By Stefan Schulz, digital agency owner and partner in Don’t Do It Yourself: advice and tools for growing your business.
Over 600,000 new businesses pop up in the United States each year. With so many competitors and large companies dominating the market, it’s easy not to feel like an underdog as a small startup.
This is why branding is so crucial. Your brand helps develop relationships between your customers, shareholders, and team members.
But branding can be a pretty daunting task, especially for startups that might be a little short on resources.
In this article, we’ll be outlining the first critical steps in developing a brand while offering solutions for startups that are looking to bootstrap their initial brand development stages.
What is Branding?
Branding is a marketing strategy aimed to allow customers or clients to recognize your specific brand of products or services over your competitors. It typically involves creating a name, logo, and other design elements to make your products easily recognizable.
Brands also represent what you stand for as a company or organization. It helps communicate your goals, missions, and how you want to be perceived by your customers.
As such, branding affects how your company is seen by all of your stakeholders. Customers will distinguish your products and services from your competitors. Your team will identify with your brand’s mission and values. Your shareholders will understand your goals and trajectory.
Why is Branding Important for Startups?
With that said, startups might not want to spend weeks and months figuring out their branding strategy. A lot of startups copy the branding framework of their competitors without coming up with their own.
But without a solid and unique brand identity system, your startup will have a tough time distinguishing itself from the competition. Convincing customers to stick with their products will become harder and harder as your brand gets lost in the shuffle.
Research finds that 95% of consumer decisions are subconscious. This means that all the little logistical details that businesses tend to focus on - prices, features, deals, convenience, etc. - account for about 5% of customers’ decisions.
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The other 95% of those decisions are made purely on consumers’ arbitrary preferences and their attitude towards a brand. For startups, this information is crucial.
Bigger companies will always have the edge in terms of analytics, marketing resources, and employees. Branding, on the other hand, is an intangible asset that you can use regardless of your startup’s capacity.
Developing your brand effectively lets you connect with your customers and convince them to stick with your products in the long run. One of the most effective means of creating that customer-company connection is through visuals, which is where graphic design comes into play.
Graphic Design and Branding - How They Work
Whether you realize it or not, graphic design plays a huge role in your startup’s branding process.
We’re not talking about just creating a logo, as graphic design permeates into other aspects of your branding strategy. Website images, fonts, advertisements are all crucial components of your startup’s brand that hinge on your graphic design capabilities.
Let’s look at a few crucial ways that graphic design affects your branding strategy:
It’s no secret that your company logo is going to define much of your branding strategy. It’s the first thing that most customers will see when they engage with your products or services, and the lasting subconscious image that they’ll remember whenever they hear your name.
Colors, fonts, formatting - all are important considerations when building your logo. Conveying your mission and values into one logo is a tough but necessary step towards building your brand identity.
Visually representing your brand is easier said than done. Graphic design plays a crucial role in determining things like which colors, fonts, and banners really speak to the kind of company your startup wants to be.
Do you want to stand out from your competitors? What visual style do you want to convey to your customers or investors?
Graphic design isn’t all about designing logos and pretty images. Creating social media releases, infographics, and other documents are all components of graphic design. Without strong graphics, customers and investors might feel a little shaky sticking with your brand.
Graphic Design Branding on a Budget
With all that said, most startups aren’t immediately looking to hire a graphic designer during the branding phase.
Why? Well, to be frank, graphic designers can be expensive.
They typically charge by the hour, and even getting a freelancer to do some graphic design work can cost you a few hundred dollars for maybe one or two projects.
So how can startups get quality graphic design without losing control of their budget? Should you just say “screw it” and design your logo yourself?
Unless you have an extensive background in design, no. Instead, startups should turn to a simpler solution—unlimited graphic design.
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Unlimited graphic design companies charge a monthly fee to their clients for an unlimited number of graphic design project requests. So instead of paying for each individual project or designer, you pay a flat fee to request as many projects as your startup needs.
It’s a unique yet ideal solution for startups that need quality graphic design to bolster their branding strategy but don’t have the resources to hire their own designers.
Many unlimited design companies hire seasoned graphic designers to take care of your work, meaning you won’t sacrifice quality for price efficiency. It also means you can discuss your branding goals and they can create content that goes right along with your strategy.
Instead of breaking the bank with expensive freelance designers, turn instead to unlimited design companies for economic yet effective graphic designs.
Cost-Effective Branding in 7 Steps
Now that you understand the importance of graphic design in branding, it’s time to incorporate that knowledge into building your startup brand. While every brand-building process is different, here are 7 economic steps to get you started:
Define Your Story
Surprisingly enough, your branding process doesn’t actually start with your products and services.
Before we get to that, you need to build a foundation for your startup. A great way to build a foundation is through a narrative.
Who are you and what motivated you to build your company? Where were you born? Who or what did you grow up with that led you here?
Extracting parts of your life and the journey you took to creating your startup will help shape the narrative you want your customers to know. Your story can create that connection between you and your audience that’s so vital for building a strong brand.
Set the Tone
Now that you’ve got your story in order, you need to decide how you want to be perceived by your customers. This is going to depend on the type of products or services you offer.
Maybe you want to be seen as warm and friendly. Maybe your services require you to be more professional and cordial to clients.
Whether you want to be fun and quirky or composed and dialed-in, defining these vibes during the first few stages of your branding strategy is key. Setting that tone now will help your brand be more consistent.
Settle on a Name
Settling on a company name is obviously a big part of your branding strategy. You might’ve settled on a name way before you even gathered the resources to build your startup.
It’s important to create a name that’s easy to remember but won’t get lost among your competitors. Make one that’s easy to spell and remember. It doesn’t have to be the most clever name in the world, just one that’ll resonate in people’s minds when they think about your products.
Create Your Mission Statement
A mission statement is a summary of your startup’s aims and values. It’s crucial for building your internal culture and driving your marketing materials going forward.
Your mission statement will guide your brand voice and communicate everything you stand for as a company. Dig deep into what you want to accomplish as a startup and convey it succinctly through your mission statement.
Design a Logo
This is where graphic design comes in. With your tone and mission statements set, you need an effective logo that your customers can use to recognize your brand.
Your logo should incorporate the tone of your brand while embodying your mission statement. Collaborate with your graphic designer and come up with multiple logos to choose the optimal design.
The goal is to create something that’s simple, appropriate, and unique.
Colors + Text
Something that can easily be overlooked is consistency in your online branding. If your website and social media accounts have wildly inconsistent colors and text, it’s going to reflect poorly on your brand as a whole.
As such, you should focus on a specific set of colors and fonts to use on your website, logos, and other visual assets. Choose elements that fit the tone of your brand.
Putting it all Together
Now that you’ve decided on your brand’s logo, colors, fonts, and other elements, what you have here is essentially a style guide for your brand. You and your team can now use it as a strong reference for future projects. Make sure you have these style guides saved, perhaps as a slide deck for future reference.
Create High-Powered Brands on a Budget Today
Creating a brand isn’t an overnight task and it certainly takes a bit of time, effort, and resources to pull it off. With the right strategy, however, startups can create a highly-effective brand without breaking their budget.
Use this guide to bootstrap your brand development strategy and create a lasting impression on your customers today.