How important is branding for early stage startups?
Within this question, there is some interesting discussion on how a brand can evolve based on everything you do - e.g. your name, website, online interactions, approach to doing business. Within that question, Balsamiq are held up as an example of this, though Peldi documents on his blog how one of this first tasks was to contact branding consultants.
But is branding something we should be explicitly putting resources and diverting real cash-money into at the earliest stage? (I am talking branding explicitly here, rather than good design which is of course, a given.) Is it worth bringing in experts to help with this?
I'm a big believer in the power of brand generally, but not sure how important that is for the startup or small business.
Branding is important but not as important as releasing rev 1.0 and getting customers. Your initial customers, really don't care about your brand -- they care about your product.
It's tricky on when to start the branding process since it can cost real money. My suggestion would be to wait till you have some initial marketplace traction (e.g. paying customers) and then go for it. Paying customers can also help define your brand since they are a great source of feedback as to why they choose you over someone else.
It’s interesting to see when entrepreneurs, founders of startups and marketing executives of companies still question and debate whether they should spend money on branding or if they should even start the process at all. Branding is an activity that happens whether or not you consciously choose to do so.
Once you take the initial step of launching your company or product, the market will automatically start its branding process. The process through which a unified, cohesive and everlasting emotional imprint will be branded in the minds of the audience. These impressions, over time, will create associations with your company and/or product.
It’s solely dependent on you to either control that impression that is branded in the minds of the audience by professionally producing it prior to launch or by letting it happen by itself.
In my opinion, it's worth to distiguish between branding and positioning.
You're branding as soon as you have a company name and maybe a logo. People will automatically associate things with your brand, depending on how you appear, react and behave. It happens whether you want it or not.
Positioning, on the other hand, tries to actively manage people's perceptions under consideration of the competition.
I believe, a start-up usually doesn't need to consider positioning. Your product and your company is likely to change and evolve in the beginning, anyway. Positioning can also rather expensive.
However, it depends on your product: If your product is common and has no distinguishing features and benefits (say, soda or cigarettes), you need positioning.
That said, the difference is mostly a matter of scale.
For even as a start-up, you are able to appear consistent, at least: If you're a bunch of fun guys, it's good to have your name, your logo, your copy and your web design reflect (or convey) that. See, for example, the website of Cubicle Ninjas.
Hope this helps.
As a volunteer for the American Branding Association, an issue most entrepreneurs who contact us have, is their never-ending quest for an adequate description of the term "branding", so forgive me if I reiterate. Most agents in the marketing game have jumped on the 'brand-wagon' as a means to take advantage of a buzz word, thus client attraction/PR/SEO, etc. As a brand design strategist, I've sat on several advisory boards for start-ups (telecom/software/cloudware/fashion/apparel/tech) where I've stressed a need for consistency in UI, visual and written messaging -all disseminated through uniqueness and dynamic. For the most part, the initial stages of brand development are to communicate an image to investors (VC/Angels, etc.) on what they can expect to see as successfully marketable. An image let's them better understand, and decide as to whether the product/service will be worth their investment. Unless it's a one-of-a-kind product/service that has no competition, branding is one of the most crucial aspects which defines what it is you'll be attempting to communicate/offer/espouse/position. Branding, in effect, is creating an image. Reputation on the other hand is what comes later on after that image has been experienced by users. But both fall under the "branding" umbrella. One is development and deployment, the other maintenance. Developing a brand (some are using the term "design" here which is fine, just put 'brand' in front of it) is strategizing, then creating that visual/written image of how you want to be seen/treated/perceived. Without such an image, prospective participants/users, are left confused and disconnected as to what it is you stand for. Yes, even in the early stages. Once a visual image has been finalized the interaction of participants is continued and hopefully proselytized based on numerous variables including, but not limited to: quality control, supply, customer service, marketing, advertising, etc. -Aka: brand support.
An overtly basic example of task flow in how a software start-up moves to fruition: Coding + product development > Beta testing > UI + Brand Development (research + strategy + design) > Marketing + PR > Advertising > Brand Maintenance.
Agree with Jarie - getting to v1.0 is most important right now. There's no need to spend money on branding efforts at this point in your business, but it is important to keep it in mind.
Your brand is the set of promises that people associate with your product/business. At this stage in your company, you should be aware of what promises you want people to believe and perceive. Some examples are fanatical customer service, slick design, rapid innovation, and the like.
This early in your startup, remember that everything you do is a reflection of your company and what will eventually be seen as your brand, and act accordingly. Treat people well, build a great product, and for the time being your brand will take care of itself.
I think is very important from DAY1. In startups specially, the brand contrubutes not only to be attractive for your future users, also to business angels, other entrepeneurs, competence and create some hype. A good branding and naming could help you to raise more money in seed capital. I am the responsable of branding in a project and we have raised 1.5 million only with a nice brand and not having clear the product.
I think it is important to identify the definition or difference between brand, positioning and marketing.
History have proven that large multinational companies have successfully change consumer behavior through aggressive marketing and creating market awareness. Look at hybrid cars, Apple and electric toothbrush.
In my opinion brand/product positioning is identifying where or how you would like your product to be recognized in the market based on your product strengths and features.
If you are selling facial oil and would like to be known in the premium market, then you need to splash an image of pampered, luxury, health and beauty and of course premium. Customer need to feel (or at least have an illusion) that your facial oil is exclusive and most probably better quality than the others in pharmacy stores. It is usually practiced to bump up your price per to premium market price to align with the brand image as well, unless of course you are approaching different selling point; premium brand at low price.
There is of course pros and cons when choosing business unique selling point.
But sell the same exact facial oil in a normal bottle, non-fancy packaging, super colourful websites and so on, you will then need to adjust your selling price according to the image you are portraying for your product brand; which is just another re-package facial oil you can get from ebay.
So I am for branding positioning even before the product hit the market, but the amount of marketing investment ie advertisement depends on initial market acceptance and $$$$ that you have. It is crucial that you evaluate back each investment you have spent on marketing campaigns to ensure you are interacting back with the market.
We have heard of a number of startup stories which started with a product 'A', transformed into 'B', morphed into 'C' which finally made money. It's good to focus on the design & the message the startup gives to the customers, get their feedback, iterate and once it's stable (customers regularly using), you could focus on branding activities.
IMHO, bringing someone as early as V 1.0 stage is not a good idea