people along for a talk, coffee and short presentation? Getting out and meeting real people and forging a physical network is just as important as taking part in social networking.

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18. Be Reliable

Recently, the electrics in our kitchen at home went haywire. We called three or four different
electricians, making appointments for each one to come out and quote for the work. The first few didn’t show up when they said (fairly annoying after waiting in all day for them) and the guy that did, got the job. By doing what you say you’re going to do, you can encourage customer trust and often times, blow your competition out of the water. In this case, the electrician that came, may not have been the cheapest, but he was there on time and got the job done. This is a great way to build trust in your brand.

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20. Think Outside The Box

Branding isn’t a practice that is “set in stone.” Different companies require different things. Apple have developed a slick technology focused brand that focus on sexy “must-have” technology. Coca Cola have stuck with their logo heritage, in turn developing a traditional brand with a rich history.

However, there’s nothing wrong with thinking outside the box. Take the Dollar Shave Club for example. They created a low budget entertaining video with a budget of $4,500. The video went viral and as a result, they netted five million YouTube views and 12,000 subscriptions within two days.

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21. Try Exclusivity

Services such as Pinterest, Dribbble and Forrst started with an “invite only” approach. People were
climbing over each other to get invites to the service. In time, Pinterest hit 10 million users because people were dying to get in. Like the old restaurant analogy, “the best restaurant has the longest line.” If you can offer your customers something secret and exclusive, it will make them feel as if they’re part of something special, and often, that can work in your favour.

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22. Get Feedback

Talking to people, namely customers, is a great way to get some feedback on your business and brand. Find out what they thought about their experience with your company and see how they think it could be improved. Listen to them. One of our customer’s suggested that my Google Plus and LinkedIn photo was doing us no justice, so, I changed it for a professional headshot. This increased potential client engagement. It’s always worth listening to your customers, they’re unbiased and will give you honest feedback.

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23. Customer Service is Key

With the growing popularity of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier than ever for positive (and negative) brand experiences to spread like wildfire. It’s hugely important to get your customer service right and capitalise on the positive experiences. If a customer or client leaves you some great feedback on Twitter, retweet it, favourite it and shout it from the rooftops. If the feedback is negative, don’t lose your head, keep calm, deal with the issue and move on. How you handle customers and clients is vital to your businesses success.

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25. Hire The Professionals

We talked earlier about choosing not to take on a spot of DIY branding. When establishing your brand, it’s always a good idea to bring in the professionals. They know their industry and they’ll make sure they know yours too! Don’t skimp on the initial outlay, as like I said earlier, a good digital, branding or design agency will make you more money than they cost you anyway. Design is an investment, not an expense, and if you start working with the right agency, the sky is the limit – and they’ll make you a bucket load of money along the way!

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Get Our Free Logo Design Checklist

Your logo design is crucial to your business. Get our free logo design checklist now to make sure you get it right.

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So there you have it. Some ideas for branding your new start-up business. Have you found any other things that work for you? Let us know in the comments below.

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Tony Hardy is the Founder and CEO of Canny Creative. He is a graphic designer, web designer, brand consultant, blogger, Newcastle based entrepreneur, drummer, and wrestling fan.

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