I was chatting with my friend Brian yesterday about his startup. He asked, "what did you think of our branding?"
I asked, "it depends, who are you trying to talk to and what do you want them to feel?"
He wasn't sure. It sounded like there were multiple target markets he was trying to reach with his product and he wasn't sure how he could build a brand that would reach all of them.
Here's the thing:
You cannot build a brand for everyone. In fact, it's smart to build a brand for one person. Since the brand is an emotion, an already vaporous concept, you make it far less tangible with the more people you try to affect. The best brands are constructed for one person. This allows you to focus entirely on making something that somebody will love. Fortunately, there is always spill-over and, because humans are so complex, chances are that we all have a piece of that one persona within us. You have to accept the fact that your brand cannot win over everyone. Even Nike and apple have their haters.
Marketing your brand, however, can be done to multiple people. I gave Brian the analogy of seasoned salt. Seasoned salt is like the brand, it's essence, flavor, and makes whatever meat it's combined with taste like seasoned salt. You can put it on fish, chicken, steak, pork, whatever, it's hasn't changed. Same thing with applying your brand to your marketing efforts. You might have a very specific message or offering for different target markets, but you make sure it's still contains the essence of the brand.
In short, you build the brand for one person, but you can market it to many.
My favorite color to wear is black. Typically, I'm wearing a Buck Mason black T-shirt, Levi's blue jeans, and white sneakers. However, I would not wear that to the gym. In the gym I wear a black dri-fit, black shorts, and black training shoes. And while that's great attire for the gym, I would not wear that to a wedding. Instead you'd find me in an all black suit. Regardless of what I'm wearing though, I'm still the same person. I have patterns, yes, like wearing black, but it's important to fit the occasion.
You can run with the design of your branding the same way. What is the occasion we are designing for and how do we flex our visual identity to match? What matters most is whether or not the personality underneath stays the same and can be felt.
Dress for the occasion and be yourself.
When the Superman comics were first introduced in 1938, the hero was a success. Mainly because no such concept had been created or seen before. Superman represented humans in an ideal form, without fault and with extraordinary abilities. However, after a couple issues, you get kinda bored seeing him win all the time, it's as if there isn't anything worth challenging him on.
10 years later, the writers of Superman introduced kryptonite, the only material substance known to weaken Superman. This single foil within the character kept the series alive and gave him something to wrestle with. It made him more human and therefore more relatable.
The point is this, as a startup, you will have an urge to puff up your chest and broadcast yourself as impervious. Apart this being false, it makes it impossible for other humans to connect with you. Do a good job, strive for greatness, but never shy away from your imperfections. Your kryptonite is what makes people love you.