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Branding from the Ground Up

We all know what a good brand looks like. The hall of fame list is basically a cliche: Nike, Apple, Disney, Coca Cola... But these brands have spent decades defining, building, and refining their brands. So, how should companies approach brand-building from scratch? 

Iconic brands are perfect #inspo for how a brand continues to thrive once it matures, but there are many, many steps between defining your brand and becoming a household name. Because we work with a lot of startups, we know building a brand from the ground-up is an exciting, but equally terrifying prospect. 

Information Overload


Think of it as a long-term evolution

Developing a shiny new brand typically doesn’t happen in a silo, nor does it happen overnight. If you’re a startup, you’re likely also in the process of creating and refining your product. It’s a LOT. 

We believe startups should approach brand development in phases, with each one laying the groundwork for continued evolution.

First Phase:

Setting the brand’s foundation starts with defining its broad vision. This is informed by the business, its culture, and what differentiates it from the rest.  

Defining this vision starts with exercises such as: 

  • Stakeholder Interviews: Sessions where we sit down with companies and pick their brain. We want to understand their business goals, the future vision, what they’ve already done, and  

  • Competitive Audits: By assessing competitors, related industries, and trends, we’re able to define what we like vs. don’t like, see what’s been done before, and maybe even predict the future. 

Learnings from these exercises set the stage for your brand, but should still leave room for company growth and customer definition. 

Second Phase:

As customers begin to develop a relationship with your product or service, their needs and emotions should be absorbed by the brand. 

This is where you begin to transcend just being a product or service, and become something people identify with. 

Developing a customer-centric brand involves exercises like customer interviews, social listening, and trend reporting. It’s important to uncover consumers' emotional ties to the brand, as well as their pain points and needs in this phase. 

Third Phase:

Finally, the last phase! (Spoiler alert: The final form of your brand is actually never final.) To sustain what you built, brands must continually respond to cultural shifts, changing customers needs, company growth, and competition. 

Sometimes this phase entails initiatives like brand-building campaigns, and other times it might entail refining the product experience. Brands should be continuously looking for new ways to add value to their customer’s lives and stay relevant with culture.


Integrate the brand beyond the logo

When the average person thinks of what makes up a brand, they likely don’t think too far beyond the basics of the logo & tagline. In reality, brands are defined by everything a customer sees, hears, and experiences.

It’s not just a logo, it’s a cohesive look & feel. Your brand should be flexible and applicable enough to come to life on everything from the website to the packaging.

Branding goes beyond visual cues, it’s also defined by its personality & voice. Every time your brand speaks to its customers, the message should feel like it’s coming from the same individual.

And if that’s not enough, the way customers experience a brand is increasingly important. Put best by the words of Jeff Bezos: "In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.” Basically, don’t be the pop-up ads of your industry.

Beyond the Logo


Consider how every decision builds the brand

Developing a brand isn’t one or two large-scale decisions, it’s dozens and dozens of small decisions that form the bigger picture. But doesn’t that also mean dozens and dozens of decisions that could go wrong?? Not if you keep in mind some decision-guiding principles. 

Be differentiated

Find a way to stand out from the crowd. This could be as small as choosing a different color palette than competitors, or as large as re-defining the entire category. 

Be clear

Send a focused message with your brand, not just with words, but through the visual and experience design too. Trying to say too many things to too many people at once creates confusion.

Be open for growth

Regardless of maturity, your brand should always give room for the company to grow. Leave room for interpretation, and don’t let anything be too set in stone, who knows what your industry might look like in 5, 10, 20 years. 

Be authentic

Part of your brand definition is left up to the power of the people. And people can sniff out bullshit, fast. Your brand should always stay true to itself (AKA don’t try to be Wendy’s if you’re Glossier), and to its audience, at every step of the brand evolution. 

Be Authentic


That’s it!! It’s super easy, right!?

In all reality, building a brand is about following your gut and staying focused. If you can start there, you’ll be able to add the building blocks to your brand to set it up for continued success.

And if you need more help, shoot us a note. 😉 

March 05, 2020TIL