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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

Bite-sized retail: Macy’s plans to move out of malls

(BUSINESS MARKETING) While Macy’s shares have recently climbed, the department store chain is making a change in regards to big retail shopping malls.

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Macy's retail storefront, which may look different as they scale to smaller stores.

I was recently listening to a podcast on Barstool Sports, and was surprised to hear that their presenting sponsor was Macy’s. This struck me as odd considering the demographic for the show is women in their twenties to thirties, and Macy’s typically doesn’t cater to that crowd. Furthermore, department retail stores are becoming a bit antiquated as is.

The sponsorship made more sense once I learned that Macy’s is restructuring their operation, and now allowing their brand to go the way of the ghost. They feel that while malls will remain in operation, only the best (AKA the malls with the most foot traffic) will stand the test of changes in the shopping experience.

As we’ve seen a gigantic rise this year in online shopping, stores like Macy’s and JC Penney are working hard to keep themselves afloat. There is so much changing in brick and mortar retail that major shifts need to be made.

So, what is Macy’s proposing to do?

The upscale department store chain is going to be testing smaller stores in locations outside of major shopping malls. Bloomingdale’s stores will be doing the same. “We continue to believe that the best malls in the country will thrive,” CEO Jeff Gennette told CNBC analysts. “However, we also know that Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s have high potential [off]-mall and in smaller formats.”

While the pandemic assuredly plays a role in this, the need for change came even before the hit in March. Macy’s had announced in February their plans to close 125 stores in the next three years. This is in conjunction with Macy’s expansion of Macy’s Backstage, which offers more affordable options.

Gennette also stated that while those original plans are still in place, Macy’s has been closely monitoring the competition in the event that they need to adjust the store closure timeline. At the end of the second quarter, Macy’s had 771 stores, including Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury.

Last week, Macy’s shares climbed 3 percent, after the retailer reported a more narrow loss than originally expected, along with stronger sales due to an uptick in their online business. So they’re already doing well in that regard. But will smaller stores be the change they need to survive?

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Business Marketing

Why you must nix MLM experience from your resume

(BUSINESS MARKETING) MLMs prey on people without much choice, but once you try to switch to something more stable, don’t use the MLM as experience.

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Discussing including MLM experience on a resume.

MLM experience… Is it worth keeping on your resume?

Are you or someone you know looking for a job after a stint in an MLM? Well, first off, congratulations for pursuing a real job that will provide a steady salary! But I also know that transition can be hard. The job market is already tight and if you don’t have much other work experience on your resume, is it worth trying to leverage your MLM experience?

The short answer? Heck no.

As Ask the Manager puts it, there’s a “strong stigma against [MLMs],” meaning your work experience might very well put a bad taste in the mouth of anyone looking through resumes. And looking past the sketchy products many offer, when nearly half of people in MLMs lose money and another quarter barely break even, it sure doesn’t paint you in a good light to be involved.

(Not to mention, many who do turn a profit only do so by recruiting more people, not actually by selling many products.)

“But I wouldn’t say I worked for an MLM,” you or your friend might say, “I was a small business owner!”

It’s a common selling point for MLMs, that often throw around pseudo-feminist feel good slang like “Boss Babe” or a “Momtrepreneur,” to tell women joining that they’re now business women! Except, as you might have guessed, that’s not actually the case, unless by “Boss Babe” you mean “Babe Who Goes Bankrupt or Tries to Bankrupt Her Friends.”

A more accurate title for the job you did at an MLM would be Sales Rep, because you have no stake in the creation of the product, or setting the prices, or any of the myriad of tasks that a real entrepreneur has to face.

Okay, that doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as “small business owner.” And I know it’s tempting to talk up your experience on a resume, but that can fall apart pretty quickly if you can’t actually speak to actual entrepreneur experience. It makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about…which is also not a good look for the job hunt.

That said… Depending on your situation, it might be difficult to leave any potential work experience off your resume. I get it. MLMs often target people who don’t have options for other work opportunities – and it’s possible you’re one of the unlucky ones who doesn’t have much else to put on paper.

In this case, you’ll want to do it carefully. Use the sales representative title (or something similar) and, if you’re like the roughly 50% of people who lose money from MLMs, highlight your soft skills. Did you do cold calls? Tailor events to the people who would be attending? Get creative, just make sure to do it within reason.

It’s not ideal to use your MLM experience on a resume, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Still, congratulations to you, or anyone you know, who has decided to pursue something that will actually help pay the bills.

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Business Marketing

This smart card manages employee spending with ease

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Clever credit cards make it easier for companies to set spending policies and help alleviate expense problems for both them and their employees.

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Spendesk showing off its company credit cards.

Company credit cards are a wonderful solution to managing business expenses. They work almost exactly like debit cards, which we all know how to use, am I right? It is the twenty-first century after all. Simply swipe, dip, or tap, and a transaction is complete.

However, keeping up with invoices and receipts is a nightmare. I know I’ve had my fair share of hunting down wrinkled pieces of paper after organizing work events. Filling out endless expense reports is tedious. Plus, the back and forth communication with the finance team to justify purchases can cause a headache on both ends.

Company credit cards make it easier for companies to keep track of who’s spending money and how much. However, they aren’t able to see final numbers until expense reports are submitted. This makes monitoring spending a challenge. Also, reviewing all the paperwork to reimburse employees is time-consuming.

But Spendesk is here to combat those downsides! This all-in-one corporate expense and spend management service provides a promising alternative to internal management. The French startup “combines spend approvals, company cards, and automated accounting into one refreshingly easy spend management solution.”

Their clever company cards are what companies and employees have all been waiting for! With increasing remote workforces, this new form of payment comes at just the right moment to help companies simplify their expenditures.

These smart cards remove limitations regular company cards have today. Spendesk’s employee debit cards offer companies options to monitor budgets, customize settings, and set specific authorizations. For instance, companies can set predefined budgets and spending category limitations on flights, hotels, restaurants, etc. Then they don’t have to worry about an employee taking advantage of their card by booking a first-class flight or eating at a high-end steakhouse.

All transactions are tracked in real time so finance and accounting can see purchases right as they happen. Increasing visibility is important, especially when your employee is working remotely.

And for employees, this new form of payment is more convenient and easier on the pocket. “These are smart employee company cards with built-in spending policies. Employees can pay for business expenses when they need to without ever having to spend their own money,” the company demonstrated in a company video.

Not having to dip into your checking account is a plus in my book! And for remote employees who just need to make a single purchase, Spendesk has single-use virtual debit cards, too.

Now, that’s a smart card!

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