Solving the Branding Challenge for Startups

Branding for Start-Ups – A critical challenge.

There are few things I enjoy more than sitting across the table with a founder of a start-up. The energy, excitement, vision and optimism are often at their peak in the excitement of launching a new enterprise. Over the years I’ve met with close to a thousand start-ups to talk about branding and in almost every case we are met with the same conundrum; At start-up when an enterprise most needs and will get the greatest value from a well considered brand is the very point they are least able to afford one.

There’s now way around the fact that to carry-out a professional branding process is an expensive exercise. And whilst we get to work with some well funded start-ups, most often the cost is a shock for founders and something they have not considered in their boot-strap budgets.

Why is it important for start-ups to get their branding right?

At a time when most start-ups by necessity are keeping costs to a minimum, it can seem like a professional brand is a luxury rather than a necessity. If-only that was true. As the founder of more than a dozen start-ups myself, I truly understand the pressure on squeezing every last cent of value from start-up budgets which usually come from the pockets of founders and their families. But let me share some experiences and insights from the last two decades in branding.

01. Avoiding Failure.

As the early excitement of deciding to start your own business fades, founders are often struck with an anxiety around failure. This can often be fueled by friends and colleagues who seem quick to give you reasons why your idea is destined for failure. I can remember before launching our first restaurant (a pasta bar concept) we were inundated by ‘well-wishers’ advising that the anti-carb trend was going to spell doom for us before we’d even started. Yet here we are, six years and four restaurants later selling more than 4000 bowls of pasta every week.

The reason we had the confidence to launch was that we had a clear view of the market, relevant consumer trends, competitors and a differentiated brand value proposition that we believed would position us for success. We gained this clarity by carrying-out a thorough branding process.

So often we see start-ups fall over because they failed to assess the market to understand the level of consumer demand, the competition, the price point and margins and how to best position themselves for success. We’ve seen some very good ideas fall short through lack of brand strategy and some not-so-great ideas succeed through clear planning and brand strategy execution.

This is the first and most important thing for start-ups to understand; brand is about so much more than a logo. Whilst the cost of market review and brand strategy can range from $12,000 to $22,000, it is possibly the most well spent of any of your start-up budget. The cost of failing to invest properly in this critical part of the start-up process can be far more expensive than the cost of considering your brand strategy thoroughly at the outset.

Thinking about branding your start-up?

02. Communicating Your Brilliant Idea.

Almost as important is your ability to communicate your differentiated brand proposition through your brand identity, packaging, web site and other brand communications. The most brilliant business idea with a clear and valuable point of difference can fall down in execution.

When we began working with TOM Organic, the business was in this exact position. As a brand of organic feminine hygiene products there was an unmet market demand that their product was perfectly positioned to meet, but the branding and packaging design and their inability to tell their brand story clearly was creating a roadblock to growth. Our work with TOM was more about clearly communicating their differentiated value proposition through messaging and packaging design than repositioning. By understanding how to align these elements we created a clear brand positioning that provided the major retailers with an understanding of how TOM Organic would add to their categories as well as engaging with a community of consumers who feel strongly about organic products. The result was a 1500% increase in sales in six months with no other investment outside of the branding process.

Well beyond the scope of designing a logo, the benefits of aligning brand communication with brand strategy and consumer mind-set is highly valuable. Realistically the skills and experience required for this part of branding process is not something available from regular graphic designers and online design sites. In the case of TOM Organic the client had invested thousands of dollars with a graphic designer before coming to us as they had a strong sense the work they’d been delivered wasn’t going to provide the business what it required. Once again, the cost of professional brand communication starts to represent good value when compared with the cost of getting it wrong.

03. Looking Successful From Day One.

Whether consciously or sub-consciously, we’ve all selected a product or service to purchase without full understanding the role branding played in that decision. Over the last 10-15 years the number of brands we consider before making a purchase decision has increased from 4 to 12. Predominantly driven by the ability of online for us to compare and consider options, the way consumers and B2B purchase has changed forever. We have seen an entire shift from word of mouth and reputation to online comparison. As a result it’s never been more important for brands to present themselves effectively. For start-ups the requirement to look successful from day one has never been more pressing.

Looking successful is a combination of each layer of brand from definition, positioning and proposition to communication through to the way your brand identity reflects this brand strategy and is crafted to speak to your audience. As with the previous layers of the branding process, this is more complex than just designing a logo and should be invested-in accordingly.

So how much should I be budgeting for my start-up branding?

Whilst there’s no hard and fast cost for branding, you can use price as an indicator of experience and skill. An agency quoting less than $10,000 for your branding is most likely hopelessly out of their depth and almost completely unable to deliver the level of value your start-up business needs from your branding.

Our approach to branding for start-ups is to be flexible and resourceful in how we might ‘cut the cloth’ to suit both needs and budget. Whilst we occasionally find ways to work more cost effectively than this, here is an overview of each step of the branding process with a cost range you might typically expect to be investing:

01. Market Review: $2,500 – $4,500

02. Brand Strategy: $6,000 – $18,000

03. Brand Naming (if required): $4,500 – $9,000

04. Brand Messaging: $3,000 – $7,000

05. Brand Identity Design: $12,000 – $28,000

06. Packaging Design: $6,000 – $12,000

07. Web Site Design & Build: $4,000 – $7,000

What’s the first step to understanding how to develop my start-up brand properly?

We regularly sit-down with start-up businesses for an hour or two to talk through concept, requirements and approach for branding. This is something we invest-in as much to share our experience and insights as to build relationships that sometimes turn into commercial partnerships.

If you have a start-up that needs branding, we suggest you give us a call on 03 9693 0000 or get in touch here and we can organise a time to chat further.

If you’d like to find out more about what’s involved with a branding project, why not ask us about our:

An Obligation Free – One Hour – Brand Diagnostic Session
  • Clarify your critical brand components; Product/service expertise, Core customer, Competitors & Compelling point of difference.
  • Identify your current brand challenges and opportunities.
  • Chart the best way to overcoming those challenges / capture the business value within those opportunities.

Book your session today

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