Startup Branding & Design: How to Do it Right?

Coming up with a unique value proposition and product is essential for successful startup branding. But how do you translate that into design? We'll teach you.

Brand Design
May 19, 2024

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Most startup owners focus so much on creating a fantastic product that they forget about the importance of startup branding. If you want potential customers to choose your company over its competitors, you must first draw them in with astonishing design.

It’s a story as old as the Internet. A budding startup owner or entrepreneur has an awesome idea. They spend months if not years tweaking their product, finding investors, and perfecting their elevator pitch. Everyone gets excited about the launch and then… nothing.

In 2019, thefailure rate of startups was around 90%. Most owners quote financial issues, poor market positioning, and ineffective marketing as reasons for failure.

But, even if you do the research, find the right niche and target audience, and gather enough funds for product development, there's no guarantee for long-term success. In fact, research suggests that most startups fail after the fifth and tenth year (50% and 70%, respectively).

This might be because while many startups become successful companies, only a few transform into successful brands.

In this article, we’ll explain what is branding, and why it’s important for a startup, and highlight ways to use graphic design to strengthen your startup brand.


What is branding, and why is it important for a startup?

If you want to start thinking about your startup as a brand from day one, you must consider creating a lasting brand image - ### how your brand is perceived.

Your brand exists in your customer's minds, and marketing and advertising efforts help create an excellent first impression. A strong brand image serves as your brand's DNA, and it represents your:

  • Unique identity
  • Values
  • Personality
  • Attitude
  • Character
  • Voice
  • Beliefs
  • Storyline

Developing all of these are necessary steps in the startup branding process. Remember: it's never just about earning a profit. A successful brand is committed to solving a specific problem for a particular target audience. The way a problem is solved and approached should correspond to the values your brand upholds.

But how can you communicate all of this online, where people have an average attention span of just 8 seconds? Answer: high-quality design.

Where to use a design when building a startup company?

If I’m craving a cup of coffee, I won’t spend time researching options. Instead, I’ll just head over to the nearest coffee shop and get my fix.

But when you don’t have a physical storefront, you can’t rely on factors like context or experience to sell your products. Instead, you need to draw their attention with well thought through and executed design.

In the first instance, this makes you look professional. Startups are young companies that need to build a client base and earn trust. A polished look is like the smell of coffee coming from a coffee shop: it reassures potential clients that you are able to help them.

Beyond the first impression, design plays a critical role in 3 areas of startup branding, which are:

  • Product User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) – The design of your product needs to help clients understand and use it.
  • Marketing design  – You need engaging marketing campaigns to attract new customers to your business.
  • Brand design – How your brand looks, from your website to your marketing collateral, should reflect your brand identity and appeal to your audience.

Let’s look into each of these aspects and explain how you can use design to elevate your brand.

Product UI/UX design: promote usability

When it comes to web and mobile services, product design is more important than in most industries. We are witnessing a market saturation with this type of product, so the primary differentiator between you and your competition should be ease of use.

How about an example? With tons of different music streaming services out there, Spotify is by far the most popular one, claiming close to a third of the total market!  

One of the reasons for its success is a straightforward product strategy - providing a single service on a platform that’s much easier to use than many other streaming platforms.

spotify ui.png


Credit: Under Consideration

Banner ads

Really Good Emails

Nothing can beat a good newsletter campaign; it has a subtle but very effective approach! The good news for startups is that email marketing has the highest ROI: as much as 3600%! There are also 4 billion daily email users, so just take a minute to consider those numbers.

Many people thought that it would slowly die out, but the reality is that email marketing is more vibrant than ever!

Email marketing

Karola Karlson

Source: Virandita Sekar

On the other hand, adding too many features always sacrifices usability.

Do you remember the Windows Vista failure? They probably had a great idea, but the end result was too tricky to use; it had a confusing UI/UX. That is why their product failed even before most people could experience it.

Always go back to your fundamental value proposition: how you solve a particular problem. If the design of your product hinders its primary purpose, it’s time to cut back on the features and highlight the core functionalities.

Marketing design: makes communication more effective

When you include high-quality design in your marketing, you will create a powerful tool that will allow you to play with the big dogs in your industry.

This section will discuss how graphic design can enhance your online and offline marketing.

Online marketing

Online marketing gives you a valuable chance to communicate with a large number of people. But, there is a catch. You aren't up against your direct competition alone in the online space. You’re also competing with all the other types of online content and marketing that might drive prospects' attention away from your brand.

This is where marketing design comes in. It will help keep people interested long enough to help them learn about your brand.

Here's a quick list of the most important types of online marketing you can employ and how you can use design to your advantage.

Social media ads

When you think about online marketing campaigns, these will be the first ones that come to mind.

There’s a logical explanation to it: SMM is huge. You probably know that half of the world’s population has at least one account on some social platform. But, more importantly, over half of them use their accounts to search for products.

Does that mean that whatever your niche, you’ll be able to market effectively on social media?

Nope. The first step is to determine which channels are most relevant to your target audience and focus your efforts there.

Now let's mention some technicalities. There are many types of ads on these platforms, including feed posts, stories, video ads, and my favorite newcomer, Instagram reels. Video content is currently leading in marketing campaigns.

All of these will require different sizes and styles, and this is where you will need the help of a professional designer.

When it comes to the design itself, always keep your value proposition in mind. Here's a useful example from Restream. They used a fun illustration that catches the eye and quickly conveys what the product is about. The supporting copy is straightforward and focuses on the product's key features.

restream fb ad

When you read statistics like this, you can figure out why it’s worth putting extra care and effort into nurturing email marketing.

Ensure the subject line and preview text provide enough information, but try to add a little bit of a “clickbait” element (of course, as long as you actually deliver on your promise). Use a familiar sender name to build a connection with your audience. Try to keep the body text as simple and short as possible.

When it comes to design, focus on creating a beautiful email banner. Make sure that it works equally well in dark mode (close to 92% of users employ it). Of course, your email design must be optimized for mobile since more than 70% of people read emails on their mobile devices!

The final part of a successful email design is a clear and concise CTA. If possible, add a button that prompts users to take a specific action. Use your email as a way of providing them with information and incentivizing them to click.

Here’s an excellent example from inVision. The preview text and banner quickly tell you what it’s all about. And the bright pink CTA button immediately prompts users to click.

invision email template.jpg

If you want to promote your brand quickly, the best way to do this is by using banner ads (or display ads) on websites with similar content. Also, a good strategy is to try and reach out to affiliates and partners who will gladly help you out and place your ad on their page.

Banner ads will help you reach your targeted audience, so better make them look like a million bucks!

Here are a few quick tips for designing effective banner ads for startups:

  1. Keep the copy simple and to the point: No one cares about a clever rhyme or pun if they don’t know what you’re advertising.
  2. Try to use bright colors: You can use accent colors that complement your primary brand colors.
  3. Avoid stock photos: It’s always better to use high-quality product shots or custom illustrations.
  4. Use the correct image sizes: A professional design service can help with that!

Offline marketing

This refers to any advertising that uses traditional offline methods; billboards, radio, TV, printable deliverables (business cards, brochures, leaflets, etc.).

Although it’s not the most significant form of advertising for a startup, some of these still can help you a lot.

For example, professional business cards are essential when meeting with potential investors. When you participate in conferences and events, it's a good idea to create a high-quality brochure that tells potential customers about your business.

Design is everything for this type of advertising. For example, one study suggests that people are 10 times more likely to keep a business card in color over a black and white one. If your print collateral looks like you've put care and effort into creating it, people won't be so quick to throw it away.

Brand design: strengthens your brand image

It’s a big mistake to think that branding is only for large companies; actually, branding is more important for small startups.

Coca-Cola doesn't need to convince anyone why it should exist. Your startup probably does.

Here are some of the key questions you need to answer to create your brand identity:

  • What problem are you solving and why? (brand mission)
  • Who has this problem? How are they dealing with it now? (target audience)
  • How are you trying to solve it? What’s different in your approach? (unique selling point - UPS)
  • What values are paramount in your approach? (brand values)
  • What is the “big picture”? Is there a way to eliminate the problem entirely? (brand vision)

But of course, while you can write pages upon pages answering these questions, your clients won’t take time to read that.

So, you need to translate all of those huge ideas into something much more accessible: namely, quality design.

Here’s where to use design when building a startup company brand.

Logo and branding

A logo is often called the "face of the company". As cheesy as it sounds, it's pretty accurate. A person's face can tell you a lot about them (their rough age; (mostly) their preferred gender; their race; often their mood). The company's logo works similarly insofar that it reflects all the critical aspects of a brand (mission, vision, values).

Don't forget that colors are vital to your brand's visual language. You can't send a cheery message and use black and brown to display it. Or, present yourself as luxurious and exclusive and use a combo of red and yellow that befits a fast-food chain.

Finally, you need to design with a target audience in mind. One of my all-time favorite examples is the redesign of the Airbnb logo. Some people have mocked it and pointed out its, albeit obvious, resemblance to genitals. However, the new logo has remained in use for 8 years and counting and works much better than the old one.

Why? Because Airbnb’s primary target audience are millennials, who have been significantly influenced by the trend of muted pastel colors and minimalism. The old logo looked like a relic from the 90s and simply didn’t resonate with the brand’s target audience as well.

airbnb old and new.png

Website design

If you don't have a physical storefront, the most important place of business is your website. In fact, it's a good idea to think about web design in somewhat similar terms to the layout of a physical store. You want customers to find what they want quickly, and you want it to look well-kept and professional.

The make or break factor of your website design is the landing page. A landing page is often confused with a homepage since the two are often the same (unless we’re talking about a landing page for a specific campaign or product).

The main difference between them is that a landing page must include a call to action (CTA). A cleverly designed landing page has to lead users to the CTA and will therefore always include these key points:

  • A value proposition
  • Features section
  • Social proof
  • CTA

The design of the CTA button is perhaps the most vital decision you'll make regarding your landing page. For example, a recent study shows that button CTAs outperform text CTAs (like Google ads).

Colors are a bit trickier to nail as they depend on the context and industry. Generally speaking, bright colors have a higher click-through rate. But, it's more about creating contrast and making sure that users notice the button immediately.

In one test performed by Hubspot, they found that the red button outperformed the green one by 21%! The reason for this might have been that green was the dominant color on the page itself, so the red one provided more contrast.

hubspot cta button test.png

When it comes to design, bear in mind that buttons should be clear and concise. You should invite users to perform one specific action (leave an email, purchase, learn more on another page). You can get creative with the copy, but only if the action they're about to perform is still evident.

By the way, we have a complete guide on landing page design, including plenty of landing page templates you can grab online and use for your business.

Why should startups incorporate design from the start?

The earlier the design is brought on board, the greater the ROI.

Many founders don't understand that and focus exclusively on developing a product. However, it's much harder to create the design and apply it correctly when the product is already finished. That's the reason why so many startups fail after the initial launch of their (successful) product.

So, we recommend you include a designer in the founding team. They will get acquainted with your brand story and better understand what your customers want.

In turn, this will allow you to develop the design of your products and your brand to match the needs and preferences of your target audience. A thought-out approach like that will help you build customer loyalty and tackle whatever competition appears on the market.

What did we learn from this article?

Let’s recap why design is so important for a startup:

  • Quality design is integral to marketing campaigns and increases ROI.
  • Design helps you create a brand image that people will connect with. Since acquiring new customers costs 5 times more than keeping existing ones, you should focus on building a loyal customer base.
  • Straightforward design will enhance the usability of your product/services. No one wants to use a product that makes you feel like a complete dummy!
  • Poor design or absence of design will cast an unfavorable light on your business. This can be difficult to recover from and might cause your startup to fail in the long run.

Design will provide a positive experience to your customers and attract potential buyers. It also makes your business seem trustworthy and helps you build long-term relationships with clients and investors. And they are the ones who will help keep your business afloat beyond the initial launch.

If you’re looking for a reliable design partner that can keep up with your growing business, look no further than ManyPixels!

You'll have an entire team of designers at your disposal for all your requests: from logo to landing pages! And best of all, whatever you request, you'll always pay the same affordable monthly rate, so budgeting is a breeze.

Sounds good? Make sure to check out our why us page, or go straight to our pricing page and choose your plan!

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.

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