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6 tips for building your startup brand from nothing

Good branding is at the heart of any good business, but most of the branding advice you’ll find online or in person is about making sure that your brand remains consistent in your marketing efforts, or gets improved, if it’s already established. What happens if your business has never developed a brand, or if you’re just starting out, trying to build a business from scratch?

The latter effort isn’t going to be easy, but it certainly is possible — even for a non-professional. Eventually, you’ll have to enlist the help of an experienced professional (either an in-house creative director or external marketing agency). But when it comes to establishing the core features and qualities of your brand, all you need is a little time, a little research and an in-depth understanding of how your company operates. Here are six considerations.

1. Identify your target market.

First, think about who your target demographics are. Children’s books and experimental novels aren’t written the same way; similarly, your messaging and imagery should be unique to one target demographic segment. Trying to target everyone is an exercise in futility — you might cast a wider net, but you’ll end up being less relevant to any individual within that group.

Instead, start out with one or two key demographics and slowly expand from there. Think critically about these demographics: Who are they? What do they need? What do they want? How do they act? What do they like? How do they like to be spoken to?

2. Learn your competitors’ brands.

Next, start evaluating your competitors’ brands. You can learn a lot about marketing in your industry just by studying these previously established entries. What do their logos look like? How are they different from one another? How do they talk to your shared customer base? It’s important that you not take any of these qualities and copy them for your brand. Instead, look at the motivations behind these choices, and use the qualities themselves for the next step of your process.

3. Separate your unique differentiators.

Identify what’s going to make your brand unique. It could stem from your business plan in general: For example, if you’re offering lower prices than your competitors’, you could emphasize that in your branding. Otherwise, find a way to make yourself stand out. Are most of the other brands older, more traditional, more conservative? Try for something sleeker, more cutting-edge and with a younger vibe. Are the other brands elitist and pretentious? Shoot for something more down to earth.

4. Define your brand as a ‘person.’

Once you’ve collected this information and begun some preliminary brainstorming, speed the process along by trying to define your brand as a person, rather than as a logo or a written voice. If your company were a person, what type of person would that be? Male or female? Older or younger? What kind of wardrobe would your brand choose? How would it talk?

Would you be happy to see it if it approached you as a stranger? What are its favorite foods and movies? The answers to these questions may never come up for customers, but they will help you come up with a better, more precise feel for your brand.

5. Apply your brand personality to multiple areas.

Think about how these personality qualities might translate to more tangible, practical areas of your marketing strategy. What colors will be associated with your brand? What might your logo look like? How will your voice come across in your content and other promotional materials? If you can, imagine your “brand personality” as a figure engaging with individual members of your target demographic.

How would that person approach them? Speak to them? Gain their trust and loyalty? These aren’t easy questions to answer, but they’re critical for establishing the core of your brand.

6. Get help.

Now that you have the core idea for your brand more or less in place, it’s time to enlist some outside help in fleshing out your vision. Unless you have experience in the graphic design realm or an in-depth knowledge of creative marketing, your best bet is to get aid from an experienced, educated professional. You can hire a resident branding authority (usually a creative director) in-house, or outsource your work to an agency.

It’s still important that you remain a part of the process and keep your entire team in line with your new brand, but the expertise of a dedicated professional can go a long way in securing a quality brand for your company.

Once you’ve established your brand’s look and personality, your responsibilities aren’t quite over. You’ll still have to ensure that your entire team is on board with the brand and using it correctly in every application. It’s also a good idea to check in every few years to update your brand, as needed. Stay consistent, and your brand will increase the visibility, authority and retention potential of your company.