Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Internet Startup - The Branding Exercise Step-By-Step

(This article will take 25 minutes to read)

In Brand Management Musings I touched on the subject of 'brand' and I shared some ideas on how to encourage brand awareness within a business through Brand Ambassadors and also connecting your brand to your vision, mission and values.

This post will consider the scenario of a new internet start up company that is primarily going to do business on-line, servicing both the B-2-B and B-2-C markets.  Many start ups get caught up in the excitement and energy that is the new business and tend not to take the time to consider a more planned approach for their new business branding.

This post therefore will guide you through what I believe are the key steps that a new business, and particularly one that is planning to do business on-line should consider on its branding journey.

The 'Brand' is constituted from two elements: one is the 'brand identity' and the other the 'brand image'. Brand identity is how the brand owner, founder or custodian sees the brand in their own eyes.  The brand image is how others perceive the brand. I will refer back to these two elements throughout this post.

At the outset, as the founder or brand owner, you cannot control the brand image, but you can influence it by building a strong brand identity.  To dispel some myths from the start - the brand identity is not just a name or a logo.  

The brand identity is the heart of the business, the life blood and originates from all elements of your business including your vision, mission, strategy, execution and importantly passion. ( I wrote a brief post on Passion in January 2012 and in my mind it remains one of most influential forces in business)

At the beginning of this exercise it's important to focus your mind.  The tasks that you complete through this step-by-step approach will remain the foundation of your business.  There are elements that you can change as you evolve - but as you will learn, some of the decisions you make will be close to permanent, unless you want to repeat the exercise and risk loosing the brand equity that you will have accrued to that point.

So now that I have your attention lets make a start - and lets start with some simple yet thought provoking questions:
  • Who is your business?
  • What does your business do?
  • and most importantly - 'why' does your business do what it does?

'Why'


'Why' is a oft overlooked question and at this stage of the start of your business there is a not a better time to stop and ask yourself 'why?'

Understanding 'why' will help you create an authentic brand for your business and this key step will help you formulate the remainder of your brand assets with ease.

To help me guide you through this key concept I am going to show you a video by Simon Sinek.  His TedTalks video presentation on How Great Leaders Inspire Action is at the heart of this.  The video is 18 minutes long - so be patient and listen through before coming back here for the next steps - this is just the first of a number of key steps.



I hope that you have watched the video presentation by Simon and you are now thinking the 'Why' of your business.  I cannot emphasise enough how important this first step is.  The 'Why' needs to be at the centre of your brand work moving forward.  

Don't be alarmed if you haven't yet discovered the 'why' - the key is that we have now opened up your mind to this dimension.  Sit with this and consider your 'why' before finalising this exercise, but in the meantime continue reading, there is more to come.

There is no time like now - but our product is not ready!


What are you waiting for? Yes we know your product is not ready to take to market yet, but remember your product is not your brand.  

Your brand is bigger than one product, your brand connects you on an emotional level to your consumer, it's who you are as a business, it'a what you stand for. Your brand is not your product features.

A brand should engender trust. Trust is what drives business to you, and trust is an emotion.  

Therefore the creation of your brand must include an emotional element with which we want consumers to connect with. 

Vision


Next, you need a 'vision' (in a business strategic planning sense).  

With the help of wikipedia, here is the definition of a vision: A vision outlines what the business wants to be. It is a long-term view and concentrates on the future. It can be emotive, and is a source of inspiration. For example, a charity working with the poor might have a vision statement which reads "A World without Poverty."

Your vision needs to be owned by you, the founders.  Don't Google one, copy one, ask a consultant to create you one - put in the hard work to think of your own vision, use your emotion.  Your vision should be something that inspires you to work through the night because you believe in it and it drives you to succeed. 

Mission


A vision is nothing however without a 'mission'.  A mission defines how you are going to achieve your vision.  Again with the help of wikipedia here is the definition of a mission:  A mission defines the fundamental purpose of a business, succinctly describing why it exists and what it does to achieve its vision. For example, the charity above might have a mission statement as "providing jobs for the homeless and unemployed".

As a reminder, we are still on a branding journey, we haven't taken a wrong turn, these are the foundations to ensure that you have a solid brand that will succeed when put to the test.

Values


Values are next - This also is a very important part of your brand identity.  Values should be considered carefully and the founders should be asked what they value most in this new business and what resonates when they ask themselves 'why', allied with the vision and mission.  

Values in a business are shared beliefs amongst the founders on the priorities and help form the businesses culture.

Examples of values are: 'simplicity', 'knowledge sharing', 'honesty', 'nurturing', 'innovation', 'passion', 'customer service'.

Between 3 and 5 values are considered the norm, any less is possibly limiting and any more is probably unmanageable in terms of focus.  Your values should create an emotional connection which will help build trust between the businesses stakeholders, which includes the founders, shareholders, employees, customers and the community at large.  

So we have now created the facets of our brand that have focused the founders minds around: 
  • what you do,
  • how you do it and 
  • WHY you do it 
and created the: 
  • vision, 
  • mission and 
  • values 
which will form the foundation of your brand - and we haven't once talked about logos yet ;)

The next steps are to then create the interfacing facets which will form part of the visual identity which will articulate the business to the market.  These facets include: the logo, stationary, the website including colour and typography, providing the visual communication of the brand identity.

Business Name


We have finally arrived at the stage of considering the business name.  There are whole posts and even books dedicated to the topic of naming a business, which I am not going to try and articulate here.

Some key principles are not to try and create a descriptive name, for example: 'Bezo's On line Store and Auction Business', I think 'Amazon' might work better...

Using a word that does not currently exist will improve your chances of getting a domain and avoiding copyright or trademarks through your business activities.  Sometimes the best names are those that are uniquely created by creating a new word or combining two existing words, like PayPal.

The guiding principle however in this post is that it is only at this stage that you try and create the company name so that you can ensure greater success with creating a brand identity that is consistent.

Logo


Most founders start here when creating their business.  Even without a name.  You can see however that this is a mistake because the logo is a visual representation of the business strategy in terms of the items covered thus far.  

However the logo is a very important aspect as it could be the first thing that prospects see and could influence their engagement.  Whoever is tasked with creating this asset MUST be briefed on all the brand identity work completed thus far otherwise there could be a disconnect between the businesses brand identity and the brand image.

My personal view is that the logo should be clean, clear, minimal and unique.  

Stationary

Stationary can often be overlooked - this includes assets such as business cards, letter heads Power Point/Keynote deck templates.

Website

The website is most likely the first touch point for an enquiry to your business so your website needs to be clear in its communication and clearer still in its call to action.

In most cases people still buy from people they trust.  So having the founders, managers or customer service team's profiles available is a great way to create that connection and to foster trust.  In addition being accessible to your prospects and customers is key, having telephone numbers and/or other contact methods such as on-line chat, twitter links, email or enquiry forms available within close proximity is important to encourage interaction and engagement.

Colour and Typography

Colour and typography seem like straight forward concepts, however attention should be paid to these in terms of colour meanings in different markets, current trends and standards for web accessibility.  

The key with these assets is to  perform your research into your target market and ensure that these assets match the expectations of your prospects and customers.  A website that looks like it was designed in 2001 is not going to fair well in a market place in today's age of design.



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