Apple, Tesla, Duracell, and Kleenex have something in common: brand recognition. But what exactly does that mean? "Brand" is something we often associate with something popular, what the cool kids do/use/swear by, but that's not quite it. According to Nina Ojeda, CEO and founder of The Avenue West, a company that specializes in brand development, what makes a brand is the stories it tells and how it tells them. As a startup, especially if you are bootstrapping, hiring a firm may be completely out of your budget, but I caught up with Nina to talk about how you can keep this in mind while starting out small.

1. Details, details, details.

All experience points with your brand must remain consistent and speak to the same core audience. This seems like a relatively straightforward recommendation, but according to Ojeda, this is not so common. "Entrepreneurs are known to be particularly hardheaded, so letting them know there are big holes in their UX can be a challenge. Getting them to accept it is another struggle entirely. A great idea is just a great idea, and without properly understanding your core customer and having a solid brand foundation, you will eventually fail."

According to Ojeda, many failed companies share this pain point. They are unable to create consistent experiences with their product or service, making it hard for the consumer to understand or communicate it. Therefore, it won't get shared. "You have to make sure every experience is deliberate for that core consumer. Take Apple for example. Everything from their website and advertisements to the product wrapping is consistent with the Apple message: premium, clean, perfection."

Often, founders will want to skimp on the details because they can be expensive, but they don't have to be. "You can pay attention to the details without spending a fortune: take the time to sit down and create a brand brief. Nail down your value proposition, mission and vision, customer profile, and make sure the entire company rallies around it. Once you have that down, just make a simple and easy-to-navigate website with copy that speaks to your core customer. Surprisingly, that's all you really need to start out and that doesn't cost a dime."

2. Social media.

This is probably the most obvious to Millennials since we are the era of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but according to Ojeda, there are still companies that do not see social media as a worthy investment. "Something to remember is that no company ever explodes without having a strong social media presence. It's a HUGE mistake to think your company is above it. Your social media channels are the face of your company, not the PR you are receiving around you or your launch," explains Ojeda.

What is your voice? Make sure you understand your brand's personality. Is your brief witty and irreverent? Are you serious and knowing? All of these things should be papered ahead of time so there is no confusion internally as to who you are.

Ojeda goes into further detail about speaking to your core customer, but the main takeaway is this: don't pretend social media is not the face of your company. It is. It's more than just customer service; it's your personality and it's your job as a brand to maintain its consistency.

3. Analyze, shift, repeat.

Building a brand everyone loves probably won't happen overnight. The difference between success and failure is consistent learning. Even if you have everything else nailed down, it's important to watch your customers behavior. "Ultimately, we hypothesize everything in the beginning. Once you are in market, you will have to analyze performance and shift your efforts based on demands of your customers. "The brands that are most malleable in the beginning are the most successful in the end."

For a product, it can be as simple as watching what pages are clicked most frequently, which ads perform best by click, and where the website jump point is. Now that everything is digital, it's very easy to know what campaigns are the stickiest.

Published on: Sep 23, 2015