Founders of small businesses and startups face the challenges of doing everything themselves. The need to think about many things, business development, marketing, sales, accounting, and branding, just to name a few. As the CEO of VSLB, a 3D Design Studio, I have helped my clients stay relevant in a fast-evolving digital world. I’ve executed global campaigns with LG, Samsung, Ralph & Russo, and global agencies with brand strategies that inspire their customers. As VSLB specializes in 3D rendering, motion graphics, and branding, I along with my Chief Design Officer Giacomo Mason have summarized the most essential branding tips for startups and founders to get your brand visually aligned to your purpose.  

I have seen many startups go through the challenges of building a brand and business. Being a brand strategist and helping global brands visually attract their customers, I would like to share this guide to help other young companies find their unique visual identity. Having a unique visual identity is vital to creating a great brand. Having a great brand means people are familiar with your products/services, brand design, and most importantly your brand’s goals/mission. This is where you want to get to. 

10 Branding Tips for Startups and Founders

1. Use Consistent visual and verbal branding

Branding Tips for StartupsThe first impression from people will be through your brand logo. The logo needs to be a representation of what a brand stands for. A good way to start is to think about how your customers should feel about your brand. What emotion do you want to instill? Once you figure out what kind of emotion you want to express, you can work from there. For example, at VSLB we wanted to express a simple and minimal design that reflects a natural/silent style, which is why we use Helvetica for our font. 

The image, font, colors, etc should match the adjective you use to describe your brand. Once you have decided on your logo make sure your logo, colors, and fonts are consistent. Those that are struggling with colors, you can check out pantone.com for different pre-made variations. The Pantone textile color system is great for fashion designers when they are looking to design a new line of clothing. Just look through the Pantone fashion and color guide, which has over 1,900 textile colors until you find the one you like. 

Using consistent visuals will allow people to recognize your brand quicker. Getting recognized is the first step to getting remembered.

2. Define your Purpose

VSLBKnow your purpose! It is easier said than done and this may go hand in hand with your personal development as an entrepreneur. But if you can find your purpose and role in your business and ultimately align that with the service or products you offer, you can help your customer relate to your company. Remember, there is a difference between your brand purpose and your brand value. Your brand purpose is the reason why your brand exists in the first place. Brand values on the other hand are more like your guiding principles. The one that feels the most aspirational is your brand purpose. 

Once you define your purpose, you will be able to define what separates you from your competitors. What makes your company stand out? VSLB embraces true freedom and creativity by combing art with technology. We make it a priority to incorporate these ideas into our branding. Defining your purpose ultimately reflects the brand’s visual identity and defines the language your brand speaks verbally in a visual way.

3. Find your target audience

The first thing to focus on is your target audience. But how do you know who that is? How do you define your target audience? The wrong answer is EVERYONE! This is a terrible answer because, for one, it is super expensive to try and acquire everyone. When gathering data around your target audience, start with your customers since they are already buying from you. Or those that are following your social media channels and interacting with your posts. 

Data to Collect from your Target Audience

  1. Age – Keep the range in decades (ex. 20-29).
  2. Stage of life – This could be different than age because. Break this down into high school students, college students, new parents, parents of teens, etc.
  3. Location – This will help you understand which geographic areas to target. This is also helpful to find the right time to target your customers via marketing campaigns.
  4. Interests – Find out what other business they interact with.
  5. Challenges – What pain points are your target audience dealing with?

Lastly, become a generalist and not a specialist. You want to become an expert in your industry. Therefore, startups should focus on who they are trying to serve. VSLB targets high-end brands that seek innovative solutions for their branding. Once you find your preferred customer you can create a story around that. It will make it so much easier to create a compelling message and the right content.

4. Create a mind map of your business 

mindmapA mind map is great to have displayed in your office. First, write down your unique selling point, your vision, and mission in a few sentences. On the same map write down your target demographics and customers, along with their age, gender, etc. Then identify the problems you are solving. Then at the bottom write one mission statement that summarizes your business in one sentence. This mind map should sit in our office to keep our focus aligned. Furthermore, somewhere in your mind map could potentially have your company’s tagline!

You can also create a mind map using an online collaborative whiteboard platform like Miro. It is designed for remote and distributed teams that are perfect for post COVID work environments. It offers a free feature that allows your team to capture, organize, and structure their ideas.

5. Get on Social Media Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to Start 

Branding tips for startupsFifth on my list on branding tips for startups and founders deals with social media. Startups do not have a huge budget for digital marketing. However, having a Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook account are very important for your business. Defining what makes your startup unique can be achieved via social media. The more exposure your brand has on social media, the greater chance for word of mouth. Those that see you on these social media channels might not need your services however they might know of another startup that might. This is the beauty of social media. Check out our Instagram page here for inspiration!

Don’t forget about LinkedIn. It is not only a social media platform for recruiting and hiring top talent, but brands all around the world use LinkedIn to network, connect, and sell. It is very easy to create a LinkedIn page for your company. Photos and videos that work on Facebook and Instagram will also work great for LinkedIn. You can also upload PDFs, SlideShare presentations, and PowerPoint to support your posts. Videos will get the most engagement on LinkedIn. Videos hosted on their platform are prioritized by the LinkedIn algorithm.

6. Posts should be easily shareable

branding tips for startupsRemember to post things that are easily shareable. Cool images and infographics work best. As long as you are focusing on the really hot topics in your industry, there is a high likelihood it will get shared. However, creating these shareable content is becoming harder than ever. Today, only the best content that actually deserves to get shared, will get shared. Therefore I would suggest you see what your top competitors are doing on their social media. Take a look at the past 3 months and see which posts got the most engagement. This is the easiest and affordable way to do competitive research. See what kind of content gets the most engagement in your industry will inspire you to create your own. 

Remember to use shortened links because it will be a lot easier to share. Make sure you are constantly engaging via social media by answering comments. If you are having trouble coming up with content, you can share other people’s content you find interesting. There is a good chance they will end up sharing yours to return the favor. Or look to create content around the latest trends in your industry. Google Trends was made to help you find all the trending topics for that day or week which can be helpful for potential content ideas. 

It is all about “building” that level of brand awareness and exposure. VSLB specializes in creating shareable designs that have the potential to go viral. Furthermore, we are constantly looking at social media accounts and Google trends to keep up to date with new and exciting content. 

7. Partner with other Brands

Co-Branding is a strategic marketing partnership between two brands. It can be an effective way to build a business, boost awareness, and break into new markets. Brands are constantly creating partnerships. They don’t have to be in the same industry such as the case of Starbucks and Spotify. This is what is known as brand partnerships. As a startup, it is really important to establish partnerships with other startups. This is one of the first branding tips for startups in the early stage. This will help both companies grow together and bring your audience together to grow. Then you can move to partner with bigger brands. Therefore make sure you are engaging with brands that have a similar purpose and similar values at the early stage. Co-publish blog posts, articles, podcasts, or even YouTube videos. By developing these partnerships you can really build your brand and your brand awareness much faster. VSLB constantly partners with startups that are passionate about creativity. We are able to learn, help, and work together as we grow.

8. Guest Posting 

For those that like to write, guest posting is a great way to grow your brand. It is a great way to get targeted traffic and meaningful backlinks. You will have to start local and build credibility in the local market first and then branch out into larger publications. Therefore, you will need to put in your research. Find media sites in your industry and pitch them with interesting content. You can also start out with niche sites and pitch them your content. Because there are so many great sites out there you will need to stay organized. Create an Excel spreadsheet to write don’t the posting guidelines for each site as well as their data regarding their social media channels. 

A good strategy is to email them with your sample headline. Don’t write the full article until you get confirmation from them. Start with those that have the largest social media reach and work your way down. This will also be a great way to get backlinks from high authority sites to your website. The key is to make the pitches short yet creative. Many media sites/blogs get dozens of emails a day. If you have a headline that is catchy, they will be interested. I was able to contact Seoulz for this guest article but I am also reaching out to local media to expand our company’s reach.

9. Publish Content on your Website 

Publishing content is the best way to increase brand awareness. It is also one of the cheapest branding tips for startups because it will only cost you time. Make sure to optimize your content for Google. The best thing about content with a strong SEO is that it will last forever. Furthermore, it will increase your credibility in your industry and establish you and your company as a thought leader. You can distribute your content on your social media channels or turn them into podcasts or YouTube videos. This is a cheap way to promote your industry expertise and even champion the newest trends in your field. What kind of content should I publish on my website? Think about what will bring value to your audience. Tutorials are a great place to start. You don’t need a lot of posts. Having just 10 great posts that are constantly updated with the latest content will eventually get to the top spot on Google in a few months. 

10. Long-Term Planning

Grabbing and keeping your customer’s attention is now becoming a commodity. Therefore you need to constantly invest in your brand with a consistent line of communication of your brand message to your customers. Building a brand takes time. All I’ve mentioned above should be focused on the payoff in the long term. In order to invest in your brand, never ignore your existing customers. Make sure you keep them happy but equally important is getting their feedback to find new ways to improve the customer experience. Your goal is to leave a positive impact on your clients who will refer your product or services to their network.