Before you touch a new name, logo, or messaging, it is imperative to list out the values of your startup. I know what you're thinking, "values? We have those. Honesty, Courage, and Innovation."
Cool, but do you know what they mean? What they really mean? I think I know what they mean, but there are nuances about these virtues that unlock their importance.
Values are nothing without their definitions. Specifically, they are nothing without your definition of them.
Here's what I mean: I define honesty as telling the truth regardless of how it will make others feel or what it does to your image. Is that how you define honesty? Maybe, but you can't instill that into your startup and turn it into an actionable element unless you define it for yourself. Your definition will vary slightly and that's where the magic of your brand comes into play.
Give it a go, whatever your values are, define them in your own words.
"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.
I was giving an identity presentation to a client today and everything was going phenomenal. He liked the strategy behind the mark, thought it had a lot of character, and he was overall pleased with it. He did ask if he could see a slight variation of the mark.
What he had asked for was not going to work (I could see it in my head and it would've ruined the integrity of the logo). But, in the spirit of transparency, I replied with "let's try it out, right now."
Within five minutes, we had the options side-by-side and could clearly see that the previous mark was the better option.
If I had said, "ok let me get back to you in a day with these revisions," we both would have been frustrated. It's an unfortunate trope within the design community to never show the client your workspace or your design files. Which I don't understand, because I certainly feel engaged and have more respect for other craftsmen who show me their process. More important, it helps me hold it in reverence and respect the decisions they make.
Design is no different. If we are willing to be transparent and walk clients through the entire process, show them how our opinions are formulated, and talk through the solution, everyone is happier.
Show your work and talk about it. Being creative is simply not enough, you have to be able to articulate your thinking.