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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.

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Business Marketing

Gloves that translate sign language in real time

(BUSINESS MARKETING) A new wearable tech translates American Sign Language into audible English in real time.

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Advancements in technology never cease to amaze. The same is true right this moment as a new technology has been released that helps translate American Sign Language (ASL) signs into spoken English in real time.

This technology comes in the form of a hand glove – similar looking on the front side to what one would wear in the winter, but much more advanced when in view of the palm. The palm side of the glove contains sensors on the wearer to identify each word, phrase, or letter that they form via ASL, and is then translated into audible English via an app that coincides with the glove.

This is all done in real time and allows for instant communication without the need for a human translator. The signals are translated at a rate of one word per second.

The project was developed by scientists at UCLA. “Our hope is that this opens up an easy way for people who use sign language to communicate directly with non-signers without needing someone else to translate for them,” said lead researcher Jun Chen.

The hope is to make communication easier for those who rely on ASL, and to help those unfamiliar with ASL adapt to the signs. It is thought that between 250,000 and 500,000 people in the United States use ASL. As of now, the glove does not translate British Sign Language – the other form a sign language that utilizes English.

According to CNN, the researchers also added adhesive sensors to the faces of people used to test the device — between their eyebrows and on one side of their mouths — to capture facial expressions that are a part of American Sign Language. However, this facet of the technology is not loved by all.

“The tech is redundant because deaf signers already make extensive use of text-to-speech or text translation software on their phones, or simply write with pen and paper, or even gesture clearly,” said Gabrielle Hodge, a deaf post-doctoral researcher from the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL) at University College London. “There is nothing wrong with these forms of communication.”

What are your thoughts on this advancement? Comment below!

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Business Marketing

Stand out with video as part of your resume (but be careful)

(MARKETING) This new tool helps you stand out in the job market, as video now dominates – so it’s possible to use this to your advantage (with caution).

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In the midst of a pandemic, people are finding themselves thrust back into the job market sooner than expected due to mass company layoffs or underemployment as a freelancer. Fields are oversaturated and jobs are sparse so it can be hard to stand out in today’s job market.

Although standing out in the job market is hardly a new problem, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t use some new and creative solutions. One company, VCV.ME has designed a tool to help you get creative and stand out from your competition.

VCV.ME turns your traditional resume into a video à la Instagram stories.

The process is simple. You answer a few questions and upload a video of yourself then the tool will provide you with a sharable link.

VCV Founder and CEO, Arik Akverdian, believes that video is the future saying, “Video will represent 80% of all internet traffic by 2021 according to Cisco, and according to eMarketer 94.1% of millennial internet users were streaming digital video in 2019. With growing demand for video social media such as TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram stories, and others, we’re bringing the short video format to the job market.”

There are some obvious limitations to using this tool in your job hunt.

First, not all employers will take videos as part of an application both for technical and legal reasons.

On the technical side, many automated tracking systems are not designed to filter that kind of file, so there may not even be an opportunity to showcase it. That’s not to say there aren’t some work-arounds. Many job applications will have a place for applicants to link to their portfolio or websites. An alternate option for this tool could be to place the video introduction on your website.

Another problem with the tool is how it exposes candidates and hiring managers to bias.

As more companies work to remove bias from their hiring practices and hire more diverse candidates, a video intro just won’t fly. Some companies have removed names and even alma maters from their applicants in order to make more unbiased hiring decisions. A video introduction would expose many characteristics that people have conscious and subconscious biases towards such as race, gender, age, and ethnicity.

Although VCV.ME’s intentions are to help candidates stand out in the job market, it’s worth questioning whether they would be standing out for the right reasons, so tread carefully.

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Business Marketing

Why should you take Facebook’s ‘Summer of Support’ courses

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Every company can use a little marketing advice, well Facebook has partnered with big companies to give you some free digital marketing courses.

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Our world has turned into a place of upheaval and unrest and we are continuously surrounded by more and more evidence of it. One thing that the majority of us are constantly seeing is announcements from companies. Some of those are about closing hours, but others are more helpful. As they all attempt to get used to this new world that COVID-19 has created we begin to see some different tactics. Some are only politically motivated, but others are more focused on helping out their communities.

Earlier this week Facebook announced that they will be putting on a six-week digital marketing education series. This series will be an extensive collection of videos with a full in depth set of courses that will cover a large amount of topics. The company has put together a cast of renowned entrepreneurs for the presenters as well.

The topics will be done in themed weeks starting on June 24th, and running through the month of July. They include categories such “The Changing World” & “Resilience”. Focusing primarily on the world that is here and now, with recommendations on how to adapt to it. With this world in a constant state of flux the push for adapting to change and staying in front of the tide is crucial for a small business.

The next two courses will be going forward with discussing “Reinvention” & “Re-Emergence”. Encouraging struggling companies to take a serious look at their potential for moving forward, or changing the things that they can to stay more on top of their client base. They also plan on attacking the confusing world that we will have when things get closer to normal.

The last two weeks are focused on community and customer care, which is actually their names as well: “Customers & Commerce” & “Community”. These will help develop a sense of how your business affects your community and the impact you have on it. Keeping that in mind you can then develop a plan for how you want your community to see you and shape things within it.

These courses are all set up for free and open to anyone. With a completely online set up with their new “Summer of Support” mini-site they are prepped to reach millions of people. They’ve organized this with a range of partners as well: Dell, PayPal, American Express, & Small Business Roundtable. A helping hand for people who wouldn’t currently be able to source things like this.

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