"Well, I'm my target market, so I should design a brand for myself."
I hear this a lot, especially from startup founders who think they have an amazing product that is going to solve world hunger and end war forever (I'm kidding, but you get the idea). However, despite the product being so amazing, they can't get sales, have a hard time pitching, and are constantly pivoting to the point of exhaustion. What's more, they all have shitty brands.
Why is that? Because going into business to build something for yourself is a surefire way to have an aimless brand, one that you cannot objectively validate. It's doomed from the start. Think about it, if you fully embody the exact persona of someone who could use your product, then they don't need you. They are able to solve this problem themselves. Good luck making them feel something other than contempt for you imposing yourself on their day-to-day.
I get it, you want to enjoy the work you do and have a brand that you can appreciate being a part of. You cannot find that focusing on yourself.
The key is to find overlap, a common thread between what your customers value and what you value. There is a reason they are listed in that order, as you, being an entrepreneur, can build a kickass business and brand whether you feel personally attached to it or not. You'll crush it because solving problems for other people is what you're best at, that is your job.
If you happen to have a passion for the brand and can align with it personally, all the better. But, you have to focus on a customer first or you have no business. Not only in the products you create, but the way you make them feel. That's where the branding magic is born.
The Nike swoosh, the Apple apple, the Target bullseye. All of these logos are recognizable in an instant and yes, it took a while for them to get there, but there is a common thread between them oft-overlooked in the success of their brand identities:
They have good names.
Since the name of a brand is further up in the headwaters than the logo, it makes sense that a crappy name will hinder the success of the visual identity. Don't believe me? Well, let's try these with different monikers.
Nike -> Elegant Running Solutions.
A swoosh would not fare well under this.
Apple -> Creative Computers, Inc.
Why the hell is the logo an apple?
Target -> Minneapolis Market (Target started in this city)
The bullseye loses all gusto.
You get the picture. Brand identities, just like people's identities include a lot from the name. Why do you think authors and screenwriters obsess over the names of these characters they create? It matters and there is an emotional value to the name of a company.
If you don't nail your name and have it aligned with the emotional value you want to manifest within your audience, your identity as a whole will suffer. How do you do that?
Define your brand.
No, you're not going to remodel the kitchen in your startup. This is an analogy. You see, when you renovate your house to increase its value, there are two areas most recommended: the kitchen and the bathroom. Doing this adds the greatest increase to a home's value.
Is it out of the question to think that design could be the equivalent to increasing a startup? Not unlikely. I was at a pitch competition last month and all of the judges made comments on the design of the winning team's slides. How well they flowed, the ease of reading information, and the personality they added. There were other participants that had ideas just as good as theirs, but good design made them win.
Furthermore, in comparison to other things startups might do to increase their value, design isn't that expensive. A solo freelancer can make a run-down, scrappy startup look like it is worth millions for under $30,000. If it results in the recoup of millions in fundraising, that sounds like a drop in the bucket.
Here's the thing: if you're looking to tremendously increase the value of your startup, you might want to consider design as a starting point.