Essential steps to build your startup brand

This year, I had a few occasions to collaborate and work for some very interesting startups in Paris. Starting often as kick-off workshops, I begin by identifying their challenge and helping them to prioritise the work that needs to be done.

Startups usually have different needs at the same time, but the main focus still remains on the product. It should have a great user experience, the design in place, and prioritise the right features. We all agree with that.

That said, a recurring problem space that we identify as consultants, is usually linked to their brand. Startups, often with a limited budget, tend to reduce the brand to the logo and the color palette. But of course the brand experience includes much more.

A company’s brand and product should not be treated separately, but as two dimensions that need to merge and blend in order to create a great user experience.

A brand strategy informs your visual development and UX Strategy

The brand is how you decide to tell the story of your product. It expresses the values of your company, and when you have those in place, it is much more clear who your story is for. Brand strategy helps you understand how to speak with your users and what actions you need to take in order to engage with them.

A brand strategy informs your visual development, your UX Strategy, and it will help streamline the product decision-making process when it comes down to marketing initiatives or user testing.

The Minimum Viable Brand

When it comes to branding for startups, one framework that I found particularly useful is the so called MVB (Minimum Viable Brand): an extension of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept.

The objective is to start by focusing only on the core elements of the brand in order to have a strategy in place that can quickly support decision-making when moving forward but also to create a more meaningful connection with your users.

The Golden Circle: The why, how and what of your brand

The premise of any design project always starts with answering three questions. This applies to branding as well. If you are a startup launching your product, you should know:

  • Why are we doing it? (your mission and reason for being)
  • How are we doing it? (the things that make you different from the others)
  • What are we doing? (your offer, and the description of your Product/Service)

A useful and simple tool that can be used to support this exercise is called Golden Circle. The idea is to start by answering the WHY, which is usually the last element that companies consider, followed by the HOW, and finally, the WHAT. By starting with the why, organization begins with the answer to why they exist. It may seem unnecessary, but without this information the vision is lost.

Once those questions are answered, you will have enough room to define four other important elements: your values (what do you stand for), your people (who do you want to reach), your voice (how do you say what you want to say), and your identity (the image you put out in to the world)

Branding is emotional: Tell people what you stand for>

Branding finds its reason to be through emotions and associations with things, people, and the environments in which it exists.

Talking about values can sound fluffy and not very concrete, but this is actually very important because it reminds yourself and confirms for others what you care about as a company. Your values are at the core of everything you do and they will shape all other elements of your brand.

One of the most effective exercises to define your values and create a values statement is the Values Pyramid. This is an exercise that can be run in 45'min.

Everyone on the team is asked to write down the things your company cares about and then start to place those statements into the Pyramid. The final objective is to have a pyramid with values that make sense for everyone, with the top value a reflection of your company’s number one priority.

Think about your people: Who do you want to reach?

Your product can’t be for everyone and it is important to understand what people you want to reach, especially before a product launch. Think about your users needs and who will most benefit from using your product.

In the beginning, it is helpful to focus on your very first user:

  • What are her/his needs?
  • What is she/he trying to accomplish while using your Product?
  • Why is she/he using it?

With these questions answered it is possible to write down a statement for each of your users.

User statements cover both a practical dimension as well as an emotional one. Both are equally important because the emotional component is what often causes people to take a specific action.

A last consideration: it is ok to start with assumptions about your users, but moving forward in the process, it is important to conduct proper user research. This ensures that you really understand the people that are using your product and validates your initial assumptions. Getting to know your users is a never ending process that will evolve and modify over time.

Find your voice and your identity

Once you understand what you stand for and the people you want to reach, it is time to think about how best to communicate with them, and start to shape your visual world and messaging. When building digital products, the brand is communicated through the interface, so it is important to work across disciplines from the start.

The overall user experience encompasses the world of branding and all of the interactions between your product and your users. In order to have maximum impact, they must live together and seamlessly integrate with each other.

Written by

Francesca Lusuardi


Francesca Lusuardi


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