Brand Strategy

color_bubblesThis is the 24th post of a 50 article series for beginners building marketing at B2B startups.

Brand can be a nebulous concept to wrap our heads around. It’s an asset and wildly important to the success of most businesses. At the same time, it’s difficult to manage or pinpoint tactically what it is. To keep things simple, brand is a combination of the story and emotion that targets experience when hearing about or interacting with us. There are tons of resources about the advanced strategies of building a brand, so let’s focus here, as we always do, on tactical steps a startup can take to begin. First, let’s break brand into two parts:

  • Visuals
  • Voice

The visuals are what targets see when they interact with us: our logo, graphics, content, website, advertisements, etc. The voice is what targets read and hear when they interact with us: sales demos, support calls, website copy, ebooks, etc. We need to make sure that both the visuals and voice are in tight alignment if we are creating an organized, cohesive brand. Let’s dig into the specifics:

1. Name

It all starts with the name. I’ve seen startups obsess over this, and the reality is that if the product is exceptional, targets could care less what it’s called. However, we still need to make some smart choices when selecting a name. A good name has something behind it: it’s not just a random combination of words. Most importantly is its perceived meaning and any additional trust it helps build. Additionally:

  • Is it obvious to pronounce and spell?
  • Is the domain name available?
  • Are matching social media profiles available?

By far the #1 mistake is selecting a name that is too long or too difficult to pronounce and spell. Keep it ridiculously simple. I like to stick to 2 syllables and always drop the “LLC or Inc” from any customer facing collateral.

2. Graphic identity

A company’s logo is used over and over again on just about every piece of collateral, from the website to social media properties to webinar cover pages to business cards. This identity needs to visually represent the story, emotion and voice we intend to deliver. The best logos are amazingly simple, yet have deep meaning (sometimes hidden). A few examples include:

  • Fedex has an arrow pointing forward.
  • Baskin Robbins has the number 31, corresponding to the number of flavors they offer.
  • Goodwill has a person smiling inside the “g.”

Most startups do not have the resources to use a fancy outside design agency to create a logo. Instead, we rely on our internal design team to explore concepts, collaborate with stakeholders and build the early graphic identity we will use to tell our story from day 1.

Netpulse_logoformula_200

3. Aesthetic

The aesthetic is the overall design strategy that we use throughout all of our assets. It is the visual representation of the voice of our brand. We need to carefully consider that strategy so it tightly aligns with how we write and speak. For example, is our style more friendly and comfortable versus more intense and official? I always like the Uber vs. Lyft example in this case, because the company’s brands are so staunchly different, and align well with their culture and customer experience.

For my team, we selected an illustrated, friendly and flat aesthetic to demonstrate our product and visually display our content. All of our product screenshots are illustrations, and we use the same friendly designs, digitally hand-drawn, in all of our assets.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 6.34.31 AM

4. Color palette

Selecting the right color palette is important: we use those colors over and over again. Most people derive common sense meanings from colors: red as more intense, hot, danger versus blue as more calming and cool. What colors best represent our story? Consider Lyft’s pink versus Uber’s black. Once again, they have done an excellent job at making the color pallette align with the rest of the brand.

As we are selecting colors, it’s important that we understand how color types (RGB vs. CMYK) will print, and ensure that regardless of what medium someone sees our graphics on (print vs. digital), they are seeing the same color that tells the same story.

5. Typography

Similar to color palette, the fonts that we use across our brand help to create a feeling and tell our story. Our design team puts a ton of thought into the typeface, weight and spacing. Heavier (i.e. thicker) fonts imply bold and aggressive, while thinner fonts imply light, agile and approachable.

6. Voice

Finally, a key aspect of a brand is the consistent voice that is used. When we write content that represents our company, how does it sound? Do we want to position ourselves as conservative and experts, or relaxed everyday people that are constantly learning? Defining a voice answers these questions and provides alignment across the many touch points a target has with our brand.

Consider creating a persona specifically for the brand’s voice. Give the persona a name and define demographic characteristics. Doing this work makes writing content, delivering support and speaking in sales meetings so much easier.

Next Steps

This post just scratches the surface on building a great brand for a startup. Begin with the simple steps outlined above to build a foundation that can be iterated on as the company grows. The most important thing is having a solid base: an easy-to-pronounce name, recognizable graphic identity and a voice that resonates with targets.

This post is part of a 50 article series on startup marketing

Greg Skloot is a technology entrepreneur and marketer. He is currently VP Growth at Netpulse, the #1 provider of mobile apps for health clubs and a $40M VC backed software company in San Francisco. At Netpulse, he leads marketing, operations and strategic growth. Previously, Greg was CEO and Co-Founder of Attend.com, where he built the initial product, raised $3M and hired a team of 30. Contact Greg at skloot.org/contact.



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