How to build a great brand without spending much money
So, you’ve started your own thing. You’re now in debt (congratulations!) or partnered to an investor that’s expecting strong returns. But now that you’re the architect of your future and your career, you’ll need to be the architect of your brand as well. Whether it’s a funded startup, a bootstrapped company or your side hustle, you want to make a memorable impact. When it comes to your business, that’s what your brand can do.
Creating an impactful brand, though, is both easier and harder than it sounds. Leverage these tips to get going and get growing.
Start with the right foundation
Everything you do from day one on is going to become a building block for your business. And it’s not just about a catchy logo and colours.
While a visual identity is important, you’ll also need to:
- Understand your audiences and what matters to them
- Create a unique value proposition to stand out in the crowd
- Define the things you’ll need to deliver on your key value
- Construct a voice and writing style that represents you and makes you memorable
- Put together key messages that position your offering in the right way
To get started on building your brand, consider taking these actions:
Tip: Reach out to your potential customers with a survey that will gather key insights into who they are and what they’re looking for related to your company and/or product.
Tip: Build a volunteer brand and marketing advisory board from your network and contacts. Many professionals are looking for opportunities to share their expertise or get involved with a fresh new company outside of their 9 to 5.
Tip: Engage an outside strategist to work with you on a blueprint for your brand. They can help you see beyond the creative elements to create an intriguing positioning for your brand.
Pay attention to the competition.
An important thing to remember is that you’re not only competing with other start-ups or small businesses, you’re entering into a marketplace that may have competitors of all shapes and sizes. In response, your brand has to be able to stand up to the best at something, even if you can’t yet compete on everything.
Creativity is a way to counter-program against larger organizations with larger budgets—if you can disrupt the marketing “best practices” you’re seeing from the bigger players, you have the opportunity to stand out. Don’t underestimate the ability of humour, frankness or simplicity to help you make an impact and a lasting impression (as long as it’s genuine to your brand and what you offer)
Tip: Identify up to 10 of your top competitors and map their brand elements (creative, voice, etc.) against each other. This comparative view will help you find holes and opportunities in the marketplace for your brand.
Tip: Do some online research of other new players outside of your industry to see what they’re creatively doing to build brand and attract customers—check out award websites, they often highlight new players with creative marketing ideas.
Tip: Follow all of your competitors on social media and pay attention! Knowing what they’re doing will allow you to stay different and carve out your own unique place in the market.
Be consistent. And, be consistent.
Consistency will give you a solid image and voice in the marketplace. It doesn’t take huge budgets to do the same thing over and over across all of your platforms, whether that be media, in-person, or other advertising and customer communication.
What consistency does take is the understanding that just as you’re getting sick of your creative and messaging, customers and prospects are just starting to notice you. With the milliseconds you have to get people’s attention, letting your brand become familiar to them is your greatest asset.
Tip: Come up with a strong colour palette, visual brand language and key messages. Then reform them into a range of solutions for all of your postings and media. Let the power of consistency help build your brand impact. Freshen as necessary, but always stick to your core elements.
Tip: Write a bunch of headlines that touch on all of your key messages and value points. Make them your library and use them consistently, in ads, presentations, emails, etc. Not only will it save you time, it will ensure that you’re on point in every brand interaction.
Choose your directions wisely
Don’t spend a fortune out of the gate on every element of brand. Choose a strong foundation over multiple elements (you can always build those later). If possible, tie-in influencers, relationships, client/customer testimonials and other third-party acknowledgements.
Get to a great brand foundation by looking at all of your competition and finding an area (brand image, brand voice, brand positioning, etc.) that you can own and be best at. If you’re a disruptor, build a brand that reflects that—look for ways to stand out by standing away from everyone else.
Tip: With all of your knowledge from following competitors, don’t post the same way they do. Look to other industries that might be completely different than yours and map the ideas they’re using. Then, adapt the same ideas to your audiences.
Tip: Build a deck with no more that 15 slides and answer three questions: Why are you in business?, How do you make your customer’s life/business better? and What makes you different and more effective? One more rule: no more than four points per slide.
Tip: Leverage templates in the beginning, especially for your website. There are so many good options out there and they are easy and inexpensive to use. But make sure you stay on brand! You’ll be able to get more custom as your business grows and evolves.
Examples of how to stand out
Dollar Shave Club
The original shave subscription company, Dollar Shave Club (DSC) disrupted a billion-dollar industry with simple and bright branding, great storytelling and a clear value proposition. While the big players were dominating the industry—and setting high prices with huge margins—they came along and offered the same quality at a much lower price.
And, they enabled their pricing to stand out by putting it right in their name.
DSC also told stories of how consumers were being taken advantage of and how they brought something new and different to the market, a key element to both sales and customer success. To wrap it all up in a great brand, they made it a subscription service—to help consumers save and create very strong loyalty.
It’s a great brand foundation that has been copied multiple times across various industries, which is a strong ode to their vision.
A clothing brand breaking targeted to business women, Hangar9 competes with big players including department stores and boutiques. Their goal is to bring a different story to working women: “We’ll help you curate the right look for you and turn 9 basic pieces into 36+ outfits”.
For a set appointment, women come into the store and are taken to a private area where they work with a stylist and personal shopper to create their look. Then, they can add closet editing, ongoing consultation and a pictorial outfit guide if they like. The goal is to offer personalization, curation and fashion insight focused on the needs of today’s female executives.
Compared to boutiques and department stores that only offer personal shopping to wealthy clients, it’s a strong brand foundation and a different approach to what other retailers are doing.
They came to a market where traditional branding and marketing reigns supreme (think of the five big Canadian banks!). They built a strong focus on real people and “straight talk” about investing. This sits in contrast to the approach of other financial services behemoths.
By counter-programming their brand and messaging, they’re building a focus on simplicity, ease and support with everything done online. Although Wealthsimple doesn’t have the resources or established brand that these larger companies do, they offer an alternative that is very attractive to many who are weary of the bigger brands.
They’ve also had this positioning since day one, building their brand on it right from the beginning (a great example of consistency working for you over time).
The bottom line
Branding not just about big marketing, big agencies and big brand bucks; it’s about finding your voice, leveraging your difference, and being as creative as hell.
You can build a brand that gets noticed if you’re willing to think differently, make an investment, and put your passion for the business on display. Authenticity, transparency and “realness” are highly valued from today’s consumers, so continue to evaluate your positioning to stay on track. Then stand back and let your brand do some of the work.
More great stories from PulseBlueprint
- The best marketing books you should be reading
- Marketing tips to learn from Taylor Swift
- How to make your product positioning stand out
Brad Breininger is the Co-Founder and Lead Strategist at branding agency Zync