Setting-up a start-up, especially online, needs attention to a lot of details, branding included. The enthusiasm of a new beginning is indispensable for a new endeavour but can put some important things in the blind spot. There are DO’s and DON’Ts, things to look up for or things to avoid. While there are no definite rules or sometimes is worth breaking some of them, here are some notes you should take in consideration before you “go out” to the real world.

7 To Do’s for Startup Branding

Define yourself and your product

Before you go out to your customers be specific and honest regarding your purpose. What are you going to provide? Clearly define your product/service in detail. Think what are the benefits for the potential customer, what’s the need that you cover.

Know your customers

… and know them better then anyone else. Know their needs, their habits, their way of life. Every decision you make from the style of your homepage to locations of your ads will depend on who you are targeting. This is not simple task, but it must be done. Start by describing for yourself the person who would be most likely to need your service or product.

Position yourself and your business

Who are your competitors. How are you satisfying your customers better/different that your competitors

Maintain Offline Marketing

Studies show that the best way to build a strong brand is to incorporate both on and offline marketing. Use the offline marketing to support your website by always placing your URL on your printed materials.

Interact with Customers

The Internet has made communication instantaneous and simple. You can communicate with customers, asking them for their feedback and answering their questions. This is only a good thing if you intend on responding to the needs that your customers take time to share with you. So make yourself available, and respond quickly to show that you value your customers.

Concentrate on one domain, not 10.

A lot of people think that developing a strong brand means keeping your site extremely narrow in topic scope. As a result, they decide they’ll need 10 sites to cover all their related topics rather than just one. But ‘branding’ means much more than being narrow in focus. So get the full benefit of all your marketing and promotion efforts by focusing on one slightly broader domain rather than breaking your topic into 1.

Become THE Authority

If you print business cards, then your site should have all of the information required for uploading and ordering the printing of business cards. But do not stop there. Offer your customers tips and insider tricks for creating the best business cards. You can start forums and information sharing on your website. The object is to make your website the place to go whenever someone wants to know anything about business cards.

Startup Branding Mistakes

Believing that Brand Matters more than Product or Customer Service

Never ever put your branding in front of your product or service. Your product is the star, branding is a help, a tool to place it in the mind of your audience. Never launch an “unfinished” product thinking that branding will keep it alive until you polish it. Never start promoting the product until it’s ready to go up on the stage.

When folks say “We need to market more like Apple” often what they are getting at is that people will buy Apple products, even if they are more expensive and have lesser features, because of the Apple “brand”. But startups would be foolish to think that they can win in the market with inferior, more expensive products because their marketing looks better. Apple didn’t. The beautiful marketing alone without highly differentiated products, a great in-store customer experience, the reputation they have built over decades for innovative, easy to use products, etc. etc. would not have been enough. There’s no shortcut to building a great brand. You still have to do the work of building products that people love and providing customers with service that keeps them happy over time.
If you do a great job with customer service and product, later on when you are flush with cash, you can hire some fancy consultants to come in to give your brand a face to match its soul. Your company isn’t Apple. At least not yet it isn’t.

Ensure That Your Startup Can Deliver!

Your brand is the set of promises that people associate with your product/business. At this stage in your company, you should be aware of what promises you want people to believe and perceive.

There is absolutely no point in spending scarce resources to develop an image which your business can’t live up to. While, there are definitely some aspects to a brand which are influenced purely by design, there is another aspect which is far more important as it is dictated by the performance of the business. Do not waste time and energy in building a certain brand image that does not reflect the true capabilities of your startup business – this is equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot! If you stick to what is realistic and consistently strive to build brand awareness within the marketplace – your business should reap the benefits.

Branding is important but not as important as releasing rev 1.0 and getting customers. Your initial customers, really don’t care about your brand — they care about your product.

Believing that you have Control over your Brand

Again, your brand is what people believe about your company, and it’s products. As such, it’s something that a company can try to steer in a direction but buyers will ultimately control. For example, in the past week I’ve heard Microsoft described as “evil”, IBM as “stodgy”, Oracle as “mean”, and Apple as “arrogant”. I’m sure none of these companies is spending marketing budget to support these. What a market decides your brand is about is the direct reflection of their experiences with your product and company. By focusing on those you are focusing on your brand.

Confusing Branding with Design (and Forgetting about Awareness)

Design (particularly for your website) is important because it has a direct impact on your conversion rates and how easily people can find what they are looking for. Branding on the other hand is about what people believe about your company, product and/or services. For most startups, the problem is not that people have misconceptions about your brand, it’s that they don’t think about you AT ALL. If nobody ever finds out about you, your beautiful logo, amazing crafted “brand values” and meticulously thought-out “brand image” won’t matter (please note: Apple does not have this problem). In order to have a brand, you need to be known. The best way for small companies to get known is to have an offering that a market loves (and ideally loves to talk about).

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