You’ve taken the leap. You’re launching your own company. You’re out to wreck things in the best way and when you’re done the industry will never be the same.
The problem is, no one knows who you are yet.
Smart branding in the beginning stages of a company can make or break its trajectory. So before you go sprinting off, sit down, take a breath, and chew through some questions–and answers.
But first—here’s what “branding” actually means:
Essentially, your branding is the experience a customer will have engaging with your company. That means the colors, language, or design you use, as well as all of your advertising. It’s the voice of your brand as well as the overall sense of it.
That being said, your brand is not your logo.
People frequently confuse a company’s brand as being their logo and this couldn’t be further from the case. A logo is one part of your branding. Sure, it’s important—crucial, even. But it’s not the only thing you should be designing as you craft your brand identity.
Which of course, means you should be taking yourself through a few of the following questions:
What is your vision?
This is a biggie because your answer is going to dictate how you answer everything else in this list. Your vision is the ideas behind your brand that will help you navigate all future decisions—including how you grow and expand. So list those babies out and get going!
Who are your customers and what do they want?
Much like understanding your vision, you should know who you’re trying to help with your product before you get very far into your brand identity. Knowing your key demographic means knowing the answer to key decisions like what color to use, what language to incorporate, and what services to start with as your company begins to expand.
What does “authenticity” mean to your brand?
The first thing you want to do once you’ve determined your vision is stick to it authentically. That means not doing backflips to stay on brand. Authenticity can look different for each brand—maybe you choose to always maintain your voice in all materials, or maybe you’re dedicated to certain community engagement. Whatever it is, decide, then stick to it.
How do you want to make an impact?
You’ve set out to change the world, sure. But you can’t just say that and not do anything about it. Decide how you want to make that change first, then and you’ll be able to make some major branding decisions on your journey forward.
What is the one thing you want to be known for?
Think of companies like Post-It and Kleenex. They do one thing and they do it so well their name is now synonymous with the product—regardless of the actual brand a consumer is purchasing. What one thing do you want to become synonymous with?
What is your company’s story? How is it a hero?
People remember stories and relate to heroes. Build your brand as a protagonist and give it a princess to rescue.
What problem are you solving? Will anyone care?
You know that episode of The Office where Michael Scott’s boss creates a vacuum cleaner that sorts toys? The joke is supposed to be that no one will buy it. It doesn’t solve a real problem. Of course, later we find out that the person who cares about this product is the US Government, prompting questions about the federal toy collection.
Don’t build a “Suck It.” Solve real problems.
What is your brand personality?
When you think about Coca Cola, what feeling immediately comes to mind? Is it people singing in the street or polar bears frolicking? It’s probably something cool but playful—which is their brand personality.
People relate the most to human traits, so in order to stand out from the crowd, you don’t simply want to be a product. You want to be a personality.
Do you answer a different problem than your competitors?
When you look at the market demographic you’re targeting, you may notice you’re not alone. Your challenge in a sea of competitors is to be sure you’ve positioned yourself so that you offer something different but equally as useful as others in the field.
Do you have the resources to take on big names in your industry directly?
If you decide your direct competition if Facebook—and if you’ve ever worked in a startup, let’s be real, your boss thinks it is—then in order to succeed you’ll need to be realistic about your resources. It takes more time and capital than Facebook has, for example, in order to top them.
Instead, it might be beneficial to take on competitors within your resources and build up to conquering the giants.
What’s the long-term shelf life of your branding?
Giving your brand an identity that’s tied to current trends or popular language can make your brand feel dated really quickly. Imagine if all of the Coca Cola bears wore Ugg boots? In 2019? You’ll need to craft branding that can outlast any trend—maybe even the life of your company if you’re smart about it.
Is your branding going to alienate an entire demographic?
Dr. Pepper recently weathered a lot of outrage online after marketing their soda as “not for women.” Before you come swooping in with a “that’s not really a big deal,” you should consider—like Dr. Pepper should have—that women control the majority of purchasing power globally.
I’ll let you decide how much money you’re losing by explicitly saying a product is only for one type of person or another.
Who are your competitors and what have they done already?
You don’t want to repeat what’s already been done. Consumers will be less likely to engage with your brand if they’ve already had the experience you’re offering via one of your competitors. You want to stand out in the crowd—not blend in.