Naming and Branding

Branding Your Startup

Written by James Garvin for Gaebler Ventures

Branding is everything and everywhere. Coke, Nike, Microsoft are all leading and iconic "American" brands, but what is involved in a brand for a start-up?

In short, start-ups don't have brands. Brands develop over time once customers have been able to develop a perception about your company, your product, and your value.

Branding Your Startup

As a start-up, sometimes founders get too caught up in their "branding" strategy, trying to find the perfect logo, perfect tagline, and perfect marketing material. Your logo, website, and marketing material are not your brand, they are simply a firms attempt to tell the customers what to think about your company. In general, consumers make up their own minds and opinions about your company.

Brands are often strongly identified with a single product category. Nike with athletic shoes, Microsoft with computer software, Apple with electronics and hardware, and Coke with "Coke." As a start-up, you are a small fish in a big pond that already has dominant brands in your category. Rather than trying to do what the big brands do by reinforcing their brand image to customers, you need to focus on first acquiring and retaining customers and learning exactly what your customers think of you and then tailoring your marketing message accordingly to differentiate your "brand" from other competitors. Asking customer directly about their perception of your business can help you more finely craft a branding message and tagline that appeals to what consumers are already thinking.

It is very difficult to start out with a branded name and tagline from day one that endures the test of time and ultimately your customers as you start to grow your businesses. Some start-ups spend tens of thousands of dollars on consultants before their business has even launched to help them with their branding strategy and campaign only to have to change their strategy after a year or two because they realize that they were pitching the wrong story to customers.

Branding is different than market positioning and typically your market position, once confirmed by your customers will become your long-term brand strategy. Rather than focusing on coming up with a catchy and buzzworthy brand and tagline, focus on selecting the right position within a marketplace and let your marketing communication be consistent with your market positioning.

Choosing a strategic position within a market can help a start-up get more easily recognized as a unique company and avoid confusion with similar companies. Crocs, the casual shoe company, made a name for itself with its unique sandals and shoe wear. They didn't come out with a branding strategy that told consumers what to think of their products; rather consumers told Crocs what they thought of their products. As a result, Crocs adopted a mass following of consumers who were drawn to the uniqueness of their shoes. There was no confusing Crocs for any other shoe company because they had their own unique style. No matter what company or industry you start in, finding a differentiating factor will ultimately drive the creation and success of your brand.

Brands are highly associated with the product and the value that you provide your customers. Product features and attributes are what help consumers develop a brand image of your company and your product, but remember that it is the customer that develops the brand for your start-up, not the other way around.

James Garvin began his education studying biotechnology. In recent years he has turned his interest in technology to helping two internet startup companies. The first business was an online personal financial network and the second was an e-marketing platform created to help entrepreneurs demo their web sites. Currently a student at University of California Davis, James is spending his summer incubating two new online businesses and writing about his entrepreneur experiences.

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