How to build a brand foundation for your new startup

November 07, 2016

If you think you can design a nice logo, decide on some colors, put together a few mockups, and declare this as your new startup’s “brand”, you are profoundly mistaken. You need to think deeper.

Look in the mirror

Launching a startup is a soul-searching endeavor. Look in the mirror. Who are you? What do you deeply care about? Who is your team? What do they care about? This may sound silly, but it’s critically important as you begin to construct the foundations of your brand.

Even if you are launching a waste collection logistics platform or something not quite as shiny as Apple or Nike, understanding the deep questions about who you are as a team and why you are pursuing this venture will be vital to your success.

What do you value? 

If you haven’t done a brand foundations exercise before, I’d highly recommend the experience. Typically a moderator will bring you and your team offsite (somewhere nice) and take the beginning of the day learning about who you are as a team and what you collectively value. This may be things like honesty, ambition, grit, adventure, entertainment, friendship, curiosity, etc… 

These team values will then become a guide to create your company core values, which we’ll talk about below. 

Describe your startup’s brand as a person 

Another important exercise to do is to describe your brand as a person. For example, if your brand is female, how old is she? What was her childhood like? Where does she live? What kind of friends does she have? When she goes to a party, how does she act? etc… The more detail you fill in here the better. 

For example:

Our brand is middle-aged, super organized, reliable, and trustworthy. She’s outgoing, listens well, and always has plenty of thoughts to share on discussion topics. Sometimes it’s difficult to end a conversation with her, however, which can be a problem. She has a first-degree brown belt in karate, but not many people know this about her and she’s OK with that. 

She likes attending conferences, meeting people, and learning new things. She diligently listens to podcasts in her car in order to avoid road rage, because she hates traffic, big time. She dislikes it when people ramble or are inconsiderate of her time. Because of this, she struggles with patience and being empathic with people, but she’s acutely aware of this as a personality fault, which may have came from being an only-child-straight-A-student who moved around a lot and never developed deep friendships.

Finally, at parties, she tries to have a few long conversations rather than a ton of short ones, but it’s a struggle. Rarely are people interesting enough to her to keep her attention. Thus, after saying hi to everyone, she tends to be one of the first guests to leave.

Your brand is your promise 

At the end of the day, it’s hard to manufacture your brand with words and visuals, because your brand becomes the “promise” that you actually deliver to your employees, vendors, investors, and customers. What these people expect of you, based on your behavior, becomes your brand. 

That being said, it’s extremely powerful when your written and visual communication line up with the service and culture these people are experiencing with your company. This develops a deeper loyalty and makes it easier to share your products/services with friends. 

This is a double-edged sword, however. Similar to real life, if a brand breaks their promise (e.g. a poor or confusing customer experience), then trust is lost and it is not easily regain. 

Core values

Taking all of the above into consideration, you should develop with your team a set of core values.

For example, here are the Zappos Family Core Values: 

  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Be Humble

Again, these values just become meaningless words on a page unless you back them up with consistent action over time. 

Moodboard

As a final step for developing your initial brand foundation, put together a collage of images and colors that you think point in the right direction. This is meant to inspire the development of your actual brand colors and visual elements. 

Here’s an example: 

This moodboard gives us an idea of what we’d suggest as the base colors and accent colors, how we’d want our office to look, the types of UI elements we’d put in our web/mobile apps, etc… 

With the foundation of our brand persona, values, and moodboard, you can then proceed to consider your startup’s name, logo, and other visual elements. 

Author’s note: this is the 21st post in a series of articles outlining a framework for startup operations that my partners and I at Prota Ventures have developed. We’ve built a web app that was featured at the #2 spot on Product Hunt to help founders spin up new ventures efficiently and keep stakeholders updated on progress. Check it out for free here. Finally, subscribe to my newsletter and I’ll let you know when I get new content up. Thanks! // Image Credit

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