Sitting down with one of the Startup CEOs that I mentor he said he wanted to talk about branding. “Ok what about branding?”
“Should I do it?” he asked.
“You are always doing it” I told him “branding is not a do once or a done for you kind of thing”
“No I mean a brand identity package” he said with a contorted face “we are starting to gain recognition, we need to look professional and we need a brand, a real brand, to make us stand out and give us credibility”
“That sounds mighty pricey and besides a logo, business cards and some stationary do not make a brand or give you credibility. It is more like showering. It won’t win you any business but if you don’t do it at all it will lose you a lot”
As we talked he told me he had been approached by an agency that wanted to work with him on a brand identity package to give his fledgling company the esteem (their word) it deserves. I repeated the part about pricey and not having a brand because you have a logo.
His response was that they were going to do way more than that. Starting with a mood board for the new brand as well as the corporate logo, web and social media identity assets. Then building a new “presence forward” (their words) website.
Mood board? I admit had to go look that one up as it was new to me but it sounded a bit sketchy, and not in a good way. In case you are wondering a mood board is the overpriced version of “give us some samples of the kinds of stuff you like and we will use that as a starting point”.
I was not liking were this was going and decided to shift gears. “A brand” I explained “is a promise. It tells the customer who you are and what they will experience when they buy from you. It is not a name, a logo or your website. You associate those things with a brand and if used correctly they can help support the brand.”
He was young and this was his first experience at a startup so I am not surprised that the branding agency was doing the big identity package sell on him. Their job is to really appeal to our egos and make us spend too much on a logo and business cards. Been there done that and kept some of the stationary and crazy thick papered custom business cards as a reminder. It was pure ego but hey I was 24 at the time and had too much money.
The real branding process is simple and here is what I shared with him.
Start with your current business, product or service. Define your value proposition for the customer when they buy. Establish what you want them to experience from your product or service and your company. Consider what you want them to remember and associate with you and what you are prepared to promise.
Now go out and live by what you have just defined. Act the way you want the world to perceive you. Make sure your product or service lives up to what you want the customer to remember. Make sure they consistently have that experience. Start with a logo and business card that is good enough.
Here are some key guidelines for building a brand
If you are a startup just use the company name as a simple wordmark and don’t get fancy. You can do that from profits later and not from startup capital. Once you have been in business awhile then go and look at doing something more. Again make sure you are living by the brand promise. Because that makes a brand not the logo that it gets attached to.
If you are going to raise money you might need to do a little refinement on the logo and business name but do not spend too much. Investors like startups that are frugal and effective not jumping the gun and setting the expectations that they waste money on looking fancy. That is part of the reason Amazon–when they were starting up–took the doors off the offices and used them as desks. Think about that for a minute.
If you are a solo entrepreneur then defiantly skip the brand identity package unless you are pretending to be a big company, which always backfires anyway. Same deal–come up with a simple business name and register it and do up a wordmark for a logo.
If you are an author and publishing a book, or a professional speaker it is a very different story. You will need to go down a whole different path.
We talked through all of this and by the end of our second cappuccino he was in a totally different frame of mind. “Well Okay I don’t need to spend the money so I won’t. I will stick with what I have.” and with that we were done. He had saved thousands of dollars and many hours of time and untold frustration.