This article was originally published on July 30, 2020.
Long before anyone discovers your “about” page, they’ve already seen your startup’s logo and name. If those two elements miss the mark, the person probably won’t get to the page at all. That’s the importance of approaching your brand build strategically and creating a cohesive identity that will stick with your audience long after they’ve closed their browser tab.
We talked to design agencies and startups across Minnesota to get insight into why a solid brand build strategy is important and how to do it right.
How to Choose a Brand Name
From the Expert
The name of your company is “the beginning of the story that people want to hear,” Devon Thomas Treadwell, co-founder and creative director of naming agency Pollywog, said.
The company, founded in 2007, specializes in creating and launching brand stories for businesses. This usually includes helping with naming, logos, and creative taglines.
“We help develop personality traits,” Thomas Treadwell said, mentioning that Pollywog uses creativity and science when looking at naming and positioning.
Having worked with the startup community, Thomas Treadwell mentioned founders usually have a clear idea of what they’re selling.
“They’ve identified a need in the market,” she said. “So they’re focused on who they’re selling to.”
Her biggest piece of advice is to keep in mind the necessity of a good name.
“Remember that the name is the most important part of the brand,” she said. “It is the foundation.”
From the Founders
Elyse Ash, founder and CEO of Fruitful Fertility, already knew the importance of a great name thanks to her 12 years of copywriting experience. When naming her company, which works to provide fertility mentorship service and community to those trying to conceive, she and her co-founder (who happens to be her husband) went through some doubts but ultimately decided to run with it.
“It’s a delicate balance — you want something you can run with forever, but also think of fast,” she said.
Ash also highlighted the importance of making your name, “sticky.” Over the course of a single day, we’re constantly bombarded with brands, many of which disappear from memory the second our captures our attention. One way to achieve that stickiness? Invoke emotion.
“There needs to be a story, a purpose, and intent behind it that makes people feel something,” Ash said.
For Michelle Maryns, founder and CEO of We Sparkle Co., coming up with a name for her public benefit corporation was simple — she drew from a saying she told herself when life got tricky.
“Throughout my whole journey, I had a mantra of, ‘Let my light shine, and help others shine so together we sparkle,’” she said.
But the name isn’t just a shimmery catchphrase. We Sparkle Co. focuses on serving underestimated entrepreneurs — most of the customers identify as women, people of color, or both — so the “We” in also stands for “women entrepreneurs.”
The values of being human centered, transformative, and celebratory come through in the branding — especially the name, Maryns said. She suggests really taking a look at the messages you want to communicate with your audience when creating a name.
“The branding really just flows from there,” she said.
Make sure you do your due diligence around the trademark, and ensure you own that name. You don’t want to get a cease and desist letter a few years down the road. — Devon Thomas Treadwell, Pollywog
Don’t let the domain name overwhelm your brand build focus — most people use search engines nowadays and don’t type in direct domain names. Get the right brand and story, then worry about buying the “perfect dot com.” — Devon Thomas Treadwell, Pollywog
How to Choose a Brand’s Visual Identity
From the Expert
Creating a complete visual identity for a business is really about finding what’s at the core of the company, Andrew Voss, design director at design-focused agency MONO, said.
“[You want] to think about the idea of the company, as opposed to just launching into design,” Voss said.
Because logo design tends to be a very subjective process, Voss’ exact process depends on the client. One thing that’s always important, however, is doing an audit of the competition
“Starting there can be helpful,” he said. “Just putting it up on a wall or into a document — what does the competition look like?”
When asked about specific “dos and don’ts” of logo design, Voss explained there’s no “bad” colors or typology — only bad ways of using them. He also recommended starting simple when creating company visuals to leave it open for growth and to build upon.
From the Founders
When Verata Health (a company that works to solve prior authorization barriers in healthcare) needed to create its visual identity, simplicity was the idea.
“The visual identity is so important,” Dr. YiDing Yu, Chief Medical Officer and practicing physician, said. “Especially when we think about the target audience. What resonates with them? What type of feeling do we want to convey when someone sees our brand?”
Dr. Yu, who has experience in brand build strategy from her previous endeavor, Twiage, mentioned wanting Verata Health’s visual identity to come across as “open and free.” A sense of relatability was a focus for the team, going all the way down to the font.
“We didn’t want to come across as scientific and alienating,” she said.
John Wessinger, marketing manager at Verata, added the company’s broad name and logo leaves room for growth.
“Having some flexibility is important,” Wessinger said. “Then you’re not limited and you can expand the business.”
Visual Identity Tips
Don’t be afraid to be unique! People don’t remember generic names and logos, so it’s important to show your own personality. — Dr. YiDing Yu, Verata Health
Invest in branding and design in the beginning — it can be obvious when someone has only spent $5 from a logo on the internet. — Elyse Ash, Fruitful Fertility
Try not to rebrand too much. If you’re constantly changing up the look, people won’t remember you and you might lose capital. — Dr. YiDing Yu, Verata Health
How to Develop a Brand’s Messaging
From the Expert
Completing your brand build strategy also encompasses the tone and voice of the messaging in all company communications. In fact, it works better when the name, visual identity, and messaging all work together, Eric Husband, VP integrated creative director at independent agency Fast Horse, said.
“When you are naming your company and creating your identification, you are essentially starting on your messaging and content strategy,” Husband said, mentioning that everything works harder when it works together.
Developing a marketing strategy while planning your brand build is important to figure out the tone of your brand identity. When you create a messaging strategy, you’re really making a creative platform, Husband added. It’s much easier to maintain consistency in all content, from social copy to videos, if this platform is modular and adaptable.
It’s arguably most important to stay consistent when a company is just starting out, he said.
“It can be hard to maintain [that] consistency, but that’s when you need it most,” Husband said.
From the Founders
Being approachable is part of the consistent messaging at Learn to Live, a company founded seven years ago that provides digital services to help people with anxiety, depression, insomnia and substance abuse issues.
Dr. Russell Morfitt, PhD and chief psychology officer, explained that the business wanted to create a name and tone that not only communicated a warm, trusting, empathetic feel, but also approached things in a personal way.
“We want to communicate that we are confident, that we can meet people where they’re at,” Dr. Morfitt said of all of the evidence-based services they provide, mostly centered around cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
The company has two audiences: the ultimate consumer who will be using the services to improve their mental health, and the decision maker who will be deciding whether or not to offer the services to employees. Ultimately, Learn to Live had to make sure each had different messaging and branding.
“[Due to this,] it was very important for us to get multiple perspectives,” Dr. Morfitt said. “We went through a very systematic process.”
When considering the messaging of a brand and the audience who’s receiving it, it’s also crucial to think inclusively. Learn to Live’s initial name and branding (created by four men) was changed to address a wider realm of people after feedback.
“We really wanted to make sure we were seeking diversity in terms of who is participating,” he said. “We wanted the content to be welcoming to everyone.”
So far, they’ve been successful — two-thirds to three-fourths of the users are women, and Dr. Morfitt said the company has a lot of diversity in their members ethnically as well.
As we continue in the digital age of ever-decreasing attention spans, try to create shorter, attention-grabbing pieces of content that will engage the audience to go read that blog post, check out your site, or click on a link to buy your product. — Eric Husband, Fast Horse
Read the room. It’s not just about understanding your audience, but what you’re selling and how it might make people feel. — Dr. Morfitt, Learn to Live