Last year, I was talking to a man at a networking event. He asked what I did for work and I told him, "I work with rebels. Rebels are the startups challenging the status quo. I help them gain more confidence through branding and design."
He paused. "Ok, how would you help me?"
I told him that a brand is a person's gut feeling or perception of a business. The art of branding is using the business's personality, image, and beliefs to foster that gut feeling. This creates trust and an emotional attachment between the customer and the business.
He told me he had named his company Best ______. He said that his industry wasn't exciting, his business couldn't have a personality and that the only actionable "branding" route for him to take was calling himself "the best." His next sentence was what shocked me the most though:
"If I was to build a brand, I'd have to lie."
"You'd have to lie?" I questioned.
He believed that creating a brand would mean that he'd have to create a false personality for his company. I kept talking with him, asked him what he liked to do in his spare time, and what he valued.
Turns out, he builds full-scale medieval catapults in his spare time. He loved comedy. Diving deeper, his greatest desire was that his team would show up to after-work team-building events.
I looked at his logo, the name of his company, their colors, and the way they presented themselves online. Nothing about those elements aligned with who this man is. The brand was stoic, staid, and lacked any character.
What he had built was a brand that others would expect of him. He was putting on his business face, trying with everything that he could to be something he isn't.
If that's not a lie, I don't know what is.
Branding is not covering up who you are in the hopes of appealing to somebody. It's the direct opposite, it's showcasing who you really are and going all-in on it. That is what creates an emotional connection with someone else.
Building a brand is about connecting people to a company at an emotional level. What do people connect with? Other people and their stories. No matter how lame and uneventful you believe your journey to have been, your story as a founder, entrepreneur, and business person is exciting to someone else who has never lived it. Every detail is a new experience for them.
For example, I've lived in San Diego my whole life. Naturally, the beach and amazing weather don't surprise or excite me anymore because I've seen them so much. But to someone who lives in Canada who has never seen a wave, felt sand between their toes, or spent an entire day playing beach volleyball, it's completely foreign and interesting to them.
Set aside your products for a second and think about your story. Where are you from? Where are you now? What does that say about you? Lastly, how can you embed that story into your brand?
The brand of a startup is almost always a mirror of the founder. If you want to build a stellar brand, you must know yourself first.
Often subjective in approach, selecting a color palette is not something to be taken lightly. Color is one of the core ways users are able to identify a company from afar. Starbucks green is instantly recognizable, as is the sunset hues of Patagonia or the gold and red of McDonald's. It's unmistakable.
Here is how you approach color with objectivity:
Define your brand
If you don't know what you want people to feel, your selection will be off-base. Know what you inspire within your customer and the emotional qualities you want them to associate with your company.
Seek and Steal
The world is full of cohesive palettes already. Be it an amazing landscape photo, title sequences to a TV show (I used the colors from the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for a keto-Chinese restaurant once), anything really. If you see something that points you toward the feelings you are trying to evoke, steal it and modify it accordingly. Adobe Color makes this process simple. Plus, it beats the hell out of meandering through a Pantone book.
Compare with Alternatives
Color is a fast track to differentiation. If 80% of the alternative choices to your company use corporate blue as their primary color, don't do it. Be rebellious. Try and be something different. The only way to find out is by researching what is out there. 10 minutes of scouting gives more insight than you'd think.
The color palette for your brand is out there. With a little bit of direction from understanding your brand and guardrails established from what's already in your marketplace, you can make color a strategic advantage is differentiating your brand.