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Start-up Brand Design 101: How to Nail Your Branding

branding 101

As a start-up business, establishing your brand is a critical initial Tip. Your brand will define your business, helping you to establish your identity, your company’s goals and mission, and expectations that you … and your customers … have.

Collectively, the impressions, memories, feelings and stories that comprise your brand become integral. Your brand plays an oversize factor in determining whether customers will choose your products and services.

Creating a powerful brand identity allows your company to stand out and differentiate itself from the competition. When done correctly, brand development helps your company grow and represents a significant component of your business value.

A brand is far more than a logo. It’s more than a name. It goes farther than how you market yourself.

It’s a comprehensive set of elements that collectively tell your company’s story. The impact of your brand is felt far and wide and can shape and define your success.

Below, we offer helpful tips for developing your start-up brand design and how to get professional support for critical decisions:


Tip 1: Do Your Research

You need to define your brand within the space you compete. You’ll need to understand the competition and define a brand that helps your company stand apart in your industry.

Differentiation is another way to connect with your customers in a deeper, more personal way. The engagement of customers around your brand helps establish a more emotional connection with them.

There are many ways to better understand your competition at multiple levels.

Comparative Characteristics:

One research task to undertake is to compare your company’s strengths to those of your competition. Look closely at where their strengths and weaknesses are. How can you exploit weaknesses in day-to-day operations but also in the development of your brand.

When you identify those weaknesses, think about how those can be exploited to provide your business with more opportunities to position and differentiate.

When you look at your competition, think about what you have in common from a branding perspective. Are there similarities in the name, marketing and advertising strategy, or product lines? Those similarities can help steer you towards a brand identity that fully differentiates your business.

You also want to look at more than your direct competitors. Consider those companies that sell products that may seem unrelated but are competing for your customers’ disposable income. What are they pitching to your customers to spend their money on?

Visual Identity:

A critical aspect of your brand is the visual identity you develop. Studying the competition’s visual identity can help you determine how similar or different you want to be.

Here are some of the key elements to examine:

  • Their logos and graphics are used in general presentation and promotional materials.
  • What fonts they use and what the visual representation evokes – bold and blocky, whimsical, classic, formal, restrained or casual
  • What imagery – pictures, graphics, videos – are used
  • The details of their products and how they are presented
  • Standard marketing tactics they use – frequency of discounts and sales, positioning as a premium or affordable brand
  • Reviews, feedback and ratings for the companies and their products online


Tip 2: Establish Your Values

Why does your business exist? That’s the key behind writing a mission statement, which defines what your company does and why. The mission statement is a powerful document that shows what you are trying to achieve, for whom and for what purpose.

A mission statement need not be a lengthy scroll. As long as it’s clear, precise and accurate, reflecting what your hopes and dreams are, it will serve its purpose.

People today want to do business with companies that share their values. That’s why your brand needs to reflect what those corporate values are.

You want to get people excited and as passionate as you are about what you’re selling, and your brand can go a long way towards conveying those values.

To help establish what your values are, there are a few core questions you can answer:

What energizes you about the work you do? Your brand needs to convey what excites you and your company. For example, are you looking to deliver an innovative product or service that solves a specific problem? Are you looking to make the world a better place?

What do you value? Are you inspired by the impact of your products and services on your customers? Are you looking to leverage customer needs to maximize profits? Are you looking to give back to a community? The values you espouse can, and should, shape your brand.

What are you better at than anyone else? Your company will have its own identity and unique value proposition. That uniqueness should be leveraged and incorporated into your brand identity.


Tip 3: Know Your Customers

Just as important as understanding your competition is understanding your customers. If you’re a very new company, you may need to make some assumptions about what your ideal customer looks like, but those early assumptions can be modified.

Developing customer personas is one way to establish who you’re targeting with your brand. A customer persona is a set of characteristics – e.g., age, gender, socioeconomics, location, profession – that broadly define who you think will buy.

It’s important to remember that just because you have started a company does not mean your customers will have the same characteristics. In fact, some of your customers may share some of your traits, but for most companies, there are multiple customer personas at play.

Why is knowing your audience important? Because you need to know who your target customers are in order to build a brand with their needs in mind. If you create a company with no particular target audience in mind, you’ll have a hard time pinpointing how to communicate with them via your brand.

Another way to understand your audience is to ask people who you think would be potential customers to give you feedback about the business, the products and the brand.


Tip 4: Build Brand Elements and Brand Identity

 Your brand consists of multiple elements. Together, these elements provide the core of who you are … and your brand identity.

The brand elements include:

Logo – The primary graphic, icon, picture, accompanied sometimes by text. Your logo is the primary visual element associated with your brand

Typography – The fonts, including the weight, shape and size, that you use in your brand

Color scheme –  The colors and combinations of colors you use as part of your brand. Logo color combinations are another key factor to consider, as these two elements work hand in hand

Tagline – A brief (usually just a few words) saying that identifies your company or your band (think Nike’s “Just Do It”). A tagline is not necessary but can add a memorable, punchy element to your brand

Tone – What is the voice you use – conversational, formal, whimsical, serious or a combination thereof

Personality –  For example, McDonald’s personality may be “convenient fast food” and Volvo’s might be “reliable, safe cars”

Position – Similar to the personality component, the position trait is the place you hold in a customer’s mind. It can sometimes be considered as a byproduct of reputation

Experience –  What experience do you want customers to have when they’re shopping for and using your product or service? Today, experience is omnipresent as consumers expect to have consistent, positive experiences at every stage of their relationship with a brand

Once you have your elements together, it’s time to build the brand identity. That means answering questions such as where and how you will use a logo, what colors will be used in which elements, how will the text of a tagline establish the position and personality you desire.

All these elements need to work in tandem, integrated as part of core parts of your visual identity. They will play a key role, for example, in the development of your website and social media, what you use for packaging, and what marketing collateral looks like and feels like.



Your brand is the lifeblood of your company. It’s the way in which your company expresses its identity, its values and its reason for being.

Developing the brand intersects deeply with other key strategic steps. It should influence and be influenced by the development of your strategic plan, your marketing plan and your market analysis.

Paying attention to the key questions and essential brand identity elements will help you develop the right voice for your company and attract customers and profits.



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