How to Build a Strong Brand for Your Startup
In search of the most effective strategies for startup branding, we’ve gathered fourteen diverse insights from CEOs, Founders, and Marketing Managers. From leveraging a founder’s personal brand to the importance of honesty in shaping brand reputation, this article unveils the key elements that can forge a strong brand identity for your startup.
- Leverage the Founder’s Personal Brand
- Know the Essential Stages of Brand Strategy
- Understand Your Ideal Customers
- Research Competitors, Craft Identity
- Prioritize the Customer Experience
- Cultivate Brand Consistency
- Personal Branding Drives Referrals
- Stand Out With Emotional Storytelling
- Expand Visibility Through Directories
- Establish Unique Branding in Competitive Fields
- Align With Your Brand’s SMIT
- Connect Locally, Grow Nationally
- User Research Informs Branding
- Honesty Shapes Brand Reputation
Leverage Founder’s Personal Brand
The brand strategy used for your startup will be critical to its success. Leveraging every outlet is key. One often overlooked marketing tool is building the CEO/Founder’s personal brand.
Leveraging the expertise of the leaders in the organization and building their sphere of influence can take your startup to the next level. It builds the “know, like, and trust” factor that is nearly impossible for a faceless startup to reproduce on its own.
Know the Essential Stages of Brand Strategy
Many times, early-stage startups don’t have the luxury of dedicated branding, marketing, and communications departments. When startup marketers wear multiple hats, there’s a natural tendency to feel the urge to rush.
However, it’s crucial to pause and consider this: When creating a brand strategy for your newly established startup, you need to go through essential stages: Diagnosis (research), Strategy, and Tactics.
Each of these three stages holds equal importance and multiplies together. Therefore, if one part is missing, your entire branding go-to-market strategy is highly likely to fail. Not surprisingly, the stage that is often taken for granted is the Diagnosis stage. Taking the time for thorough research at the beginning is the foundation for a successful strategy.
Take the time to analyze the competition, engage with different customer segments, and delve into the core idea behind the startup—whether through field trips or laptop exploration. Avoid rushing.
Ugne Sineviciute, Marketing Manager
Understand Your Ideal Customers
As a brand strategist, I teach my customers that to build a brand; they need to first nail the foundations. Understanding your ideal customers on the deepest level is crucial. What problems do they face daily? What fears keep them up at night? And what are their goals and aspirations?
If you can truly understand your customer, then you can nail your messaging and visual identity. This understanding allows you to effortlessly attract and convert your ideal customers into loyal, raving fans and build a thriving business.
Research Competitors, Craft Identity
Identify your closest competitors and undertake deep research on them. It’s not just about triangulating based on what they’re doing, but also about giving the customer an easy mental box into which you can fit, making you memorable, even if they end up going with another option.
Word of mouth is always the most potent route for customer acquisition, and if you leave a lasting impression, it makes it a bit easier for one customer to become two.
At Mojeek, we work in the search space, meaning that there is one big provider in Google, and competing with them and their proxies is a daunting thing. However, Google has a history of moves that go against customers’ wishes, as well as being very hostile to user privacy.
By consistently reinforcing our long-held values of listening to users and protecting their privacy, while adopting a casual and friendly style, we paint a stark contrast against a data-hungry, distant, but dominant established player.
Prioritize the Customer Experience
Prioritizing customer experience and engagement is a critical approach to developing a great brand as a CEO and co-founder. In a hyper-competitive world where products or services may be comparable, the way you make your customers feel can differentiate your business.
Concentrate on delivering smooth and engaging experiences at all touchpoints, from initial engagement to post-purchase assistance. Actively listen to customer input and incorporate it into the evolution of your brand.
Implement novel approaches to engaging your audience, such as personalized content, interactive social media campaigns, or exclusive events. Making your consumers feel valued and heard not only builds loyalty but also converts them into brand advocates who will organically spread your message.
A great and memorable customer experience becomes a key difference in an era where word-of-mouth travels quickly through digital media, contributing significantly to brand strength and longevity.
Cultivate Brand Consistency
One vital component in building a strong brand—or for every brand—is consistency. It’s essential across all your brand elements: visuals, voice, values, and more.
If your brand focuses on sustainability, this value should be seen and felt everywhere, from your product to your blog posts to your customer service approach. Consistency helps reinforce your identity and cultivate trust with customers.
It shouldn’t feel forced, though. The best brands don’t just talk about their values; they live them. It’s those brands that resonate with people and thrive.
There’s a lot more to building a brand, but consistency is a good starting point.
Personal Branding Drives Referrals
Personal branding has been a cornerstone of my design business strategy. By using a more personal approach, I’ve found it much simpler to develop my network without the oppressive feeling of being extremely sales-focused. My clients often refer other business owners my way.
My tailored one-on-one contact with clients and always seeking to provide outstanding value have been important in driving these referrals. I always go above and beyond to ensure that each client has an outstanding experience.
This approach has resulted in a considerable amount of recurring business, as well as clients returning for more services as their businesses grow. Personal branding has been vital in building trust, increasing credibility, and distinguishing myself from the competition.
Jemma Wiltshire, Business Owner, Jemma Wiltshire Design
Stand Out With Emotional Storytelling
Building a powerful brand for any business relies on storytelling, and startups are no different. When your brand story connects with your audience on an emotional level, it goes beyond just selling a product or service.
It creates an experience that captivates your audience and leaves a lasting impression. I have worked with dozens of startups that struggled to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. We get them to shift focus from highlighting product features to telling a story about how the product fits into the customers’ lives, focusing on their goals and challenges. This approach helps transform the brand’s perception, driving engagement and loyalty.
The key is to craft a narrative that’s authentic, relatable, and memorable, making your brand not just a provider of solutions but a part of your customers’ lives. This strategy attracts attention and fosters a robust and loyal community around your brand.
Expand Visibility Through Directories
Visibility is more than just having a good-looking website with strong SEO. Your startup needs to be on directories such as Crunchbase and ProductHunt.
Getting onto multiple platforms will naturally propagate through the search engines, build backlinks, and give the impression that your fledgling business is set to do big things.
Go wide at first, so you can attract as much organic reach as possible; then, you can determine which places you want to promote and keep up to date.
Establish Unique Branding in Competitive Fields
From the beginning, I wanted to establish SoFlo as a relatable, student-centric, down-to-earth alternative to the larger, established corporate test prep companies. We realized students don’t want a robotic, boring test prep experience, so all of our branding focused on radiating a casual, friendly vibe.
We posted memes on our Instagram. We hired tutors currently attending or just graduated from university so that our students could relate better to them. From my experience, I can say that building a strong brand needs an element of uniqueness to distinguish yourself from others—especially in a field as competitive as education.
Align With Your Brand’s SMIT
At our branding agency, we start with a Single Most Important Thing (or SMIT for short). We decide on the SMIT after research, evaluation, and a tactical audit of competitors’ brands. Only then can we land on our conceptual North Star, a steady touchstone with emotional resonance and practical relevance.
The SMIT does double duty: It gets everyone energized while keeping the project on track and aligned with what’s most important to the organization. Some past clients’ Single Most Important Things have been “Craft on Display,” “Belief Beyond Limits,” and “Enchantingly Intelligent.” Throughout the branding process, we continually refer to our SMIT to make sure we’re staying aligned with what is most important and not getting derailed by personal preferences.
Connect Locally, Grow Nationally
While we are working towards becoming a national brand, we understand the importance of the local and the personal. This is why we focus our branding efforts on connecting with the communities in which we operate, featuring authentic feedback from our customers, and putting a human face on our brand by putting our movers front and center.
The ability to feel small and personal while operating in over half the states in the Union (and counting) is one of our greatest strengths. If you do choose to quote me, please refer to me as Nick Valentino, VP of Market Operations at Bellhop.
User Research Informs Branding
One key strategy to keep you on the right track is to be incredibly strict about conducting rigorous user research. That’s because branding is highly subjective and requires sharp decisions to be made around the right brand’s values, personality traits, positioning statements, differentiated visuals, and so on.
To guide every decision in that long brand development journey, falling back on a sound knowledge of your audiences is critical. This could mean conducting competitor brand perception surveys, interviewing your first few customers about their purchase experiences, or holding focus group sessions with prospects about their day-to-day routine and any pain points.
User research should not be a “one-and-done” project either. As you introduce new brand elements or hypotheses, keep your audiences in the loop and actively ask for their feedback. Use website survey forms, conduct A/B tests, or invite audiences for open-ended conversations.
This iterative approach ensures your brand is intricately aligned with your best customers, fostering a strong, enduring brand identity.
Honesty Shapes Brand Reputation
The reputation of a brand or individual is the sum of thousands of micro-transactions. When you set up a company, it is under the influence of the founder’s personality, beliefs, and principles. Our brand character rests on several principles.
For one, it is avoiding lies. Take competition analysis, for example. Before publishing a series of comparative articles, we made it a point to test products thoroughly to avoid inaccurate information.
We stand behind every claim we make about product security. Our customers use LH on their LinkedIn accounts; we do not want them to compromise the safety of their accounts. Staying true to this principle helps us maintain our reputation.