branding

While the task of branding may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. 

By Pamela Webber

For entrepreneurs, building a successful business is not just about coming up with and executing a brilliant idea. It’s also about leveraging branding to help propel your business forward. Successful branding tells customers, prospects and partners who you are, what you’re about, what they can expect, and why they should choose to work with you. With so much at stake, branding can make or break a business. And that is why it’s critical that entrepreneurs get it right from the get go.

While the task of branding may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. After years of working with startups and small business owners–in addition to putting in the time as a former entrepreneur myself–I’ve put together a few tips for getting off on the right foot and avoiding branding missteps.

Tip #1: Take the time to map out an overall brand strategy before thinking about design, look, feel, voice or any specific elements. 

As an entrepreneur eager to turn your idea into dollars, it’s tempting to jump right into “the fun part” of branding – designing a logo or signage, picking colors, creating a website, etc. But that’s a mistake if you haven’t done the legwork of defining your brand strategy – i.e. what you stand for (mission, core values), your point(s) of differentiation and market positioning, and your target customers. Answering these questions will help you create a blueprint from which all of the individual brand identity elements will flow much more easily.

Tip #2: Take a broad view and make topline decisions that will carry through each element of your brand identity.

Now you’ve determined what you stand for and where you want your business to go, but there’s still a few steps to take prior to hiring that web designer or launching a logo contest if you want to get it right the first time. Again, resist the temptation to dive into specific “must-have” elements like a business card, website, or Facebook page until you’ve made some broad decisions upfront about some key concepts such as:

  • Brand voice – fun and playful, socially responsible, careful, edgy, artistic, healthful… think about how you want your brand to speak and sound across all platforms. This “voice” should map back to your larger purpose and core values, and appeal to your ideal customers.
  • Typography — the fonts you choose and the way you use them say a lot about your brand. For example, just think about the difference between using a traditional serif font such as Times New Roman versus more modern, streamlined font such as Gotham — or even a custom font. Each makes a statement; be sure it’s the statement you’re seeking to make.
  • Color Palette — individual colors, and color combinations, have the power to evoke different emotional experiences and reactions in your customers, which means understanding the psychology of color can be an especially valuable asset for entrepreneurs. Consider the ability of blue to instill confidence and calm, or yellow and orange to spark youthful energy and enthusiasm for example. For more specifics on choosing colors according to your industry sector and intended positioning, 99designs offers much more detail in a report here.

Making decisions around these concepts will ultimately inform the process of creating each specific brand element such as your logo, website, social media pages, signage and/or packaging.

Tip #3: Prioritize brand elements most important to your key customer base.

Keep in mind that just because the typical startup template dictates getting a logo, website and business cards first, that may not make sense for every type of business. And because time is literally money when you’re an entrepreneur starting out, you need to focus first and foremost on the touchpoints that have the capacity to drive revenue and sales. While nearly every company needs a basic logo and some sort of web presence, it could be that your Instagram page or even Linkedin profile supercede the need for a full-blown website in the first six months out of the gate if these are where your customers are most likely to find and vet you. Or perhaps business cards are “nice to have,”  rather than a “must”, at least at the beginning. Choose and prioritize according to your needs rather than tradition.

Tip #4: Ensure consistency by creating a branding style guide.

Once you’ve defined a brand strategy, built a framework for the brand identity and created the basic visual elements of this brand in the form of a logo, website etc., a crucial next step is to maintain consistency across all platforms and teams via a brand style guide. As a centralized document housing all the key information about your branding, at the bare minimum your style guide should include:

  • Your brand story
  • Details on the brand voice – guidelines for copy
  • Logo and logo variations – when and where and how to use each
  • Color palette
  • Brand fonts and how to use them
  • Imagery guidelines

Tip #5: Remain flexible.

Obviously, consistency is key when it comes to branding. But so is flexibility.  If something isn’t working for your brand, you need to be willing to change it—and when your brand grows and evolves, your branding needs to grow and evolve too.

If your brand isn’t resonating with your customers, remember it’s ok to iterate. If your audience doesn’t respond to a certain font or brand voice, try something new. Keep experimenting until you have a brand that’s performing and engaging with the right people in a way that will boost your growth for years to come.

Pamela Webber is Chief Operating Officer at 99designs, the global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together to create designs they love. Earlier in her career, she served in various corporate strategy and marketing positions with eBay and its subsidiary, PayPal, Inc., True&Co, and other fast growing companies in the consumer Internet space. A resident of San Francisco, Pam received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a MBA from Harvard Business School.

Branding stock photo by REDPIXEL.PL/Shutterstock