An introduction to startup branding

Virgin StartUp mentor Dessy Tsolova is the founder of UTELIER, a platform that brings together businesses and manufacturers. Dessy has worked over the years with premium brands including Burberry and Smythson, so she knows what goes into creating an iconic brand. Here she explains just what a brand is, what it isn't, and what makes a great one.

Once upon  a time, not that long ago, the word 'logo' was synonymous with 'brand'. Fast forward a couple of decades and today a logo is merely part of a brand, nowhere near the whole thing. Yet not many people seem to make the distinction and realise this - especially new startups.

All too often I see or hear of young entrepreneurs having spent vast amounts of money on a logo designed by a top designer or agency. They blindly pay way over the odds,  money they don’t have or can be better spent. End result - a drawing that doesn’t even scratch the surface of creating a brand. Many start ups often talk about their brand, but dig deeper and ask what the brand is about and I hear detailed explanations about colours, texture, product, ideas… before they continue to share their struggles with poor sales, brand recognition, and countless other issues and problems.

So let's dive in and look at what a brand is.

A brand is an amalgamation of the following parts: the brand story, the product/service,  how we feel when we buy or use it, what values the company stands for, how it serves its customers, the set expectations and experience it creates, why we buy it and what it says about us when we buy it, why we pay premium if we do, the memories it creates for us as users, etc.  That is what a brand is all about.

Brand recognition comes with consistent marketing. Consistency across a whole plethora of channels: from the colours and design details used in the logo, packaging and product,  to the set of values that the product stands for, how those values are communicated to the public through the various media channels and the experience they create for the end user, through to the aftercare service available. Pick any big brand and I'm sure you will be able to discuss at length every one of the above points and often spot it from afar.

The second brand requirement is to be desirable - for your customers to continue to want to buy or use your product above any other. To achieve this desirability many elements need to be in place  all at the same time - quality of product or service, right price, overall experience, availability…etc. We live at a highly competitive time where we make choices that speak about who we are and what we stand for, and the products and services we buy into are an extension of our personalities.

To create and establish a true brand takes time and dedication (money helps too). Startup entrepreneurs often get carried away tinkering with the logo and packaging, website and social media and forget about all the other components and the consistent thread they need to establish between the visual and sensory elements, the tangible and intangible alike.

But perhaps the common challenge all entrepreneurs face is that, while we may be in the best position to create our own brand, we're also in charge of the day-to-day running of the business and wear many other hats. Often it is the things that don't seemingly scream for our attention yet are vitally important that get overlooked.

But let that not stop you from starting. Start before you think you are ready, do what you think you think is right, and as Maya Angelou once said: “When you know better, do better.”

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