When Your Business Starts: From Bland to Brand
While it’s possible to do work as soon as your company opens its doors, you’re not a memorable business until you have a recognisable brand. Find out how to put your team on the same mission and make sure your clients don’t forget you.
When starting a business, it’s likely your first concerns are going to be about the quality of your work, and getting clients on-board. You want to have a consistent revenue stream – who can blame you? You need to get your company off the ground. But once you’ve made it through the “do or die” stage, where do you go from there?
As you scale your company up, it’s important to become not only memorable to your potential customers, but also show them your personality. A strong personality means that those attracted to your business are those with whom you want to work – they’ll be drawn in by familiar or appealing qualities in your approach, while those who wouldn’t work well with you will be pushed aside.
While you have complete control over your development, you want to stop being a service to be used, and start being a partner, whatever that means for your company. And that means having a clearly defined vision – one that your clients and customers will work towards alongside you.
Building Brand Identity
The first part of showing your personality is deciding on your personality. To create a successful brand, you need to identify specific qualities and principles with which your business can associate.
For example – is your brand dedicated to developing new technology? Is it extolling the virtues of the past and tradition? Does it believe in reliability, or in being experimental? Do you want people to feel emotional about it, or consider it comfortable and secure?
It’s important to realise, however, that while these principles and your personality should be based on how you operate as a company, they should also be a guide to how you will operate as a company.
If you’re at a stage where you’re looking to grow your company beyond initial clients, it’s likely that you’ll have some idea of the way your company works. But you shouldn’t necessarily upscale your existing approach wholesale; what you have done so far is built around a small company, and won’t necessarily work as well on a larger scale.
Keeping too close to your original model can limit your company and prevent it from really growing beyond its initial stages. Make your next step about your brand and make everyone within that part of the new process – you’re not losing personality that way: you’re updating it it.
Visualising Your Brand Identity
Once you know what you want to represent, you need to actually represent it. The frontline of this process is your brand visual; you’ll need a colour palette and a logo.
The colours you use should align with your personality and shouldn’t be out of place – a serious bank account shouldn’t be overly arty, and a local family café shouldn’t be dull. Traditional and classic, maybe, but not dull.
Monzo, for example, use a distinctive orange/coral colour on their cards to be identifiable, but they tone it back on their website and app in favour of darker blues, which strengthen the sense of reliability. The coral colour is very connected with Monzo and their laid-back, friendly personality, but the other colours they use on their actual systems make sure to reinforce the idea that they are a secure and professional bank as well.
Accordingly, look at brighter and more varied colours if you’re trying to be relatable and interesting, while darker, more staid colours will help with a sense of gravitas. It’s not completely black and white like that, but it’s a good place to start.
Your logo, meanwhile, needs multiple features:
- Recognisability – The Nike logo by itself is enough to remind consumers of the brand from a long distance away, even without the name. In the early days, your logo might struggle to do the same, but you should at least create one that wouldn’t be too hard to draw the outlines of from memory.
- Flexibility – A logo needs to be equally capable of taking up a whole billboard and working as a file thumbnail, with both being equally identifiable. While the colour palette, as mentioned above, is an excellent way to be recognisable, the logo should work in different colours or even black and white.
- Representation – The logo should, as with the colour palette, represent your brand identity clearly. Sharper lines often highlight a leaning towards professionalism, while softer curves can be more approachable and friendly, for example, though nothing is set in stone.
Hammering Out the Brand Identity
So far, so old hat. Once you have a clear image of your brand, you need to communicate it to two sets of people.
The first set of people is yourself – your company. As Will Smith once said, “The first step before anyone else in the world believes it is that you have to believe it.” And that’s just as true of a brand’s ideals.
If you’ve based your brand personality on existing principles within the company, you will already have touchstones that your team can relate to. The next step is to introduce them to any new principles you’re trying to incorporate.
The best way to do this is to introduce those principles with new projects. At Kaizen, we launched our future-centric brand identity with the Future of Content event which was useful externally, but on an internal level prompted projects including Augmented Reality, a whitepaper about future content trends (using project managers, designers, and copywriters), and talks about the direction of content, involving speechwriting from our most prominent team members.
New projects on the themes of future exploration and developing technologies allowed the whole team to unite behind the new brand identity from the outset; we simultaneously acquired merchandise bearing the new logo, launched our new website detailing our principles and using the new designs, and updated all of our internal document templates.
This meant that we had an instant association between the new look and feel, and the new projects, and it felt like a new start for the company that really brought all of our team on board with the same mission.
And with my own “side hustle”, Golem Factory, I began releasing free adventures and assets that anyone could find and use. Providing value while reinforcing your brand is a great way to get your material out there.
The other set of people to whom you have to communicate your brand is everyone who isn’t in your company – that is to say, you have to communicate it to your audience. As mentioned previously, for Kaizen we held the Future of Content event, in which we also hosted VR booths, displayed our AR test project, and gave talks on developing content trends. This served to connect the Kaizen brand with all of the principles we were trying to align ourselves with.
The VR Booth was a popular attraction.
An event allows a lot of flexibility in terms of how you present yourself. You can reveal the branding visuals, provide talks and host opportunities (like the VR booth) to associate your company with specific people and ideas. Even the venue will play a role; nothing is independent of context, and for the same reason that your office location and appearance is important when meeting with clients, your event’s nature and location is important for launching your brand.
Even small-scale events can have a big effect, particularly if your team is all working towards it together; something as small as a discussion-based event featuring a few industry companies held in an office space can help display your new brand, unite your team, and open up some new leads.
The trick to achieving a memorable and effective brand is realising that it’s more than just good visuals or a good personality.
It’s a combination of both facets: the visuals need to clearly represent the personality, such that clients immediately associate one with the other.
It needs to come across not just in our marketing materials, though that’s a good way to start the connection, but also in your actions, such as projects pursued, events held, and where it’s possible, clients worked with.
Your brand will only grow over time – and not all of that will be directly in your control. As your company expands, you have to trust more and more on your employees. Make sure they’re all on the same mission from the outset, and you’ll know that your brand is in good hands.
Robin L. Newnham, 09/05/2019