How Bad Branding Can Kill Your Startup

Calling all scrappy startup entrepreneurs with a global vision of success!

Before we dive head-first into the next round of branding best practices, we wanted to speak to those of you with startup companies directly. While much of the remaining tips and suggestions for this month will absolutely apply to an existing business model, there are a few other startup-related branding nuggets of advice you might need to hear specifically.

Startups have a unique position in that they can entirely design and develop their brands from the beginning; based on a core product or service. But it’s important to make the most of this critical timeline advantage. Here’s everything you should know about branding for your startup.

Why Your Brand Development Matters Right Now

Startups are rough and tumble, often relying on a small team or just one person to make it all happen. This is a bootstrapped venture with little help from outside resources. You might even be funding things yourself or with the help of family. There is a lot on the line. You’re rolling up your entrepreneurial sleeves and introducing an innovative new product, chasing down potential investors and preparing to launch. At some point, you’re going to feel overwhelmed with startup tasks and tackling to-do lists. And the need for branding will have you feeling like you’d rather stab your own fucking eyes out than sit down for a “critical thinking” exercise. But, and this is a big “but,” not paying attention to your startup brand would absolutely stall growth. Scaling would be extremely difficult without the right brand foundation from the beginning.

You may feel like things are hectic as you race to get all your business resources in order to really take off according to plan. Startup branding is an essential component of company development because it directly helps a new business establish an individual brand identity. A clear brand vision can help to ensure higher rates of success as a startup, as it forces companies to clearly state their goals so that following through on plans is easier.

A Strong Brand Foundation

Brands matter to every business. But as an official startup, it really can make or break your launch if you’re not prepared with the right brand foundation. It needs to be one of the first investments, monetary and time-wise, that you make right now.

Slapping a logo on a website that your cousin’s college roommate designed will not sell your product or service. And even if you’ve put all of your eggs in the “tech innovation” your company represents, without a brand, the tech won’t stand on its own. There needs to exist a brand behind the logo and innovation, rooted in your WHY and company’s vision. 

Your Brand Is Your Startup’s Unique Differentiator

Professional and proper branding is not a cheap process, but in the end, branding now; will save you money. Startups might find this difficult to initially invest in since a brand is the story you’re going to tell that may not translate to immediate sales and is not necessarily representative of a physical investment. However, in the long term, your brand, defined correctly, will be priceless and prove invaluable for future endeavors. Right now, your business is in its infancy stages, meaning you have dynamic agility to make significant changes. Imagine trying to catch up with proper brand development later when you realize you need to change a logo, name or tagline. 

Rebranding takes even more effort when you consider redoing color patterns and weaving new stories, more in line with your vision. We have had front-row seats to these scenarios more often than not, as past clients have come to us for help when they’ve made a wrong brand turn. Rebranding can be expensive, since every one of these changes requires a budget. However, aligning your brand strategy now with your WHY and mission will prevent these stressful, costly and drastic pivots later.  

Remember Melissa? We introduced her new business venture story in the last segment. As her story continues, you’ll find that her lessons learned in the fashion boutique business will directly apply to those of you running a startup.

Melissa knows the competition is steep. In her neck of the woods, she has four or five other women who, within her region, have also launched boutiques. It’s as if there’s another “online fashion boutique” popping up around every corner and it’s frustrating. Melissa needs to find a way to differentiate herself from the others. She’s desperate to prove her lifelong passion for fashion beyond her immediate audience. Her strongest skill set involves her ability to create stunning ensembles by accessorizing. She also begins to wonder if focusing on the moms who need help finding their styles is her niche since they’re the buyers she engages with the most. What she really needs to do is re-examine her WHY and tell her unique story.

Developing a brand that tells your startup’s unique differentiating story will help serve as the foundation for every marketing and scaling effort you make moving forward, just as it will for Melissa’s boutique business. Building anything on a shaky foundation is doomed to collapse. And your brand literally touches everything about your business. Having a unique brand definition now, will allow you to face every other business decision from a position of knowledge, not from a place of uncertainty and guessing. 

If you hear nothing else, hear this: Not defining your brand story now will put your business at a significant disadvantage. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot!

What Is Your Brand Inspiration?

You have to get honest with yourself about what you stand for, what your mission is and why you’re venturing out as a startup entrepreneur. What relevant experiences have you had so far, with respect to your personal drive, your big ideas and with those around you? Write that shit down and stare at it every day if you have to. Use those motivations and unique stories to create a brand story foundation. What inspired you to begin will ultimately be contagious and influence your audience.

Remember, the purpose of a brand is to inspire those who encounter it. When they hear your startup name or see your company information online, how do you want them to feel? Your WHY will transcend through your brand and flow inspiration. And even though your story may be “young,” – tell it anyway!

Brand Integrity & Infinite Outpacing

Every brand in existence represents a WHY. From innovative leaders who embody personal brands to the striped straw in the orange of the Tropicana box, brands have to deliver on that WHY promise. As a startup, you’ll want to distinguish which brand type represents your vision best and stake your claim to own up to everything it stands for moving forward.

Brand integrity will allow you to stay on pace with your own goals, which is mission-critical to your startup’s success. Remember, business is ultimately an infinite game. There are mini-finite victories throughout the game, but you will never “WIN” business or “BEAT” the competition long-term. The goal is to stay ahead; that’s it.  Your startup may be the new game in town, but there will be others on your heels. Strong competitors who challenge your industry now, may falter and disappear tomorrow. What will help you maintain a positive trajectory in your startup journey to long-term success, is your ability to identify, develop and adhere to your brand authenticity.

Doug is exploring how he should go about establishing his personal brand. He’s reflected on his WHY and realizes his passion is treating those patients who normally would be afraid of a dental visit. His most memorable experiences have been with those who were terrified of the chair, but have since become regulars, with confident smiles. His brand needs to inspire comfort, gentleness and ease. His entire office culture will adapt to create a welcoming environment for those most anxious about dental work. And as he reflects on this brand positioning, it’s as if all the other marketing pieces fall into place – he needs to promote his calm environment, his effective sedation techniques and the radiant smiles of the formerly terrified. 

In exploring his brand story, Doug finds his niche and what he believes in the most about his business. He’s going to be THE dentist for anyone who’s neglected visits, feels embarrassed about their smile or has anxiety about dental procedures. Every other marketing decision becomes easy. Knowing how to set up his office culture is easy. What colors he paints his office walls is easy. 

Finding your startup brand story will translate to the same clarity for every decision you have yet to make. And the quicker you can effectively move forward with all those decisions, the faster your startup can scale!

How Not Having a Proper Brand Can Kill Your Startup

Look. The idea of branding may not be in your comfort zone. But not dedicating the proper time and thought to develop your brand will detrimentally hurt your business venture before you even get it off the ground.

Your startup needs 3 things right now the most:

  • Recognition via offline and online presence.
  • The strongest foundation.
  • A story others can believe in with you.

Without a clear brand strategy, you may miss out on funding, clients and partnerships. If you’re not passionate about what you’re starting, no one else will be either. Find your passion. Build your brand story. And everything else will happen precisely the way it’s meant to happen. 

If your startup needs help developing the best brand strategy centered on your WHY, let Awareness Branding & Consulting help! Arrange a FREE branding consultation with our team of professionals today and we’ll walk you through every step for branding your way to success.

Marcus Wendt

Chief Executive Officer

Marcus helps lead and grow companies from the ground up. He has a proven track record. His experience is diverse with expertise in sales, branding, marketing, automations, manufacturing, building teams, managing operations, sourcing suppliers and outsourcing to offshore locations.