Last fall, we kicked off a series called Business Basics - taking you through the clean and simple best practices for starting a venture of your own. In case you missed it, we started with The Idea and The Name, before moving into the yucky technical parts like the Legal and The Finances. This week, we’re finally getting into the fun stuff - your branding and your web presence. First up - The Brand.
“DESIGN IS ESSENTIAL BUT DESIGN IS NOT BRAND.”- Seth Godin
First things first, let’s clear up this issue. What actually is branding? Because it’s definitely not limited to your logo and color palette. Your brand is the core of your business. It’s how you make your customers feel when you serve them in a way only you can. As in most things, I again turn to the Gospel According to Seth (Godin, that is):
A BRAND IS THE SET OF EXPECTATIONS, MEMORIES, STORIES AND RELATIONSHIPS THAT, TAKEN TOGETHER, ACCOUNT FOR A CONSUMER’S DECISION TO CHOOSE ONE PRODUCT OR SERVICE OVER ANOTHER.
Or, as Dave Conrey of freshrag.com put it more simply:
IMAGE + EXPERIENCE = BRAND
(Full disclosure, Conrey actually said marketing instead of brand, but his equation works so nicely for our purposes that I couldn’t resist.)
We’ve got the image part covered – it’s what we call brand styling. We design and define the colors, imagery, typefaces, and other elements that help communicate your brand to the world. But when it comes to experience, that’s all you.
Branding for Beginners
That's all theoretical and delightful, but how do you develop this five-star customer experience paired with a perfectly styled brand when you're just starting out? The key is to be intentional and flexible with your branding efforts.
To be intentional, spend some time thinking about how you want to be perceived, known and talked about by your customers and peers. Your brand doesn't come into existence over night, but have a target and know where you're aiming in the long term. To guide you through this process, we've developed The Authentic Branding Workbook, and you can download it at the bottom of this post.
Flexible is a different story entirely. With a fledgling business, you are going to grow, shift and pivot in ways that will surprise, delight and amaze you. Don't lock yourself into an expensive, restrictive or clunky brand before you know what the future holds. Instead, for businesses in their first 1-4 months of inception, I recommend a few basic branding elements while you're still charting your course.
Essential Brand Elements
You're going to need a few starting blocks to represent your brand from the start with professionally and intention. While I wholeheartedly believe that you need some time to piece out exactly who your business is going to become, in the meantime you don't want to look like a complete amateur using a logo you made in powerpoint and business cards that say "free from vistaprint.com" on the back.
The first thing you need is a basic, consistent text treatment for your business name to serve in place of a logo. Consult with a designer on this - you'll be amazed how a professional can take a couple of words and turn them into something elegant and powerful, all through minute changes in typography styling. We're happy to offer this service for $75 - give us a holler if you're interested. You'll use this wordmark to consistently represent your business on your business cards, initial marketing materials and first landing page or blog (come back Wednesday for all the details on web).
Then, if your business requires it, commission a designer to put together a clean and simple business card using your wordmark. Remember - you only really need business cards if you're going to be meeting with people or networking face to face - otherwise you might sub this piece out for a nice email signature. Keep your cards basic and underdesigned so that they will be adaptable through your first few volatile months, and earn your style points by having them printed on ultra-thick card stock for an impressively luxe touch.
Slowly, and then all at once
Remember, our goal with this series is to get you open for business quickly and painlessly, so that you can start testing your ideas, getting market feedback and growing your business from the very start. Start small and stay flexible - and then be ready to pounce when you hit your tipping point. We find that business owners are typically ready to go through their first brand styling experience in the first six months of business, once they've had validation of their ideas and are starting to pick up momentum. Be ready for this moment by starting your research into potential design firms early, and start defining the intangible portions of your brand. There are lots of ways to do this, but we think The Authentic Branding Workbook is a great way to get your business off to a powerful start and prepare you to work with any designer or brand stylist.