Startups: don't sweat the branding
It's a great time of the year to start turning that business dream into reality.
There's a heck of a lot to think about; finances, suppliers, marketing, business structure, website, maybe even finding premises and recruiting a team. And there are two more important items on any startup's to-do list - naming and branding.
The name is important because it's usually the first impression people will get from a business. It will also be the website's domain name, it'll appear in all email addresses ...in fact the name will be seen in every communication the business ever sends. So it's worth getting it right. You can read some naming tips in this post: How to name your business - and create a brand >
But when it comes to the visual branding (logo design, typeface,colours, imagery) I have one valuable tip for startups: don't sweat it.
This may sound like odd advice coming from a branding specialist, but the truth is that most startups don't need elaborate brand development, and they don't need to appoint a branding agency.
Why? Because, by definition, startups are at the pre-launch stage when creating their branding. Effective branding will be the visual embodiment of a company's products and services, its vision, and its attitude. It might also reflect the values or aspirations of its customers. And none of this stuff will be clear or fixed at the outset.
Startup branding needs to be flexible
We’d all like to think we know, from day one, our exact place in the market and who our customers will be. Unfortunately this view is likely to be based on guesswork and wishful thinking. Even the clearest brand vision and most thorough market research will be challenged by inconvenient factors like market forces and real customers.
And this is why a startup shouldn't over-think its branding. Sure, you want the branding to look smart and professional, but pre-launch is too soon to make a significant investment in it. In fact, once you've decided on the name and secured a perfect, no-compromise .com domain, all most startups need to get their branding off the ground is:
- A simple logotype; just the business name set in an appropriate font and colour: no fancy motifs, stripes, blobs or swooshes). Forget being clever, just go for clean and professional.
- A basic 2-4 page website; use a web-builder like Squarespace or Wix (or Shopify if you're setting up an e-commerce business). You can commission a bespoke website down the line, if you feel the need.
These should be seen as basic building blocks of a company's branding; and they should provide flexibility for future development, as and when more is known about the business.
It's worth pointing out that even simple logotypes are harder to achieve than they look. Here are a few random example logotype designs from our own collection of business names:
So typesetting your business name in a PC system font probably won't quite cut the mustard. Most people would be well advised to ask a graphic designer to create a logotype for them. But don't bother with platforms like Fiverr or PeoplePerHour. Sure, there will be some great creatives working on these platforms, but the harsh truth is that most are not. So it's a lottery, and you're likely to waste a lot of time getting crummy amateur design.
Get a recommendation instead. Importantly, give your designer a restrictive brief to a fixed price; don't ask them to 'have some fun' or 'show me your creativity'. Just request three or four simple logotype options.
The same goes for the web-builder platforms. If you're technically confident, you can probably do a good enough job yourself. If not, some practical help from a techie friend or relative should help you get a decent looking site up and running.
Branding is not a magic bullet
Branding is important and relevant for any business, but it's not the magic bullet some experts claim. You need to think about it, but you shouldn't agonise over it too much in the early days. You'll have enough on your plate.
In my experience branding a startup is as much about avoiding mistakes as aiming to make everything perfect. This means keeping it really simple at the beginning, knowing that you can - and probably will - revisit your branding later.
There are a lot of things to worry about when setting up a new business, but branding doesn't need to be one of them.