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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

Amazon attracts advertisers from Facebook after Apple privacy alterations

(MARKETING) After Apple’s privacy features unveil, Amazon adapts by taking a unique approach to targeting, disrupting revenue for the ad giant Facebook.

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Two African American women work at their desks, one viewing Amazon's advertising landing page.

As a de facto search engine of its own persuasion, Amazon has been poaching ad revenue from Google for some time. However, disrupting the revenue stream from their most recent victim – Facebook – is going to turn some heads.

According to Bloomberg, Apple’s recent privacy additions to products such as iPhones are largely responsible for the shift in ad spending. While platforms like Facebook and Instagram were originally goldmines for advertisers, these privacy features prevent tracking for targeting – a crucial aspect in any marketing campaign.

Internet privacy has been featured heavily in tech conversations for the last several years, and with Chrome phasing out third-party cookies, along with Safari and Firefox introducing roughly analogous policies, social media advertising is bound to become less useful as tracking strategies struggle to keep up with the aforementioned changes.

However, Amazon’s wide user base and separate categorization from social media companies makes it a clear alternative to the Facebook family, which is perhaps why Facebook advertisers are starting to jump ship in an effort to preserve their profits.

This is the premise behind the decision to reduce the Facebook ad spending of Vanity Planet by 22%, a home spa vendor, while facilitating a transition to Amazon. “We have inventory…and the biggest place we are growing is Amazon,” says Alex Dastmalchi, the entrepreneur who runs Vanity Planet.

That gap will only widen with Apple’s new privacy features. Bloomberg reports that when asked in June if they would consent to having their internet activity tracked, only one in four iPhone users did so; this makes it substantially harder for the ad campaigns unique to Facebook to target prospective buyers.

It also means that Amazon, having demonstrated a profound effectiveness in targeting individuals both pre- and post-purchase, stands to gain more than its fair share of sellers flocking to promote their products.

Jens Nicolaysen, co-founder of Shinesty (an eccentric underwear company), affirms the value that Amazon holds for sellers while acknowledging that it isn’t a perfect substitute for social media. While Nicolaysen laments the loss of the somewhat random introduction charm inherent on Instagram, he also believes in the power of brand loyalty, especially on a platform as high-profile as Amazon. “The bigger you are, the more you lose by not having any presence on Amazon,” he explains.

As privacy restrictions continue to ramp up in the coming months, it will be interesting to see how social media advertising evolves to keep up with this trend; it seems naive to assume that Amazon will replace Facebook’s ads entirely, tracking or no tracking.

Apple's privacy landing page showing iPhone users ability to shut off location services and a desktop image of a user's ability to control how their data is managed.

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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!

This story was first published in January 2020.

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Business Marketing

Jack of all trades vs. specialized expert – which are you?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) It may feel tough to decide if you want to be a jack of all trades or have an area of expertise at work. There are reasons to decide either route.

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jack of all trades learning

When mulling over your career trajectory, you might ask yourself if you should be a jack of all trades or a specific expert. Well, it’s important to think about where you started. When you were eight years old, what did you want to be when you grew up? Teacher? Doctor? Lawyer? Video Game Developer? Those are common answers when you are eight years old as they are based on professionals that you probably interact with regularly (ok, maybe not lawyers but you may have watched LA Law, Law & Order or Suits and maybe played some video games – nod to Atari, Nintendo and Sega).

We eventually chose what areas of work to gain skills in and/or what major to pursue in college. To shed some light on what has changed in the last couple of decades:

Business, Engineering, Healthcare and Technology job titles have grown immensely in the last 20 years. For example, here are 9 job titles that didn’t exist 20 years ago in Business:

  1. Online Community Manager
  2. Virtual Assistant
  3. Digital Marketing Expert
  4. SEO Specialist
  5. App Developer
  6. Web Analyst
  7. Blogger
  8. Social Media Manager
  9. UX Designer

We know that job opportunities have grown to include new technologies, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, consumer-generated content, instant gratification, gig economy and freelance, as well as many super-secret products and services that may be focused on the B2B market, government and/or military that we average consumers may not know about.

According to the 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics after doing a survey of baby boomers, the average number of jobs in a lifetime is 12. That number is likely on the rise with generations after the Baby Boomers. Many people are moving away from hometowns and cousins they have grown up with.

The Balance Careers suggests that our careers and number of jobs we hold also vary throughout our lifetimes and our race is even a factor. “A worker’s age impacted the number of jobs that they held in any period. Workers held an average of 5.7 jobs during the six-year period when they were 18 to 24 years old. However, the number of jobs held declined with age. Workers had an average of 4.5 jobs when they were 25 to 34 years old, and 2.9 jobs when they were 35 to 44 years old. During the most established phase of many workers’ careers, ages 45 to 52, they held only an average of 1.9 jobs.”

In order to decide what you want to be, may we suggest asking yourself these questions:

  • Should you work to be an expert or a jack of all trades?
  • Where are you are at in your career and how have your skills progressed?
  • Are you happy focusing in on one area or do you find yourself bored easily?
  • What are your largest priorities today (Work? Family? Health? Caring for an aging parent or young children?)

If you take the Gallup CliftonStrengths test and are able to read the details about your top five strengths, Gallup suggests that it’s better to double down and grown your strengths versus trying to overcompensate on your weaknesses.

The thing is, usually if you work at a startup, small business or new division, you are often wearing many hats and it can force you to be a jack of all trades. If you are at a larger organization which equals more resources, there may be clearer lines of your job roles and responsibilities versus “the other departments”. This is where it seems there are skills that none of us can avoid. According to LinkedIn Learning, the top five soft skills in demand from 2020 are:

  1. Creativity
  2. Persuasion
  3. Collaboration
  4. Adaptability
  5. Emotional Intelligence

The top 10 hard skills are:

  1. Blockchain
  2. Cloud Computing
  3. Analytical Reasoning
  4. Artificial Intelligence
  5. UX Design
  6. Business Analysis
  7. Affiliate Marketing
  8. Sales
  9. Scientific Computing
  10. Video Production

There will be some folks that dive deep into certain areas that are super fascinating to them and they want to know everything about – as well as the excitement of becoming an “expert”. There are some folks that like to constantly evolve and try new things but not dig too deep and have a brief awareness of more areas. It looks safe to say that we all need to be flexible and adaptable.

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