Ready to jump into the branding deep end without your water wings? These five tips can help you get started.
It’s the age of the startup, and that means a whole lot of passionate, well-intentioned “I have no idea what I’m doing” types are diving right into self-marketing and all the branding that implies. While enthusiasm is an essential ingredient for entrepreneurial success, slow down long enough to follow these five branding tips for newbies.
1. User Experience Matters More than Looks
Yes, looks matter, but function should never be sacrificed on the altar of form. It only takes one quick cruise through the scathing, one-star reviews of iTunes’ app-of-the-moment to realize that you ain’t got nuthin’ if you ain’t got functionality. When you’re designing your brand appeal, keep the user experience as your top priority, and let your other decisions evolve from there.
2. Tell Your Story
As humans, it’s our nature to respond to stories, and branding is really just another form of storytelling. Spoiler alert: the best part of your story is whatever plot point grabs your audience’s attention, and that’s almost never the blowhard, bragging-about-how-great-you-are part.
Instead, talk about more than just yourself. Let your audience get to know your personality through all kinds of stories—meaningful stories that help your target market connect with your brand—instead of constantly driving home the hard sell.
3. Have a Plan
At the same time, you can’t just fly into branding all willy-nilly by spewing some self-indulgent voyage of self-discovery all over the Internet. You need to get some semblance of a plan in place first, preferably with a design process that leaves a little room for flexibility.
Know your eventual goals, even if you’re not sure how to get to them right now. Know the image you want to present, even if that image is a little rough around the edges at the moment. Look for the industry experts and apply their knowledge to your own brand, but don’t forget to be true to yourself.
4. Grab Your Soapbox
Nobody ever made waves by staying neutral. Get off the fence, grab your soapbox, and commit to a controversial opinion already. Or, if there’s nothing terribly controversial about what your brand stands for, at least make sure that you stay steadfast to your ideals. Today’s savvy consumer can smell marketing fakery like chum in the open waters, and they’ll turn on you in an instant if they catch a whiff of inauthenticity.
The companies that are successfully targeting the coveted millennial market do so by being cause-driven rather than profit-driven. People want to feel positive about their purchases, which has led to the new catchphrase/philosophy of “conscious consumerism.” Your customers are committed to spending their dollars more meaningfully, so let them know that you stand for something that matters.
5. Find Your Niche
One of the most common mistakes made by startups is to study how a similar business gained its success and then try to imitate those methods. The truth is, no two companies arrive at the same point by the same path (unless one of them is throwing in the towel on Tip #2 and Tip #4 above).
As scary as setting yourself apart from mainstream expectations may be, letting your freak flag fly is the only way to stand out from the crowd. So go ahead: break conventions and defy expectations, all in the interest of filing that specialty niche that only you can fill.
Take Cards Against Humanity as an example. On Black Friday, they removed their most popular product from their virtual shelves, and instead sold boxes of literal bull feces. Not only did this irreverent move gain the makers of the equally irreverent card game gobs of free press, their gimmick actually paid off big-time. At least, in terms of boxes of bullsh** sold.
Now, we’re not saying you should sell poop to your customer base. But we are saying, be bold. Step off the well-traveled path and hack your way through the overgrowth instead. Embrace that whole terra incognita thing, and your brand will ride off into the wild blue yonder of fame and fortune.