Start-up Spotlight: The Dos and Don’ts of Branding

Start-ups are, by definition, disruptive in some manner. They’re the businesses thought up by the crafty thinkers and entrepreneurs who want to solve a problem. So, it’s no surprise that the early-stage entrepreneurs behind the most disruptive companies have some of the most unique branding ideas. Think of TOMS Shoes’ philanthropic angle or Patagonia’s commitment to producing quality-made outerwear that consumers will use for a lifetime: these are examples of cutting-edge branding that resonates.

But as resourceful and forward-thinking as new entrepreneurs are, they often lack in the funding department. When you have a good idea and no money, how do you brand your business? The unfortunate part about this riddle is that good ideas need a good story and a good brand to get off the ground. This is why it’s so important for early business owners and inventors to prioritize branding before they seek investors. If you’re getting ready to launch a new business, you should use some of these helpful tips to build a powerful brand.

Our No. 1 rule of branding is this: partner with good suppliers that value business as much as you do. Once you’ve developed a solid logo and written your story, get the word out there with high-quality labels and printing supplies. You’re only as good as your weakest partner, so make sure that all of the companies you do business with are just as committed to a positive customer experience and brand growth as you are.

The Dos and Don’ts of Telling Your Story

One of the most important parts about coming up with a comprehensive brand is to ensure that it tells a story. But not just any story: your story. Brand-driven storytelling is its very own niche in modern marketing, and there’s no secret behind why. It works, plain and simple.

  • Do Promote What You Care About — Weaving in a social factor isn’t just trendy, it’s also really good for business. Case in point: 57 percent of consumers said they’d purchase a product of lesser quality or efficacy if it was more socially or environmentally responsible. Prioritize corporate social responsibility, but only if it’s true to your brand (see below on authenticity).
  • Do Dig Deep and be Transparent — The story of how your great idea came about isn’t enough to build a compelling story-driven brand image. Dig deep into your history to unearth milestones, personal principles, and experiences that led to your big break. Weave these components into your logo, mission statement and social media strategy.
  • Do Be Authentic, and Not in the Buzzword Sense — Here’s the thing: today’s consumers are super-savvy — the majority of millennials say they don’t like being advertised to — and you have to cater to them in a way that feels real and low-pressure. That means engaging in a natural way on consumers’ terms. A good example of this is partnering with social media influencers instead of using traditional social media advertising
  • Don’t Forget to Let Customers Tell Their Stories — The most successful startups are fast-tracking their focus on customer engagement. Airbnb relies on customer experiences for success — it’s the user-based reviews and host stories that lead to sales — and they’ve handled this flawlessly by prioritizing the customer experience and letting consumers share real stories. Conversely, TripAdvisor recently came under fire for censoring users’ posts, and may soon face a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Do Develop a Brand Voice — Consumers love consistency as much as marketers do! To ensure that your company has a consistent brand voice — right down to whether you’re going to use the Oxford comma or not — is key to creating a professional brand image that feels trustworthy and reliable. Develop a brand voice guidelines document to hand out to anyone who makes content for your company, from those who design product labels to the team writing your Twitter and Facebook “about us” section.

The Dos and Don’ts of Engaging with Customers

We probably don’t have to tell you this, but “customer experience” is probably the second most-popular branding buzzword (after authenticity, of course). How you engage with your customers in the early stages of your business is fundamental to your brand strategy. It sets the stage for how consumers view your brand and leads to a sturdy foundation.

  • Do Focus on Customer Experience — CX is a big deal; it’s just a fact. We all know that brands like Amazon and Zappos were built on a good customer experience, especially when it comes to consumer-focused shipping and return policies. But don’t take two of the world’s biggest e-commerce companies’ word for it. There’s cold, hard data suggesting that CX is the real deal. A good customer experience can improve customer retention by 42 percent, improve customer satisfaction by 33 percent and increase cross-selling and up-selling by 32 percent.
  • Don’t Let Stupid Mistakes Define You — Consumers remember and share bad experiences. If you’re starting a business in the ever-changing and ever-exploding e-commerce landscape, make sure that you have a good shipping system in place before you start sending out orders. You can do this with barcode labels and equipment that will help prevent needless packing and shipping mistakes.
  • Don’t Try to Cater to Everyone — Early-stage investor and New York Times Bestseller Tim Ferris said it best : “don’t make a product for everyone.” Instead, Ferris says, work to cultivate an intense group of dedicated followers rather than a large group of moderately interested ones. Loyal customers are a brand’s most valuable asset.
  • Don’t Stretch the Truth — You may remember that time Naked Juice (now owned by PepsiCo) had to settle a massive class-action lawsuit after misleading consumers with labels falsely dubbing their fruit-based juices “all-natural” and “non-GMO.” And we don’t know about you, but we’re still recovering from the time when Snapchat admitted that it was actually allowing users to save photos without the senders’ knowledge. The takeaway here is to make sure that your brand identity is 100 percent honest.

The Dos and Don’ts of Branding to Investors

We’re not naïve. We know that branding isn’t enough to turn your business into the next Uber or Facebook. Investors help, too. But the thing is, investors are more eagle-eyed in terms of gains and losses than your everyday consumer — it’s their money on the line, after all — so you have to develop a separate brand strategy when you head into those vital pitch meetings.

  • Do Promote Value Props — Try to think of new ways to convey the value of your business, beyond the obvious. Take Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield for example: this mega-successful entrepreneur catapulted his workplace chat platform by marketing it as a “reduction in the cost of communication,” instead of touting the software itself. It worked; Slack is now worth over $5 billion .
  • Do Tell a Story — We’ve all seen “Shark Tank.” Those early-stage entrepreneurs with strong, inspiring stories almost always make a deal. It’s the workaholic, serial entrepreneurs who tend to struggle. Make sure that your pitch tells the story of your brand with passion, focus and, yes, authenticity. At the end of the day, venture capitalists are people, too, and they often invest in the person before the brand. Try your hardest to research investors beforehand so you know how to connect.
  • Don’t Oversell — One of mega-investor Mark Cuban’s rules to early-stage entrepreneurs is as follows: never buy swag . In other words, don’t waste valuable cash on clothing and handouts that promote your business until you’re profitable. “A sure sign of failure for a start-up is when someone sends me logo-embroidered polo shirts,” Cuban said. Over-promotion signals to investors that you’re not spending your funds wisely when it matters the most. On the other hand, affordable marketing materials like business cards are vital.

The Dos and Don’ts of Logo Design

“Design is the Silent Ambassador of Your Brand.” – Paul Rand, Designer

Think of your logo as a first impression to consumers. It’s the first thing they’ll see when they engage in your brand on the web and in-person. The trouble is, most early-stage start-ups simply don’t have the cash flow to hire a big design firm to crank out a quality logo. The key is to look for up-and-coming, independent designers with a good track record.

  • Do Utilize Negative Space — Have we mentioned that creating a unique and compelling brand story is everything in today’s marketing world? One of the simplest ways you can do that is to use negative space in your logo to convey more values of your business. Just take the FedEx logo, for example. The hidden arrow between the E and the X signifies the company’s commitment to speed and precision. Weaving in an extra message helps you get across even more of your brand’s mission.
  • Do Invest in Printing Supplies — When you have a solid in-house system for printing labels, stickers, letterheads, barcodes, and other branding supplies, you can shave off money associated with outsourcing. Put commercial printer supplies at the top of your overhead list so that you can create a professional-looking brand image without draining resources. These supplies — especially barcode labels — are vital to businesses that ship.
  • Don’t Overthink It — Some of the most iconic modern logos are plain, simple, and recognizable a mile away. Think of the Facebook ‘F’ or the Uber ‘U.’ Too much detail limits a consumer’s ability to identify your brand in a split-second, and detracts from your overall brand story. More complex logos are also often more confusing, so keeping it simple is the best course of action.

The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media Branding

There’s no denying that social media marketing is vital to a strong and healthy brand. Why? It all comes down to brand recognition. Every opportunity you get to market your content is a good one, and exposure? helps solidify it into consumers’ brains. Studies show that social media has a 100 percent higher lead-to-close rate than outbound marketing, and companies with a higher number of social media followers have improved trust and credibility in their brand.

  • Do Get Visual — Social media users are more likely to stop scrolling when they see a compelling image compared with plain text. Early-stage marketers should leverage this by creating interesting, colorful photos that command attention. Make sure that you develop a plan that includes varied images. In other words, don’t post the same photos with different color palates or subject matter every day. Studies also show that video marketing is on the rise, with almost half of all users looking for videos on a specific product before visiting a store.
  • Don’t Target the Wrong Groups — A little bit of market research goes a long way! Not all consumers are on all social networks, so make sure that you know where to promote your brand to find the most likely consumers of your brand. For example, if you’re a producer of steel manufacturing equipment, you probably don’t need to waste any money branding on Pinterest. A good portion of this comes down to common sense, so we don’t recommend sinking a ton of resources into research.
  • Don’t Censor User Feedback — Part of being authentic in an extremely opinionated social media landscape is to take negative feedback and make it something positive. If an unhappy customer leaves a less-than-savory review of your company on Facebook or Twitter, don’t ban the user or remove the comment altogether. The best brands engage with consumers on social media and are hyper-responsive. Correcting the issue in a public forum just means more opportunity for a positive brand image!