I'm currently working on a new website or San Diego Startup Week. Yesterday, the former director of the program looked at the new site and commented on how much it had improved from the previous rendition. Obviously, I was flattered. But at the same time, I felt a void within that work.
What is missing is personality, voice, and character. The cherries that make the entire sundae memorable. The new site works and has a streamlined flow to it. But it has no personality other than being well designed.
It's as if design has a brand in and of itself; sterile, refined, clean, simplistic, lots of white space, you get the picture. The next level is using design to communicate a unique feeling that reflects your company.
That's the difference between design and branding. Design is a set of principles that any creative wields as second nature. Using it to build a brand is the ability to bend those principles toward a personality.
Most startups think they have to wait until they have a lot of money to build a brand. Truth is, you don't have a choice. The brand is how people feel about your company and whether you have a lot of money or not, they will still have an emotional opinion of your startup. So, it's better to be aware of how branding helps startups at varying stages.
Ensures your startup is unified toward one goal. In mind, in actions, and in voice.
Ensures you aren’t pegged as a copycat and that you know how you're different from your competitors.
Ensures you talk to somebodyinstead of trying to reach everybody.
Ensures your startup appears trustworthy to investors and customers. You can't get that from Fiverr.
Ensures you get emotional buy-in to your startup and get more investment. This means more 0's in those investor checks and greater connection with customers.
Streamlined Marketing and Design
Ensures you don’t reinvent the wheel when creating content about your startup. You can then focus on expanding to new markets and creating great content.
Ensures those marketing efforts are trusted and get a higher return that grows with time. As opposed to relying on discounts and cutting margins to increase sales.
Ensures you coherently and cohesively expand your team. Specifically, it ensures you hire people whose values align with the company and augment the brand rather than detract from it.
Ensures you can leverage brand equity to command a higher exit price. There is a reason Apple is worth trillions and Samsung is not (hint: it's the brand).
Ensures their isn’t a massive overhaul of the company post-exit.
Ensures you left your mark and made an impact beyond financial gain.
Branding exists at every stage of a startup's life. The question is, will it help you or hurt you?
When you start building a product, your first goal is to make sure it works. It doesn't need all the bells and whistles you anticipate it will house in the future, only the most important ones. The ones that will set you apart and lay the foundation for everything your product could become.
This is referred to as your MVP (minimum viable product).
In constructing a brand for your software, taking a similar approach is essential. Specifically, you build a brand around a specific user base. It doesn't cover everyone you anticipate this product could serve, only the ones who would find it most valuable. The ones who will see you as set apart from any other option they have.
This would be referred to as your MVC (most valued customer).
By focusing on them and them alone, you can tailor your messaging, your identity, your marketing, everything you do is focused around them. Which is helpful, given that it is impossible speak with impact to a generalized crowd.
Have the courage to focus on your most valued customer. They will thank you for it and you'll make something amazing as a result.