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Branding for startups – where to begin

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Often an afterthought for new business startups, branding is an essential element that sometimes seems overly complicated – and expensive to implement. But it doesn't have to be that way, and having some idea of branding can help you establish an identity and make all of your marketing so much easier.

Before we go into what branding is, it's important to consider the reasons why and dispel a few misconceptions around the discomfort you might feel in how much you can feasibly do yourself and when it's necessary to employ a graphic designer.

A little bit of research is always useful in planning your branding. Sure, you can use apps such as Canva to create a simple logo initially, and many startups do. Depending on your business type, having a simple logo design and a portfolio website is enough to get you started. There are ways you can 'DIY' these things if your budget is tight. But bear in mind that there will come a time later on when you outgrow these, and then it would be beneficial to seek the help of a designer who can help you to pull all of the elements together in a neat package so that it all looks sleek and professional.

But let's start at the beginning. What is branding, and how does it work?

What it is, and why it's important for startups?

Branding, in a nutshell, is your business identity. It gives people a flavour of your business type, who you're most likely to appeal to, and your core values. Take advice, for example, don't demand a blue logo because blue is your favourite colour. Your brand, done well, allows you to stand out and be seen amongst other similar businesses.

These things are important in marketing yourself because they give you a unique personality that people will learn to recognise and seek out. Good branding also goes a long way in making you look much more professional and convincing people to trust you.

Is a logo the same as branding?

On its own, a logo is simply a badge that identifies your business. It is just a small piece of the puzzle but a necessary one, and often it's the first element of branding that's done.

While the logo is important, branding involves everything else – the colours, language, environment and tone of voice. All these elements combine to make the brand recognisable, whether people see you on social media, landing on your website, purchasing products or walking past your shopfront.

Any website you wish to visit will have its unique branding. Usually, you'll find the logo, but then if you look deeper, you'll see that there will be specific colours, font types, and image styles that become familiar throughout – and those things will translate onto every element of their marketing. In the same way, your branding should convey your business style. That might be inspired by your logo, or the logo you come up with might be inspired by something else important within your business ethics and style.

How do I find my brand identity?

I find it useful first to define who your customer will be because you'll want your branding to appeal to the right audience. A brand that did this exceptionally well was one that I worked with, GlouGlou, where they knew their target audience very well and tailored their whole aesthetics, from the furnishings to their online presence, to suit. They could have easily become generic by trying to please everybody, but they clearly understood who they wanted to appeal to.

The' who' is always a perfect place to start. If you're marketing to a young, vibrant audience, you don't want to use old-fashioned styles and a dry tone of voice. You want to be seen as youthful and use styles and language that appeal to that audience. The key is not to try and please everybody but to get clear on the type of person you'll target and learn to do it well.

From there, think about the core values of your brand. If you have a brand that focuses on environmental ethics, you might choose 'green' branding styles – not just in the colours you use but also in the imagery and language. Perhaps you want to push a more masculine, industrious type of image. The strong dark, metallic styles might suit – you get the idea!

Your brand identity will be largely influenced by your product, the people you're selling to, and the core beliefs and values you want to convey. Those things together will give you a unique style across your branding that will be recognisable and appeal to your audience.

The cost of branding – or not!

How far you invest in your branding depends on the type of business and its location. For example, a high-street shop or café would need to 'look the part' to the passer-by, using branding for the shop face, signage, interior décor etc. But for a service-based business, perhaps you only have an online presence, in which case your efforts will first go into your website and logo.

In both cases, having input from a designer can be worth its weight in gold – having someone to help create the right logo to go on to your website is well worth the investment and doesn't cost a fortune. Of course, a website is a necessity these days, but you don't need to over-complicate it.

To wrap this up, my advice to startups thinking about how to begin with branding is to do some research first. It's always best to get your style right from the outset, as it can be difficult to put these things right later on and can damage your reputation. And if you need help figuring out where to start, get advice. Even if you have a small budget, it's better to invest it in getting a professional to get the essentials looked at – and my studio is always on hand to give advice if you need it.

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