With all the amazing stuff we build, we sometimes think that our products "should just speak for themselves." Unfortunately for most, that's just simply not the case, as the startup world is just too competitive of an arena not to pay attention to every detail.
Starting right now, whatever your brand stands for is the story it's built on. It's the core reason people will think your product could change the world, and that's not something you should take lightly.
While some think "it's just a little bit of Photoshop, I could probably do it myself," I'd highly recommend you don't. Why? Because this thing is going to follow you everywhere.
Don't get me wrong, I see your concern with branding being expensive. However, that's why I'm going to take you through a few tips on not only how to find your brand, but prioritize what's most important to tackle first.
Will people be 'wowed' by using your product without an explanation?
Most likely no, but this is a good litmus test to start. As one of the first things I ask a startup in trying to figure out their branding goals, they usually respond with a list of all these great features and usage of their product.
Now, while I appreciate their enthusiasm, I don't ask this question with the expectation that their product is so good "people will just understand it when they see it."
As much as we'd like to believe what we've built is so intuitive and easy to use, that's usually not the case. However, by listing out the components they're most excited about, we can start to hone in on a communication strategy.
The purpose of a great brand is being able to tell a story without even saying a word. Think of all the times that you've walked past a place and thought "Hmm, I wonder what they do." Sure, you have a general idea, but they've made something just intriguing enough to make you ask for more.
What's your audience's perception of the industry?
As your first point of contact, what do you want people to think of how you fit in? Are you in a super buttoned-up industry? Something hip and cool? What's your competition doing?
Believe it or not, going with what "industry standard" or "it looks okay" isn't going to cut it. The startup world is just too competitive to take this approach. However, finding your balance could be what separates you from the competition.
One exercise I do is having a client write down all their favorite brands, regardless of industry. We then focus in on what's the commonality between them and their company's identity. This begins to set the parameters of what we can work within.
Sometimes the results clash with what their mission is, but that's not always a bad thing. After all, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be a hip and cool FinTech company, but you've also got to be mindful that finance is a "professional" (ugh) industry, so playing both sides is important.
Although it's rare, I've also suggested to clients to take on what I consider an 'anti-branding' approach. This is reserved for those that don't want to be too public facing, but still want an identity to invoke trust (think Hedge Funds, law firms, etc).
Whatever you decide to do, prioritize your branding goals.
Look, it's easy to get carried away with cool ideas on what you can do with your brand. The results are endless, but if there's one thing I always try to get across to people, it's that this is only your foundation.
While I can't accurately tell you exactly what your brand needs to do first without seeing it, I can say that your logo needs to be near the top of your list. It's going to be on literally everything your company is, so it's important to shell out the funds for quality work. Plus, with many companies going after "$5 logo designs", do you really want to blend in with the "you get what you pay for" competition?
The best way to look at this is by having your branding goals match your product development goals. If you're still building out Beta or a demo, then getting a proper identity kit and business card website up could be all you need to getting the word around.
Think of this process like buying your first home. Yes, we all want to make improvements and whatnot, but first, we need to set a foundation. Once that's in place, the possibilities of what could be done are endless.