Branding is a tool that can be utilized in so many ways, and at pretty much every milestone of a business’ journey. Good strategic branding will round out the unfinished edges of your consumer-facing business with exciting and thought-provoking exercises that are valuable for anyone, but especially startups. It pushes you to define the soul of your business; it’s purpose, it’s core values, the specific people it will serve, and their experience with your services. Having these aspects determined at the beginning of your business’ life sets management up to stay focused, recruit a team that aligns with and will promote your brand well, and ensures brand consistency from day 1 (even as it evolves over time).
At Iron, we have grown to feel right at home with our entrepreneurship community, and want to share our perspective on the role good, strategic branding can play in the success of young, growing companies.
Many startups and entrepreneurs want to collaborate on a deeper level, work fast in order to keep up, and are quick to adapt. The more we work with startups, the more we’ve been able to streamline our branding approach to go ‘off-road’: move fast and stay nimble to deliver a quicker, more iterative result.Throughout these unique processes, we’ve identified some key branding concerns to think about.
First things first..a logo, right?
Not quite. There are a lot of questions to ask yourself before you can understand how your brand translates to anything visual. Commit to a smart brand by setting it up for success in the early strategic phase. Your vision, mission, and positioning plan are all components of the first item on your branding to-do list; the brand strategy. We recommend working with a branding agency to create your brand strategy, but even if you don’t, sharing it with them right from the beginning of your relationship will inform a visual design system that actually aligns with your company’s purpose and speaks to the right consumer base. In a simple form, an example of this could be communicating to your branding team that your business holds gender-neutral values. That would ensure that they’d never propose messaging or visual elements that lean towards either male or female groups and avoid a lot of delay and/or wastes efforts.
“Iron Design’s team was there from the beginning to help us craft a brand that exemplified Rev’s energy and mission as a business incubator. They navigated complex waters to provide us with a nice variety of options that had the right feel, but didn’t overlap with our supporters’ or community stakeholders’ brands. The Rev brand has become the best and most easily recognized of all our entrepreneurship programs; three years later, it is still going strong.”
Executive Director, Cornell Center for Regional Economic Advancement
What does my startup’s brand need as a baseline?
Of course, branding needs will vary based on the business, like the industry it falls into or its size. For example, a fashion startup will want to invest more into extensive branding, whereas a technology software startup may have other priorities for getting their business off the ground. In our experience, most businesses need the four following elements to establish a solid foundation for a brand.
- A strategy
- A name
- A core message
- Some basic visual identifiers: A color, a font, and a logo
- and a website
With all of these elements established, startups position themselves in front of their audience well enough to say “We’re here, this is why, and here is what we can do for you”. Later on, you can refine your brand’s supporting visuals, its experience, and take note of your consumer perception which can further define who you are and how you fit into your local culture.
“Iron helped us critically evaluate our identity and…develop a refined visual identity that has been flexible as we’ve grown from business cards, to website and on into more robust marketing.”
Co-Founder of Trade Design Build
I’ve got the basic elements, now how do I use my brand?
A brand is a strategic tool, and when done right, can even contribute to reaching your financial goals. It can help your consumers form an emotional connection with your products and services. It can bring awareness to new information and demonstrate your company’s impact in engaging ways. Brands even have the ability to align your internal team’s thinking and approach to short and long term tasks. Harnessing the power of your brand and applying it in the right ways will lead to a more consistent experience for your audiences. By broadening your perspective of what a brand is and what its job is, you can more fully utilize your brand to help get things done.
What’s it like working with a branding agency?
For the most part, there is a general process that applies to the majority of branding agencies and even some freelance designers. At Iron, an extensive branding project would involve taking our clients on a five-phase process that evolves from simple communication to collaborative brainstorming and ideation to pixel perfect designs ready for implementation across all elements of your brand. An example of the assets our clients walk away with include a thorough brand strategy, a unique name, a messaging strategy, a logo, color palette, typography treatments, iconography sets, an advertising or social media campaign, and a website.
“When it comes to startups, thoughtfully developed brands are key to helping them get a leg up on competitors, especially when scaling and building massive market share.”
Director, Entrepreneurship at Cornell, Managing Partner, Cayuga Venture Fund
Branding in the entrepreneurial world is an exercise for everyone involved. We believe that seeking help from professional branding agencies over quick-service design sites like 99designs.com will be invaluable to your business. By utilizing these higher quality resources, their teams will have knowledge of the kind of startup you represent, and you’ll likely form a relationship with them that will give them more insight into your startup. A strategic brand is something that can truly change the course of your new business if it’s harnessed as a tool for communication, awareness, connection, and growth.