Start-ups, small businesses, or even just a couple of people with a big idea need to appear legitimate in their marketing and communications. Especially to attract investors. And this usually needs to happen quickly and cost-effectively. The last thing you want is your great business idea knocked down a few pegs by a bad first impression.
Often “the brand” is put aside until there is more investment money available. We sometimes have clients who say “We just need to get a website up!” or “We just need a presentation for a big meeting!” But no matter what the medium, that medium needs to be composed of your brand voice. It’s a bit like trying to bake a cake without having any idea what the ingredients are. Should it be chocolate or vanilla? Layered, or fruit-filled? Do cakes have yeast, or is that bread?
Good design is a good sign
The first touchpoint you have with a potential client, customer or investor is often a ‘thing’—a website, a whitepaper, a PDF. And those things should be well designed to make an impact. Good design is a sign that you think of everything. You are not only focused on the amazing idea or product you’re making but you also have the mindshare to care about how it looks, sounds, and sells itself. If it appears your only focus is the product or service itself, and other elements are suffering, that might suggest a tenuousness to planning, structure, or even the core offering. Think of going to the latest hotspot restaurant. When the decor and atmosphere are well designed, when the table setting is stylish and contemporary, and menu selections are unique and unexpected, you are primed to receive the main course. Good design creates a runway for the customer to take off from.
Today’s brands bob and weave
There was a time when brands moved like huge sailing ships. Changes big and small were agonized over for months, if not years. Take the example of “New Coke” in 1985. The idea that there could be a different Coke brand was mind-blowing to people at the time. Of course, this was a marketing angle to spur trial. But now Coke has many versions and sub-brands. Today brands reinvent themselves in far shorter cycles—five years, three years, even less sometimes. This can release us from feeling like decisions we make now will affect the brand forever. However, this release does still require discipline. We must design for growth, not necessarily perfection. Designing for growth means building your brand on core principles that act as a foundation for design and messaging. So colors, logos, and advertising headlines may change but the core tenets of what makes your product or service unique are always reflected.
So what is a brand, in its simplest form?
Your brand is the image of your company, product, or service that you wish to present to the world. It shows who you are, what you do, and why you do it. In order to bake this brand cake, there are four main ingredients – Brand Tenets, a Messaging Voice, a Logo, and an Ownable Graphic Style.
These are the reasons your company exists. Your mission statement. Sometimes called “reasons to believe.” There are different ways these can be structured, but it is essentially a very short list or elevator pitch containing support points for why the client, custom, or investor should care about your company. They make the argument for why you are different from everyone else. The good news is, most new businesses have already done this exercise to some extent to determine if their business idea is viable in the first place. So, often this task involves simply refining and focusing those tenets. This is one ingredient to your brand that may or may or may not be directly customer facing. But these core principles will be the foundation for whatever brand elements or marketing needs to get made.
Your messaging voice is how you talk about your company. This includes things like a customer-facing elevator pitch or mission statement, advertising headlines, social media, presentations, product and service explanations, blog content, etc. This language can all be direct and informative. But using the brand tenets can also define a tone of voice. Are you direct and no-nonsense? Are you witty and funny? Are you the experts, or the seekers and experimenters? Are you excited about what the future holds for your brand and the industry it lives in? Your listeners want to believe in you. The tighter your message and tone, the more confidence they will have.
Your logo is possibly the most focused distillation of the brand. The best logos reflect the brand tenets simply and elegantly. However, it’s easy for companies to get paralyzed when deciding on logo designs— especially in the early stages of business development when time and money is in short supply. It’s true you should create a well-designed logo, but remember the shorter brand cycles of today. Design for growth, not perfection. In a few years you will likely be able to revisit the logo. However, you also don’t want to introduce wholly new logos every few years. A good logo is a balance between displaying an ownable and differentiated design while offering a broad enough concept that it can encompass new developments in the company’s offering. Avoid leaning too far into a certain style that may become dated, even in just a few years, or might hem you into a specific audience.
Ownable Graphic Style
This is the visual language of your brand. It includes elements such as colors, photography style, illustration style, fonts, graphic elements, visual details and treatments, etc. This is the “body” of the brand. These elements, combined with the logo and messaging, create a complete picture of your brand. These elements should be unique and ownable to your company. Being “ownable” means something different from your competitors. This is why it’s important that the brand design is built off of your core tenets. This moves the design out of the realm of personal likes and dislikes (I never liked the color orange) and into the realm of what’s right for the brand.
Often in the early stages of a company’s brand exploration these elements are under-considered. For example, photoshoots are expensive so the default might be to use disparate existing images to tell the brand story. But with a little extra work those disparate images could be made more cohesive through creative cropping, the application of color or effects or other stylistic treatments. The brand should be considered through these evolutionary stages.
So to recap, the four key ingredients your brand needs are:
- Brand Tenets that clearly state why you are different.
- A messaging Voice that tells your brand story.
- A Logo that elegantly represents your unique place in the business world.
- An Ownable Brand Style that differentiates you from your competitors.
Budgeting your new brand
As a start-up or small business you may have limited budgets to create your brand. The key, however, is to not skip any of the four core elements of brand building (or baking). Defaulting to isolated executions like a website or a PowerPoint presentation doesn’t give your team or your audience the solid brand foundation they need. It’s actually possible to workshop all of these things in a few weeks, though allowing 4 – 8 weeks is much more comfortable. Once you have this brand foundation, creating all your other marketing becomes more efficient and more powerful as one cohesive voice. And, that first touch with potential clients and investors will make them all more confident in taking the next step with your company.
Looking for support for your brand? We’d love to help!
At Cannonball, we’ve done it all, and we’d love to share that experience with you! If you have questions about brand development, creative projects, or just need help with a marketing project, we’d love to hear from you. Just send us a note to email@example.com and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!