Branding Steps for Start Ups

For start ups, branding can be particularly challenging, and not just because of limited or no budget, but because information out there is mostly geared towards existing businesses, businesses with a few years and customers under their belt. Some articles actually conflict with one another. A good example is on the subject of logos, some saying that you must have a logo while others claiming you don't need one to get started, and both sides of this argument insisting that a business must have a professional, polished, and consistent look in order to succeed.

The conflict is not surprising since the term "brand" can have varying definitions. According to the American Marketing Association, a brand is a "name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers." To a vast group of marketers however, a brand is the value of the product or service offered to consumers; it's the relationship a business has with its customers or clients.

In order to avoid confusion, let's make sure we are on the same page with the terms brand and branding as used in this article:

    A brand (noun) is the personality of a business as it is viewed by consumers; it is what people believe about your company and its product or services.
    Branding (verb) is all the stuff you do to promote your brand and more importantly what you or your business does to establish and continue a relationship with your clients or customers. It is the process of discovering and then communicating the desired brand image to potential customers.

Since a brand is built on what others believe, the task for business start ups is to create a desirable personality for their business by having a unique promise of quality and delivering on that promise. In addition, creating a good impression is critical for start ups; it can mean the difference between success and failure.

The following 7 steps are meant to get you started in the direction of creating a brand for your business.

1. Get to Know Your Target Market

Actually, make sure there is a market before starting any business. Why? What's the point if there is no one there to buy what you are offering? You cannot create a market; there must be a need for your product or service.

Hopefully, you have already done this step; if not, take the time and define your target market by creating customer profiles. Identify specific characteristics of your most promising potential customers (or businesses if you will be a B2B) who are most likely to purchase your product or service. Be as specific as you can.

Depending on your type of business and the product or service you're offering, there are three options for getting to know your target market: surveys and questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups.

2. Define Your Promise.

It starts with having a clear, precise and attainable brand promise. Being precise helps making you stand out among the competition in your field. Being attainable helps you deliver on that promise.

To help you define your promise, ask yourself what unique value your services or product offers and how potential customers will benefit from them. What do you solve? What does your brand satisfy? What is your brand's position? What does it stand for?

3. Check out the Competition

Believe it or not, competition is a good thing...it is an indicator that there is a market. It can also help to define your business and the value that you are offering and what make you different. What can or do you do that is better? What is unique about you and your business? How you are different or what makes you stand out from the rest in your field or industry.

Another thing you want to note is how they are delivering their promise, message and brand. Although it may not be possible to gauge how successful they are with their print advertising, it may be easier to see how their online campaigns are doing (for example, do they have a Fan Page on Facebook and/or Twitter and how many followers they have?) to decide if these venues are worth pursuing in your particular field.

4. Name your Business

The purpose of a business name is more than setting you apart from your competition. It should convey the business qualities you want to impart. It should be recognizable and easy to spell. Start by deciding what you want your name to communicate. Some of the work done in defining your promise will help to pinpoint these elements. Make a list of adjectives that call such qualities to mind and see how you can incorporate one or two in the name.

5. Define your main Call to Action

You would think this is a most obvious step, yet you won't believe how many existing business neglect to define a specific Call to Action. After all it's what this is all about. What do you want your customers to do? Call you? Click on the link? Sign up for a newsletter? Purchase a product?

Yes, you may have several goals that you want to accomplish. But it's imperative for start ups to choose one main goal in the beginning. With many businesses this can be tricky as, for example, we want our leads to have options on how to contact us (phone and email). If you do end up with a few Call to Actions, then prioritize which one is your top preferred one, the second preferred choice, etc.

By clearly defining your main call to action, you will be better able to make a better choice when deciding what medium will be best to deliver it and greatly aid when it comes to designing these mediums.

6. Choose Which Deliverable Mediums to Use at the Start

A good strategy uses both online and offline mediums to get your message to your target market. But in the very beginning, when the budget is thin, deciding which medium brings the most return of investment becomes crucial. You will want "It", whether it is a business card or landing page on the web, to be professional looking, which may means in this area you may have to invest some money to get those results.

Choose and invest in mediums whether print or web, that will deliver your main Call to Action to your target market now. Not every business needs a business card or full color brochure, likewise not every business type benefits from having a website. As your business starts to pull in clients and your budget increases, you can expand to other mediums.

The newest kid on the block, social networking, has proven quite successful for businesses to get their brand message out there. Although it may not be critical in the very beginning for most, it is a trend in branding that has gained steam and is rocketing forward with no signs of stopping. It may be worth devoting some time and looking into developing a social network marketing strategy as part of your marketing plan. Nowadays there are many avenues to get your brand out there for very little, almost no money, but they take time and planning on your part.

7. Brand Identity

Finally, the one step most people assume would be the first on this list. Why is it the last? Because your "physical" identity should develop from the steps outlined above (in fact, the information gleaned from the above steps will be critical to creating your brand identity).

Logo: The "face" of your business. This is where most start ups decide to cut costs and do it themselves. If you don't know what vector graphics, jpg, pdf, png are, know or have Photoshop, Illustrator or other vector drawing programs, do yourself a huge favor; hire a professional designer. Freelance graphic designers will work with your ideas and your budget, and will advise and deliver accordingly.

Sharing steps 1 through 6 will help tremendously in the creative "sketch and brainstorm" sessions, so that the designer can create a logo that truly reflects for your business. You may also want to choose which colors you want as part of your brand and discuss these with your designer, which can give you more insight and feedback on your choices.

If you just don't have any money at all, then go with a nice type (font) that reflects your business as an alternative until you can afford to have a logo professionally designed. Make sure the font is legible. DO NOT just simply open up Microsoft Word and try to create your logo with it! It will not save in a format suitable for printed mediums which need high resolution, normally 300px. Also many printers will ask for.pdf file in order to print. Use a vector drawing program, even if it's just to create a type logo. For a free alternative to expensive vector programs, check out Inkscape. There are also thousands of free fonts online.

Tagline and/or slogan: A slogan and a tagline are not one in the same. A slogan is associated with a particular product, service or marketing campaign, whereas a tagline is a word or phrase closely allied with a business name and brand. It is not unusual to have several slogans to go with different products and varying services. However, a business will have only one tagline.

The tagline is a word or phrase that clearly identifies what you do or what you sell. It should capture three essential elements: 1)The business mission, 2)Your brand promise, and 3)Your brand as a whole. The tagline often appears in close proximity with the company name and logo, forming a single visual unit. Therefore, you may want to limit your tagline to 6 words or less.

Colors: Colors are an important part of any brand identity. Colors influence our emotions in a variety of ways. And color associations will vary from one culture to another. So if you're brand will be playing in the global arena, it is crucial that you make sure the colors will have the impact desired. Once you've determined what it is that your target customer is looking for, you can best decide on the color to help them find it (now you see why knowing your target market should be Step #1 in the brand development plan).

Voice: If your business could talk, how would it sound? How you speak with your customers, your voice and tone, is just as important as what you say (or write in some cases). Voice refers to a combination of use of syntax, diction, punctuation, dialogue, point of view. Once developed, the voice of your business should remain constant. The tone of your voice, however, can be adapted according to audience and platform

In conclusion, branding does take time and some aspects of your branding strategy may change as you start your business and see what works and what doesn't. Taking these steps from the very beginning your business venture will guide you in having consistency which is the key to a successful branding strategy.

Pamela Smalbein, Creative Director at http://buenagraphics.com

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