It's a common misconception that you have to be a designer to be a branding expert. False.
Branding is the art of making people feel a certain way about your business. Design is crafting with intention, be it in the physical space, digital, interior, whatever.
The point is that they are different skills. And while they do overlap within people, they are not the same. For example, if you know your values, who your customers are, and how you make them feel, you've got a solid understanding of your brand. But, it doesn't mean you've got the creative prowess to translate those emotions into a logo, a website, or any other marketing collateral. Likewise, you could be the best designer in the world and not know a damn thing about positioning, user profiles, deriving brand values, or even navigating the process of extracting them from a client.
Branding is king. If you had to forgo knowing your brand and being design-conscious, the brand is more important. But, that doesn't mean you can expect to achieve greatness without design. Why?
Because design turns something ordinary into something spectacular, makes complicated things, like a website, easy, and adds the spark of delight that makes a brand irreplaceable.
It's kinda like this: you want a significant other who is a good person and well-intended. Someone who is confident in themselves and has a spirit to match. That's the brand.
But it'd make it easy to start the conversation if they were attractive and well put together. That's design.
The obsession people have with SEO is mind boggling. It's as if SEO is a silver bullet to make up for having an undefined audience and not knowing what they want. I've seen a lot of marketers and the work that they produce. Most of the time, I'm disappointed because it's obvious what game they are playing. They write keyword stuffed blogs with no soul and refuse to write copy that engages people on an emotional level in the hopes of pointing Google searchers to a page.
It's not that I believe all content should be that way, but in order to actually connect with someone so they convert on your page, you can't write for a search engine. Search engines operate entirely on rationale, humans invest emotionally.
As such, both creative messaging and effective SEO need to be in harmony. You can write for search engines until you're blue in the face, but a search engine is not going to have the emotional nuance as the human who will be making a buying decision. You have to trigger them beyond having all the right keywords on your site.
If I had to put my finger on specific things that focusing solely on writing for search engines fails to consider, it'd be these two things:
In short, make awesome content for humans. If possible, make it search engine friendly.
When you are creating a startup, it's easy to get sucked into the mindset that your product/service is needed and that everyone could benefit from it. Regardless of how true that is, people just don't seem to get it. You drill down on your marketing efforts talking about the features of what you offer, but no one understands.
You're bitter. You're frustrated. And it's also your fault.
Yea. It's your fault. It's your fault people do not understand the value of what you've created.
"Zach, that's pretty harsh," you might say. But, I believe it's better than the alternative.
Here's the thing: if it's your fault people don't understand the value of what you've created, then you can change. If it's everyone else's fault, you're shit outta luck.
It's never too late, it's all your fault, but that is the absolute best-case scenario. The question is: what are you going to do about it?