When to brand a start-up
The question, from a training session for entrepeneurs, suggested a lot of misunderstanding about branding. I had just finished a session on marketing basics and my questioner was an accountant by background. His new company had a financial services product, some financial resources and a small staff. His concern was that branding would be really expensive, require market research, design, communications and planning, and this would tie-up time and resources. At what point, he wondered, did he have to meet this pain?
Branding starts with a website
His question suggested a lot of mis-conceptions about branding: it was expensive, it was a necessary evil once a company reached a certain size, and that it required a project.
I asked what marketing they had done: none so far. His start-up had a website, but he didn’t see that as branding.
Clearly in his mind, branding involved an image, colours, collateral, a set of branding guidelines. What he didn’t see is that as soon as you set up a website, you are making brand decisions: the tone of voice of your site immediately sets-up expectations of your company. Let me give some examples. Here are a random selection of websites all offering foreign exchange for businesses:
Taking a factual approach to branding:
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Taking a formal approach to branding:
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Taking a more 'flowery' approach to branding:
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Just from the tone of voice of these snippets sets up expectations in the reader. That’s before you’ve seen the logo, images, colours or the navigation of their websites, or even glanced at their products. Which approach is best is a branding decision, because you are setting up how people view your organisation in the words that you use. Is the start-up going to be formal, is it going to be relaxed, and does the tone of view match the type of product or service?
So the answer to “when do you brand a start-up?” is the moment you start to put words on your website.