When starting a company, founders complete many important tasks: selecting a business name, determining its target market, scoping its product or service and sometimes finding an office and hiring employees.
Oh, I left out branding? (I did that on purpose.) Here’s my argument: small businesses should keep branding out of the picture until they have market proof that their concept works (i.e., customers).
Know your customer first.
Many agencies push small businesses to create a brand first. Agencies, and the businesses themselves, often believe that having a really amazing brand will help them get recognized. While this may be (somewhat) true, especially for B2C companies, I believe that branding is a waste of time and money upfront if you have nothing else to show.
This is the mistake I’ve seen over and over again:
- Startup spends $50,000 (or more) on logo and branding, and sometimes a fancy website.
- Startup brings product to market.
- Startup realizes that they had the wrong product/market fit; they need to pivot or change the product then reintroduce it.
- Startup sees that brand doesn’t exactly fit new market.
- Startup scraps much of their upfront work and starts over.
Had this hypothetical business focused on the customer, instead of the brand, first, they would have a deep understanding of their target market and know what kind of branding for small businesses is effective.
Get a customer first.
Taking it a step further than market research, my belief is that small businesses not only need to complete effective customer research (which is often skipped, or too abbreviated), but they should actually generate leads and acquire a customer or two before taking on a branding initiative.
Getting customers means you know your product has a place in the market and it’s wanted – it’s filling a void or effectively beating your competitors. Startups can have good ideas all day, but unless a customer will pay, they’re absolutely worthless. Branding for small businesses should be based on the preferences and marketing impressions of real, live customers.
How to brand without customers...
You can have an attractive logo and website without spending a million dollars—and that’s all you need to get started. One of Accelity’s more successful startup clients ran a logo contest at a local art college. Other clients have used fiverr.com and paid $5 for a logo. Follow these simple tips to get an attractive logo and website fast so you can concentrate on customer acquisition:
1. Choose the right color.
Once you choose a brand color, you’re unlikely to change it. Use these tips to choose a color that fits the impression you’d like to give. For example, many companies use blue as it symbolizes trust (think G.E.). Accelity’s color is yellow because it symbolizes energy (and our office walls are covered in it!).
2. Get a flat, modern logo.
Do some research on logo trends and create or get a simple logo. For the B2B companies that we work with, most of the sale is completed through inbound marketing (education) and the sales process. This can be done with any logo that looks professional.
3. Launch a simple website.
All you really need are three pages:
- What your product is and how it works
- Contact page
Make sure your website follows design best practices and is mobile friendly. Many startups use services like Squarespace, or hire companies that provide affordable sites for small businesses like SmBiz.Website.
With these tips, you’re ready to sell… and you can worry about a meaningful rebrand later when you have a deep understanding of your real customers.
This is always a controversial topic when I discuss it with other business professionals. What do you think? Leave a comment below and let me know.