4 Top Branding Tips from a Brand Strategy Expert

The business model is appealing. You like the principles. And you see the potential for both the company and your career. They want you onboard to run marketing and, because it’s a startup, pitch in with sales, customer support, wherever else your help is needed. You’ve had some marketing experience, but are you really ready to assume full responsibility for all marketing at this startup? Can you really create a brand, build brand awareness, and manage brand strategy? Yes, I suspect you can. Here’s how: First, what you need is a plan. Here is a simple, four-point approach to managing the brand of a startup. You need to explain, create/tweak/validate, focus, and check-in. Okay, maybe it's not simple, but it is doable. Here's how:

Explain why it matters:

The first task in front of you is to ascertain what the senior players know and understand about the role of a brand. Do they understand that, even in their company’s infancy, brand needs to be a priority? Do they know why? In my experience, getting people to follow your lead is directly tied to their understanding of why they should. Why is brand strategy important? Why does a brand need to come to life here and now? Step one is to explain it all to them if they don’t fully understand brand strategy — and most do not because they’re busy being brilliant in other ways. That’s why they need you![bctt tweet="Getting people to follow your lead is directly tied to why they should, says @DouglasWSpencer"]

Having a brand strategy at the very beginning of a company is important for a number of reasons. First, it gives you focus. By having a clear understanding of who you are now and who you want to become in the future, you will be able to filter out decisions that may lead you astray or distract you from this goal.

Second, a solid brand strategy will enable “more hands on deck.” Those in startups typically have to wear a lot of hats. Centralizing decision making about everything "brand" is unrealistic. If everyone is following the same compass, decisions will align and the brand stays consistent.

Third, a brand will help you capture more of the right kind of attention. Whether you’re looking for investors, clients, or both, having a well-articulated, clearly-expressed brand will make you stand out in a crowd.

Finally, having a well-articulated and well-executed brand strategy makes you look more solid. And looking more solid will make both prospects and investors more likely to take a chance on you. [bctt tweet="A more solid #brand will make prospects + investors take a chance on you - @DouglasWSpencer"]

Create, Tweak, and Validate:

Once everyone understands the need for a brand strategy, it’s time to create it if doesn’t already exist, tweak it if does, or validate it with key constituents if you believe that tweaks aren’t necessary.

Your brand positioning has to start with a promise which is supported by pillars and brought to life by adjectives.

A promise is your brand’s reason for existing, beyond making money: why you do what you do and not something else. It’s the magnet that will pull customers to you. A brand promise has to be grounded in reality, yet aspirational. It has to have some sort of emotion infused in it to keep anyone’s attention — including your own. Here are two of my favorite examples:

Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

Coke: To inspire moments of optimism and uplift.

Notice that neither address literal thirst or reference beverages. They are aspirational and very emotional.[bctt tweet="Your brand's promise is its reason for existing, beyond making money - @DouglasWSpencer"]

Your pillars hold up your promise and serve as both proof points and guiding directives. For Starbucks, they deliver on their promise by a pillar such as “having inviting, comfortable stores at which all are welcome.” For Coca-Cola, one may be “being anywhere people are living life to the fullest.”

How your brand promise comes to life is determined by its adjectives. If your brand were a person, how would you describe it? The adjectives inform decisions about language, about color, about every way you express yourself as a brand. A Starbucks adjective may be “nurturing” which would explain their heavy use of green. A Coca-Cola adjective may be “bold,” hence the dependency on red. Find your promise, find your pillars and find your adjectives. Use them to bring your brand to life.

Maintain your focus:

Once these foundations in place, it’s time to focus and commit to your brand strategy. That means looking at every single place your brand comes to life—every action, every visual, every word and experience and customer interaction—and asking certain questions. Does that color/ welcome message/ statement/ tweet reinforce or contradict our brand adjectives? Are our actions supporting one of our brand pillars? Are we staying true to the promise of who we are and why we are here? Is the promise clear?

Be very careful here. You have to balance getting things done with getting them done the right way. When it comes to making exceptions about being on brand, danger lurks in a “just this once” attitude. Why? Because exceptions are often like toothpaste: Easy to get out of the tube, impossible to get back in.[bctt tweet="#Brand exceptions are like toothpaste: easy to get out, hard to get back in - @DouglasWSpencer"]

That having been said, it is important to get work done so my advice is always keep everything as simple as possible. Logos, fonts, positioning statements: keep them true to your brand but make them as simple and flexible as possible.[bctt tweet="Keep #brand assets as simple and flexible as possible, says @DouglasWSpencer"]

Keep tabs on key players:

Finally, you need to check-in with the people who are most important to your brand’s success whenever you can. Is the brand promise coming to life as you’re intending? Is it clear? Is it helping customers get closer to you? Do your employees all understand and embrace your brand? If any of those come back in the negative, it’s time to make some tweaks.

So there you have it, four ways to approach brand development in your new role as Head of Marketing for Startup XYZ: explain, create/tweak/validate, focus, and check-in. I suppose I could add a fifth point here: Make mistakes. It’s fine when you do, and you will, just make certain you learn from them. In the meantime, congratulations. You’ve got this.[bctt tweet="It's fine to make mistakes, and you will, just learn from them, says @DouglasWSpencer"]

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Photo credit: Tom Page via Flickr cc