How to nail startup branding from the get-go

Building a brand for any company is difficult, but especially so for startups. Here's how you can get it right the first time.

The branding panel fields questions at 36|86.
Image: Conner Forrest/TechRepublic

Branding is hard, sometimes deceptively so.

You may think it's obvious who and what your product is geared towards, but that isn't always the case. Getting your brand right takes work but, if done well, can lead to a more successful business.

At its foundation, branding is the identity you build around your product and the story you tell about your business. As part of the 36|86 conference in Nashville, a panel of three branding experts (Nora Levinson of Caeden, Jared Nixon of Shark Branding, and Dan Stephenson of Dan's Gourmet Mac and Cheese) sat down to share their thoughts on what makes great branding for startups.

Here are some of the key takeaways.

The first consideration you should have around your brand is simplicity. Nixon recommends boiling it down to three words that encompass everything you're about. Create a brand that is simple enough to be remembered, but also impactful enough to differentiate your company.

This is especially true when startups are pitching investors. Making your brand and vision easy to remember means they'll likely be able to repeat it to their colleagues.

The question to ask yourself is: What are you selling? Some companies sell products, some companies sell services, some sell a lifestyle. Your branding and the messaging around your company should tell your customers what you sell and what problem you solve in their lives.

Of course, you won't get it perfect the first time, but there are some mistakes you can avoid. First off, when building out the final version of the product, don't build the product you want to see on the market -- build what the consumers want to see on the market. Talk to your customers and investors and see what seems to make the biggest splash with the people who like your company.

Second, you want to make sure you know your customers, even down to the minor details within a demographic. For example, if your product targets young girls, the differences between very young girls, teen girls, and young adult women are staggering. So, go after the right people. Also, go after your actual customer, not who you want to be your customer.

The next point that was made was to make sure your branding is scalable with your goals. For example, Stephenson got his start selling his mac and cheese locally at a farmer's market, but now he sells all over the place. His branding had to scale from the farmer's market to the local grocery store, to the online foodie crowd.

Make sure your branding is in line with your business model and explains what you do. For example, Intel licenses many of its products to other device manufacturers and their branding has to reflect that.

Good branding will take money. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a startup founder, according to Stephenson, is trying to avoid investing in branding from early on. Spending early and smart is critical, as it can be a huge pain to change your branding once your company has grown and gained traction.

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