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5 common startup branding mistakes

Because entrepreneurs are typically focused on the business of doing business, there are startup branding mistakes that are quite common, but can be overcome.

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Startup branding mistakes

Across industries, startups are founded often when a need is not being met and/or someone is passionate about an idea, but most entrepreneurs aren’t branding experts, so there are many mistakes that take place every day that hold many startups back.

Patrick Woods is the Director of a>m ventures, which invests creative capital in early-stage digital businesses. He says, “Founding a startup is a bit like building an airplane while in flight. Moving at the speed of sound, one false step could lead to disaster. Along the way, founders are faced with dozens of major decisions in areas like technology stack, finance and accounting, legal, and HR.”

Woods adds, “One area that proves particularly challenging is branding. Startups often don’t know how to think about their brand, much less have time to do anything about it.”

In working with dozens of startups around the nation, Woods has encountered many of the same branding pitfalls, offering in his own words, five common mistakes to overcome that will help any startup to build stronger relationships with customers and a sturdy foundation for scaling your marketing in the future.

#1: Starting with a URL

The most egregious mistake startups make when thinking about their name is firing up GoDaddy and typing stuff in, fingers crossed in hopes that something cool is available (and making stuff up when there’s not).

At a>m ventures, we say Just Say No Daddy to GoDaddy. In the real world, one directly types URLs into the address bar. They search, click links on social, and if you’re an app, they simply search the app store.

At no point in the process is it important that you have YourName.com. But for some reason, so many startups drop vowels and add weird top-level domains to shoehorn their name into a URL. Many great brand names are left on the table as a result of this myth.

#2: Worrying about branding too early (seriously)

It may seem counterintuitive for a brand guy to suggest putting off your brand work, but in my experience working with dozens of early stage startups, I’ve found that it *is* possible to focus on brand too early.

That’s because at the earliest stages, a startup doesn’t fully understand its business model or customers, much less what its brand needs to say about the world. Startups should hold off on spending time and resources on development until they’ve achieved or arrived at product-market fit.

Before then, multiple pivots will mean that brand work done to that point will become irrelevant anyway. So until then, focus on customer discovery and building something great.

#3: Mistaking *what* to say for *how* to say it

We’ve all seen the standard-issue startup website. It has a full-bleed background image, a huge headline set in some nice TypeKit font, and probably a big fat call-to-action button. And the headline is something like “The best way to fax online” or “the simplest way to conduct surveys online.”

The copy is all feature-drive, and provides no insight into deeper brand benefits, and perhaps more importantly, brand personality. Startups often know *what* to say, i.e. expressing their value proposition in terms of features and benefits. The challenge is moving from *what* to *how* to say it.

How you say something is what gives your brand meaning and personality. There are literally dozens of online survey tools, so how is your different? Brands like Mailchimp and Dollar Shave Club are great examples of building strong personalities around otherwise boring spaces, i.e. email marketing and men’s shaving products.

#4: Believing brand is about logos only

While having a great name and logo is important, brand development extends far beyond these elements. If your startup were a store, your name and logo would be the sign out front. They’d give customers some idea of who you are and what you do, but there’s more to the story.

What’s on the inside, literally and metaphorically? How do you talk to customers? Are you to the point? Or more playful, perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek? How do you handle customer service? Do you offer huge sales and discounts, or are prices consistently set?

Your brand is realized wherever your customers, employees, the press, and others, encounter your brand. For that reason, it’s hugely important that you carefully consider how your brand interacts with the world.

#5: Underestimating the power of the written word

There’s a reason your writing professor encouraged you to write tons of drafts before turning in an assignment. Your first stab at something, whether it’s an essay or your About Us or Plans & Pricing page, will rarely yield compelling work.

The first draft is basically raw material, comprised of the key facts and features of what your describing. Once the raw material is captured, it’s up to you and your team to rework it into something meaningful, that communicates and inspires.

For companies of all sizes and stage, creating a compelling brand is always important, but never easy. That’s doubly true for early-stage startups, who must endure the added challenge of building both a brand and the company. There’s no secret formula for creating great brands, but avoiding these common mistakes will ensure you don’t poison your company’s chance for connecting with customers to build trust and excitement.

Marti Trewe reports on business and technology news, chasing his passion for helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to stay well informed in the fast paced 140-character world. Marti rarely sleeps and thrives on reader news tips, especially about startups and big moves in leadership.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Vishal Kr Singh

    November 14, 2013 at 4:41 am

    I strongly disagree with your first point, rest of the points I have actually noted it down.
    Domain name and Web space gives you a feeling that you already have something which so many people can already see, a sense of ownership of the name you have been dreaming of day and night.

  2. Pingback: What entreprenuers can learn about branding from trendy startups

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Business Marketing

Ghost Reply has us asking: Should you shame a recruiter who ghosted you?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Ghost Reply will send an anonymous “kind reminder” to recruiters who ghost job candidates, but is the sweet taste of temporary catharsis worth it?

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Stressed woman at a laptop with hands on head, considering if she should send a Ghost Reply.

People hate to get “ghosted” in any situation, personal or professional. But for job seekers who may already be struggling with self-esteem, it can be particularly devastating. Ghost Reply is a new online service that will help you compose and send an email nudge to the ghoster, sending a “kind reminder” telling them how unprofessional it is to leave someone hanging like that.

Ghost Reply wants to help you reach catharsis in all of this stressful mess of finding a job. Almost all of the problems and feelings are compounded by this confounded pandemic that has decimated areas of the workforce and taken jobs and threatened people’s financial security. It is understandable to want to lash out at those in power, and sending a Ghost Reply email to the recruiter or HR person may make you feel better in the short term.

In the long run, though, will it solve anything? Ghost Reply suggests it may make the HR person or recruiter reevaluate their hiring processes, indicating this type of email may help them see the error of their ways and start replying to all potential candidates. If it helps them reassess and be more considerate in the future and helps you find closure in the application/interview process, that would be the ideal outcome on all fronts. It is not likely this will happen, though.

The Ghost Reply sample email has the subject line “You have a message from a candidate!” Then it begins, “Hi, (name), You’re receiving this email because a past candidate feels like you ghosted them unfairly.” It then has a space for said candidate to add on any personal notes regarding the recruiter or process while remaining anonymous.

I get it. It’s upsetting to have someone disappear after you’ve spent time and energy applying, possibly even interviewing, only to hear nothing but crickets back from the recruiter or HR person you interacted with. It’s happened to me more than once, and it’s no bueno. We all want to be seen. We all want to be valued. Ghosting is hurtful. The frustration and disappointment, even anger, that you feel is certainly relatable. According to several sources, being ghosted after applying for a job is one of the top complaints from job seekers on the market today.

Will an anonymous, passive-aggressive email achieve your end? Will the chastened company representative suddenly have a lightbulb go off over their heads, creating a wave of change in company policy? I don’t see it. The first sentence of the sample email, in fact, is not going to be well received by HR.

When you start talking about what’s “unfair,” most HR people will tune out immediately. That kind of language in itself is unprofessional and is a red flag to many people. Once you work at a company and know its culture and have built relationships, then, maybe, just maybe, can you start talking about your work-related feelings. I believe in talking about our feelings, but rarely is a work scenario the best place to do so (I speak from experience). Calling it unprofessional is better, less about you and more about the other person’s behavior.

However, it’s unclear how productive Ghost Reply actually is. Or how anonymous, frankly. By process of deduction, the recipient of the email may be able to figure out who sent it, if it even makes it through the company’s spam filters. Even if they cannot pinpoint the exact person, it may cast doubts on several applicants or leave a bad taste in the recruiter’s mouth. It sounds like sour grapes, which is never a good thing.

There may be any number of reasons you didn’t get the job offer or interview, and they may or may not have something to do with you. Recruiters answer your burning questions, including why you may have been ghosted in this recent article in The American Genius.

Ultimately, you will never know why they ghosted you. If it makes you feel better or at least see the issue from both sides, the amount of job candidates ghosting recruiters after applying and even interviewing is equally high. Some people simply either have awful time management skills or awful manners, and at the end of the day, there’s not much you can do about that.

Focus on your own survival while job hunting, instead of these disappointing moments or the person who ghosts you. It will serve you better in the long run than some anonymous revenge email. There are other ways to deal with your frustration and anger when you do get ghosted, though. Try the classic punching your pillow. Try taking a walk around the block. If it helps to put your frustration into words, and it very well may, then do so. Write it on a piece of paper, then burn it. Or type it all in an email and delete it. For your own sake, do NOT put their email address in the “To” line, lest you accidentally hit “Send.”

The sooner you can let it go, the sooner you can move on to finding a better job fit for you.

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Business Marketing

Free shipping is everywhere… how can small businesses keep up?

[BUSINESS MARKETING] Would you rather pay less but still pay for shipping, or pay more with free shipping? They may cost the same, but one appeals more than the other.

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Person standing over pacakge, sealing with masking tape.

When it comes to competing with huge corporations like Amazon, there are plenty of hurdles that smaller businesses have to cross. Corporations can (and do) undercut the competition, not to mention garner a much larger marketing reach than most small businesses could ever dream of achieving. But this time, we want to focus on something that most people have probably chosen recently: Free shipping.

How important is free shipping to consumers? Well, in a 2018 survey, Internet Retailer discovered that over 50% of respondents said that free shipping was the most important part of online shopping. In fact, when given a choice between fast or costless shipping, a whopping 88% of those surveyed chose the latter option.

Part of this has to do with the fact that shipping costs are often perceived as additional fees, not unlike taxes or a processing fee. In fact, according to Ravi Dhar, director of Yale’s Center for Customer Insights, if it’s between a discounted item with a shipping fee or a marked up item with free shipping, individuals are more likely to choose the latter – even if both options cost exactly the same amount.

If you’re interested in learning more, Dhar refers to the economic principle of “pain of paying,” but the short answer is simply that humans are weird.

So, how do you recapture the business of an audience that’s obsessed with free shipping?

The knee jerk reaction is to simply provide better products that the competition. And sure, that works… to some extent. Unfortunately, in a world where algorithms can have a large effect on business, making quality products might not always cut it. For instance, Etsy recently implemented a change in algorithm to prioritize sellers that offer free shipping.

Another solution is to eat the costs and offer free shipping, but unless that creates a massive increase in products sold, you’re going to end up with lower profits. This might work if it’s between lower profits and none, but it’s certainly not ideal. That’s why many sellers have started to include shipping prices in the product’s overall price – instead of a $20 necklace with $5 shipping, a seller would offer a $25 necklace with free shipping.

This is a tactic that the big businesses use and it works. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?

That said, not everyone can join in. Maybe, for instance, a product is too big to reasonably merge shipping and product prices. If, for whatever reason, you can’t join in, it’s also worth finding a niche audience and pushing a marketing campaign. What do you offer that might be more attractive than the alluring free shipping? Are you eco-friendly? Do you provide handmade goods? Whatever it is that makes your business special, capitalize on it.

Finally, if you’re feeling down about the free shipping predicament, remember that corporations have access to other tricks. Amazon’s “free” prime shipping comes at an annual cost. Wal-Mart can take a hit when item pricing doesn’t work out. Even if your business isn’t doing as well as you hoped, take heart: You’re facing giants.

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Business Marketing

How many hours of the work week are actually efficient?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Working more for that paycheck, more hours each week, on the weekends, on holidays can actually hurt productivity. So don’t do that, stay efficient.

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Clock pointed to 5:50 on a plain white wall, well tracked during the week.

Social media is always flooded with promises to get in shape, eat healthier and… hustle?

In hustle culture, it seems as though there’s no such thing as too much work. Nights, weekends and holidays are really just more time to be pushing towards your dreams and hobbies are just side hustles waiting to be monetized. Plus, with freelancing on the rise, there really is nothing stopping someone from making the most out of their 24 hours.

Hustle culture will have you believe that a full-time job isn’t enough. Is that true?

Although it’s a bit outdated, Gallup’s 2014 report on full-time US workers gives us an alarming glimpse into the effects of the hustle. For starters, 50% of full-time workers reported working over 40 hours a week – in fact, the average weekly hours for salaried employees was up to 49 hours.

So, what’s the deal with 40 hours anyway? The 40 hour work-week actually started with labor rights activists in the 1800s pushing for an 8 hour workday. In 1817, Robert Owen, a Welsh activist, reasoned this workday provided: “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”

If you do the math, that’s a whopping 66% of the day devoted to personal needs, rather than labor!

Of course, it’s only natural to be skeptical of logic from two centuries ago coloring the way we do business in the 21st century. For starters, there’s plenty of labor to be done outside of the labor you’re paid to do. Meal prep, house cleaning, child care… that’s all work that needs to be done. It’s also all work that some of your favorite influencers are paying to get done while they pursue the “hustle.” For the average human, that would all be additional work to fall in the ‘recreation’ category.

But I digress. Is 40 hours a week really enough in the modern age? After all, average hours in the United States have increased.

Well… probably not. In fact, when hours are reduced (France, for instance, limited maximum hours to 35 hours a week, instead of 40), workers are not only more likely to be healthier and happier, but more efficient and less likely to miss work!

So, instead of following through with the goal to work more this year, maybe consider slowing the hustle. It might actually be more effective in the long run!

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