Branding for Startups

Branding for Startups: Why and How

I started 1185 Design on 11/11/85. In the 30 years since, we’ve worked with some of the biggest, global brands in technology. But we have also started at the ground floor with dozens of startups and helped many of them grow into global brands. Startup founders are understandably focused on perfecting their products, and may wonder why they need to think about their brand. The reason is simple. Legendary branding leads to a legendary market cap. Yes, you have to have great product, but without branding you’ll never gain traction. And the sooner you address it (and the less you fiddle with it over time), the greater your chances of building a legendary brand. There’s a common misconception that a company’s brand is its logo. Certainly visual identity is important, but it’s only one part of your brand. Branding is holistic, ultimately reflected in everything the company does. Our firm does much more than design logos. We help companies articulate their value proposition, mission and vision, and positioning relative to other players in the space. We help craft a company narrative that will resonate with your audience – a story about why your offering matters.

Branding for Startups - Critical elements

We break branding for startups down into three critical elements.
  1. Category Design: A company that comes into a category as a “me too” is already at a disadvantage. A company that creates a category has the best chance at dominating it. Our client Jive came to us as a collaboration software company. We helped reposition them around their “Social Business” platform, which likened them more to Facebook or LinkedIn as opposed to a competitor like Chatter. A category was created that didn’t exist, and it has now become massive.
  2. Positioning Within a Category: This is about creating a clear distinction from your competitors, and a perception of superiority for your offering. The world’s second largest outsourced electronics manufacturing services (EMS) company in the world needed a new brand that re-established and strengthened them as relevant in today’s marketplace. It looked old-fashioned, was perceived as a commodity, and as a result was being squeezed on margins and losing market share. Based on their fresh messaging platform and one-sentence creed: “We build intelligent products for a connected world”, we worked with their new CMO to simplify their name and reposition them as a “partner for strategic innovation”.
  3. Execution with Consistency, Both Visual and Voice: The shining example of this is Apple. They have simply never changed their brand or deviated from Steve Jobs’ “less is more” aesthetic; the elegance of their brand reflects the elegance of their products. We had a long relationship with Cisco, which has remained true to its brand, as well. Even as we redesigned the logo multiple times, it has evolved to stay contemporary and is still grounded in the symbolism of a bridge, illustrating that Cisco is the “connector” of technologies. It’s a shame when new CMOs come in (as they so often do) and feel they have to tear down everything that’s been built. Consistency builds enduring brands.
The beauty of working with startups is that you have a clean slate, a blank canvas, no baggage. You have the opportunity to create a unique voice and vernacular that will absolutely make a difference for you as you strive to make a difference in the world.