Among the countless issues to consider when starting a business, creating a brand is something that often gets put aside ‘for later’. And although fundamentally straightforward, branding is often misunderstood, or characterised simply as a company logo.
In reality it stretches over your entire business, and can have a massive impact on your success, so let’s start with a definition:
What is branding?
Firstly, BRAND is what people think and feel about a business as a whole – not its services or pricing. BRANDING is the set of tools employed to convey that brand, and to influence what people think and feel.
This influence starts with a company’s name. The right name sets the right tone, and meets expectations. An inappropriate name gets things off to a confusing start.
Design also plays a role. For recruiters – who need to make personal connections with people – conveying some personality through their logo and website design is important. This might mean cheerful colours and casual typography, or muted tones and a classic logotype, depending on the company style and its audience.
Sounds obvious? You’d be surprised how many businesses choose a logo or website design because they like it, not because it sends the right signals.
Branding also extends to the style of doing business; how enquiries are dealt with, marketing techniques, PR, physical workplace, communications, even how products are priced and delivered. All this is branding and influences how people perceive a brand.
A brand is what people think and feel about a business, and branding is the process of influencing these thoughts and feelings. Without considering branding, a business is leaving customers, peers and suppliers to work this stuff out for themselves – a missed opportunity.
Where do you start?
An agency’s services and customers inevitably change and develop over time. But its style of doing business, and the values at its core, should not change.
The first job is to identify these fixed qualities, so they can be communicated through branding.
For example, are you a contemporary alternative to established players? Traditional, with old school values? Are you tech-driven, or provide a hands-on approach? Do you want to convey corporate strength? Or are you a nimble team offering flexibility? Every agency should be able to identify the characteristics that define it. These are the building blocks of a brand.
Once you’ve defined the characteristics of your business you can then decide which of the names on your shortlist are appropriate. If a business owner has a clear vision for their branding, it becomes an invaluable benchmark – and removes subjectivity from many decisions such as design, and the wording of communications. When you’re asking questions like, “Is this email broadcast on-brand?” or, “How would this fit with our branding?”, you’ll know your branding is on track.
Is branding worth the effort?
As a recruiter, there are many valuable benefits of having clear branding. For a start, it helps with differentiation; giving customers a reason to choose you, not competitors.
Effective branding also creates engagement; achieved through wit, intelligence, irreverence, irony, or just by showing your likeable, human side. Brands that make people feel something help to build relationships, loyalty, and referrals. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the world of recruitment.
Branding is also powerful for attracting new candidates, both passive and active. Giving people something to ‘belong to’ is a real advantage when building an engaged database. If your branding speaks to people, they’ll want to be represented by you, or hire people associated with you.
A clearly articulated brand has tangible value too. Investors, and even potential buyers, want to know the sums add up but, like customers, they’ll pay more for brands. This kind of value is called 'brand equity'. You want this.
Keep it simple
All this said, I wouldn’t advocate 'over-thinking' branding at the startup stage. In keeping with the principles of The Lean Startup, the ability for a brand to adjust its direction is vital.
Investing significantly in brand development too early may prevent making the difficult but essential decision to change branding later, once a business has some real-world experience under its belt.
This is also why, for example, it’s often a bad idea to name a business after its location, or the name of its founder. What happens when the business wants to expand geographically, or taken on new partners? It’s also often a mistake to use descriptive keywords, which can also limit development and growth. Work out what your company feels like, and the qualities you want to convey. But make sure your branding gives you wiggle-room later. Don’t paint your brand into a corner.
If you have big plans for your new business, start thinking about branding. The sooner, the better.
Vince Bridgman is a creative branding specialist, and co-founder of Novanym the naming solution for startups.