You’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into building a great product that will solve your customers’ problems and blow the competition away. The problem is: nobody knows about it.
You can spend as much time on product development as you want, but without a well-defined brand, you’ll struggle to capture the attention of customers and investors, or stand out from competitors.
The question is: where do you start? You need more than a business card to get started in the big wide business world. Think of: a logo, website and a banging social media presence.
Are you panicking because you don’t have a full-time designer yet? No worries. Marketing platforms, design tools and online tutorials have made it easier for startups to build an attractive brand on a low or absolutely no budget.
We spoke to two experts from VistaCreatean easy-to-use graphic design platform for startups and SMEs, about how companies can create their own branding, even if they don’t have a designer on the team.
Find your way to success
Before you start comparing Pantone colors (can anyone tell the difference between peacock and ocean blue?), you need to find a benchmark. What are your competitors doing? What about your customers? What is the unique approach to branding in your market?
Sandra Iakovleva, Head of Content at VistaCreate, recommends taking a deep dive into your competitors’ internet behavior.
“Pay attention to the way they talk about their product or service, what they look like, and how people talk about the brand,” Iakovleva says. “Then pay attention to where they get the most engagement so you can replicate some of that success.”
It’s also important to decide which social media platforms you want to be on before you start designing. Iakovleva has a piece of advice for figuring that out:
Find out where your target audience hangs out online, how they consume their content, and how best to reach them. Most importantly, you know what you’re going to do differently from your competitors to attract that audience.
Discover your brand DNA
Your brand DNA doesn’t require a smear, but it does require you to get a little granular about the essence of your corporate identity. Oksana Tunikova, Brand Manager at VistaCreate, has a simple framework for figuring this out:
You need to define the following elements: vision (what you want to achieve), mission: (what you do to do every day), positioning: (how you are different from the rest), personality: (what emotions your brand experiences) and what language it speaks), and values (what you believe). This is what helps build an emotional connection with your audience.
Your brand should be clear and recognizable not only to your audience, but also to the sales team building decks, the developers who create your website and the many interns who will also create assets for your team. Tunikova suggests creating a branding book to ensure that no matter who creates the content, it always keeps the same brand essence.
“It doesn’t have to be 100 pages long,” Tunikova assures. “In some cases, a 10-page PDF is sufficient. Make sure it defines clear guidelines for visual communication (brand color palette, logo versions, brand fonts), and verbal communication (tone of voice). Once you’ve outlined these rules, stick to them.”
This is echoed by Iakovleva, who points out that building a branded kit for external sharing is another important step.
Be sure to include your message (positioning statement, values, slogan, etc.), brand attributes (characteristics that define who you are), all versions of your logo (including guidelines on how not to misuse it), your brand’s color profile, typography used across channels and any other visual attributes that determine the look, feel, and overall visual brand identity.
Design your logo
One of the easiest ways to ensure you stay true to your brand DNA on a low or no budget is to stick to the basics of the brand package: your logo, colors and fonts.
The logo is undoubtedly the most difficult to create. Logos should look great on your website, like a tiny favicon and blown up on a billboard. They must work in color and in black and white.
There are enough of them free design tools that can help you create a great logo and select the colors and fonts that best match your brand identity. And if you manage to tackle those tasks yourself, it leaves a little more room in the jar for bigger design projects (like your website).
“Your base can certainly be done on your own,” notes Iakovleva. “A lot of people go too far with logos; they overcomplicate things with too many design elements. “You will notice that the most recognizable logos are often the simplest. The focus is on a striking visual element or a unique font that is super easy to read.”
If you get stuck creating your logo or other design resource, Tunikova suggests using your brand story as a guideline for your design decisions.
Whether real or made up, a good story helps people remember brands and build strong emotional bonds with them. This could be a real personal story of a founder, explaining the source of their idea. Or a well-crafted legend that tells of the origin of the product or service.
Go for timeless, not trendy
Think carefully about using trends in your startup branding. Just because Ryanair posted a sweet rendition of the corn song on TikTokdoesn’t mean you should too.
Using a trending audio or social media filter can help you reach new audiences, but it shouldn’t take the place of building a unique social media presence.
According to Iakovleva:
Trends must be balanced against well-thought-out design decisions. You want something that will last, so it’s more important to make design decisions based on the unique aspects of your brand, your values and the message you want to convey.
Consistently publishing content that aligns with your brand is of course a full-time job in itself. You can make that job easier with a decent design tool.
“Adjusting designs is easier than creating them from scratch,” Iakovleva tells me. “And by using ready-made templates, you always have something to fall back on if you’re not sure what to post on social media.”
Some websites also offer useful online tutorials and design features, so you can learn along the way. And if design isn’t in your wheelhouse, there are online communities full of talented designers who can help you.
Be patient, but proactive
Unstoppable brands don’t happen overnight.
As Oksana points out, “Developing a brand takes time. It depends not only on your commitment, but also on the reaction of your audience. That’s why we often hear that a brand is not what the company says it is, but what the customers think it is, it’s all about perception.”
The good news is that you can influence that perception. By mastering the basic elements of a brand book/kit and using them as a starting point for all other resources, you can build a consistent, memorable and authentic brand.