MaRS Library Branding for startups: Developing your initial brand strategy
When developing branding for startups, keep in mind that your startup’s brand strategy should reflect the key fact of your positioning statement.
Your branding will contribute to and be influenced by your startup’s name, logo, symbol, design and any other communication (e.g., product packaging) that your company has with the market.
In its earliest incarnation, your brand consists of four parts:
- Promise: What does your product enable your customers do?
- Story: What do your customers need, and how will you provide it?
- Values: What is the value others (e.g., customers, investors) see in your product? What do you deliver that is relevant and different?
- Name, look and feel: What are the words and images that are associated with your startup?
Branding for startups: Why it matters
Your startup’s value proposition and product are important. But branding for startups becomes even more important as your company grows. Your value proposition will be familiar to you, your co-workers, your investors and maybe a few die-hard customers. Your product will be familiar to all those people, as well as your customers.
Your brand, however, will not only be seen and recognized by all of these people, but also by the many who have not yet purchased your product. Advertising, promotion, your marketing mix and other direct-marketing activities can certainly play a role in converting these people into customers.
Thought leadership and brand strategy
If your startup is pursuing a unique value proposition, you have the potential to develop a thought leadership strategy, which in turn can fuel your brand strategy.
If this situation applies to you, aim to develop and leverage your content marketing strategy to cultivate a thought leadership position in an area essential to your brand. To reach this position, you need to discuss and show the inefficiency of the current system, or what would be ideally attained, and then highlight the efficiency of your solution and the quality that sets your product apart.
Reflect back to Apple’s brand strategy with its iconic Think Different ad for an example of how it identified itself as a thought leader.
If you are competing against a dominant product (e.g., a leading CRM software solution), consider and discuss areas where there is room for improvement in the value offered to customers and how your product fills those needs.
Evaluate your market and product and determine whether your brand strategy should be the same for your company as it is for your product. Consider whether you will service different customer segments with different products (consider Apple, whose company brand is arguably more important than any of its product brands), or whether you will offer a distinct customer service for a particular segment (think of Salesforce, a CRM tool that is better known than the company that makes it—i.e., the product matters more than the company).
Your brand strategy must align with all your business activities
It can take time for a startup to develop its brand. Consistency is key. For example, if part of your brand strategy is environmental friendliness but you use wasteful manufacturing processes, the credibility of your brand will suffer, and your company might not be able to recover from the bad press.
Your brand is powerful tool that can help drive your startup’s reputation and foster customer loyalty—but only if all your stakeholders can believe in it. In the end, the purpose of your brand strategy is to develop a sense of preference within your target customer segment.
Branding for startups: Additional resources
Brand strategy and stages of venture development
The Startup Genome model defines five stages of venture development:
This article generally relates to startups in the validation and efficiency stages.
Langille, S. (2014, April 11). Brand During a Startup’s Infancy for Maximum Impact. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/232988
- Implementation and control: Kotler on marketing.
- Competitive strategies in operational excellence, customer intimacy and product leadership.
- Defining your competitive edge: Product positioning in your target market.
- Marketing plan for your product launch.
- The mission statement: The basis for startups’ strategic planning.