No one ever stood out for being boring. And when branding your startup, this sentiment couldn’t be truer.
Still, too many startups soften their branding to avoid offending potential clients. While bold branding will inevitably deter some segment of the general public, this supposed rejection could actually be a valuable form of self-selection.
If a potential client finds the language on your website too informal for a professional setting, your company probably isn’t a fit, anyway. You’d likely end up butting heads the entire time you worked together.
Having a strong brand tells the public exactly who you are and helps attract the types of clients that align with your company’s personality. Every exceptional brand provokes strong emotional responses — both good and bad. And that’s a much more effective strategy than not getting noticed at all.
Harness Your Unique Brand Personality
Fully developing your brand’s unique personality is an ongoing process. Once you’ve settled on a brand identity, that brand will continue to evolve over time. You may even choose to freshen up your brand just to stay current.
Our agency is always thinking about how our brand plays a role in the types of clients we want to attract. We recently rebranded — with help from our friends at Gin Lane Media — with a goal of evolving our existing look to something cleaner, bolder, and darker. But we also wanted to keep our somewhat alternative, slightly irreverent branding intact as well.
Whether you’re looking to update your brand image or discover who your startup will become, here are four tips to help unlock and own your personality:
1. Explore what resonates with you and your team. What do you think is cool or intriguing? What visual identities catch your team’s attention? Look at all the things you enjoy — from bands to restaurants — and pick them apart. With bands, think about the type of music they play, the way they dress, and how they communicate. With restaurants, look at the colors used in the space, the style of the servers, and how employees interact with you.
I grew up listening to punk rock, but I also appreciate Philip Glass, and that will come through in my firm’s rebranding process. We went for an all-black, somewhat unorthodox look and continue to mix in subversiveness and subculture in our look and messaging. Although it’s a big move that won’t win over every client, it reflects our team and the clients we want to work with.
2. Identify what you’re not. Establishing what you’re not can help you close in on what you are. Consider the rise of Lyft: It entered the market after Uber launched and had to prove it wasn’t a bootlegged version of its competitor.
One way it differentiated itself was through playfulness. While Uber exudes a clean, formal image, Lyft is not about sleek executive cars. It’s about people helping people get places. Lyft’s signature pink mustache may have prompted a few chuckles at the company’s expense, but it has become a ubiquitous reminder to the public of its lighthearted, approachable brand personality.
3. Look at your competitors. Take a look at what the top five companies in your industry are doing, and figure out how you want to position your brand. Should you sit on the shoulders of giants or shock the public with a daring new approach? If you intend to differentiate, how will you convey that through your product and communication with the public?
In our rebrand, we chose to go in the opposite direction of our competitors. We went bold with our visual identity to help our customers and the industry understand how different we truly are.
4. Embrace your left-of-center opinions. Every industry has ongoing conversations about certain themes. Do you have any opinions on those popular topics that differ from what everyone is used to hearing?
Say, for example, that you are a direct-to-consumer retailer, and all the industry players take an e-commerce-first mentality. But you believe it’s important to focus on location-based retail from the beginning to build a strong brand. That primary idea could be a key element of your brand identity. Deviate from common sentiment to help inform your company personality and communication style.
Regardless of the direction your brand takes, you have to be authentic. Discovering your brand identity is about finding those elements that represent your team and showcasing them to the right people in the right way at the right time. Don’t be afraid to push the limits or be unapologetic about who you are. As long as you stay true to your brand identity, the right people will respect your honesty and remember you when the time comes to purchase.
Image Credit: Ryan McGuire