Branding · Digital marketing

As an early/soon to launch start-up would you invest in working with a branding and marketing firm?

Keira Barr CEO and Founder at Ketzel Design

November 2nd, 2015

As a boot-strapped start-up I know that I want to make the best first impression I can while balancing out the potential high cost of what many of the branding/strategy firms charge. Aside from having a logo, I still need to source website design, packaging and bringing our story to life. From your experiences, what is the optimal time in the early start-up life cycle to pull the trigger for investing in a comprehensive branding strategy?

David Gengler Online Marketing Manager at Fundly

November 5th, 2015

I think I'm with the general consensus here. Don't spend a ton of time on the look and feel and definitely don't spend a ton of money on PR and agencies on a bootstrapped early-stage product. Build the thing and get it out there so you can get some feedback first and to make sure the product-market fit is there before you start dumping tons into design.

Guita Gopalan Head of Customer Success at Stacck

November 3rd, 2015

How early stage is your startup? Do you have early adopters using your MVP? Do you have their feedback? Do you know what text and visuals resonate with them? In early stage, you discover your startup story through constant interaction with customers. This becomes the basis of branding and marketing messages.

As a startup, who you are and what you have to offer is either unclear or misguided. How you see yourself/your startup changes rapidly in the early days. You'll be pivoting often, locking down on a brand can limit you from possibilities.

Go with the bare minimum in terms of branding and image until you've validated your startup and even your visuals and branding - see if your target customers get it.Test it out before you commit. 

Invest in branding etc. when you are strategizing for growth, that's when image really starts to matter. But even then, brand changes can be managed big and small companies have done it in the past and survived. 

The more important thing at early stage is whether you even have a feasible, sustainable and potentially profitable business model. 

Chris Gorges Managing Director, Infinia Group // Founder, Biddlist

November 3rd, 2015

Being in this exact business, this is a really interesting conversation -- a few high-level points:
  • You mentioned logo, website design, packaging, and story. These are all aspects of branding, and depending on your company's growth strategy, they can be prioritized, which will allow you to dedicate time and capital to as appropriate. 
  • "Brand" is foundational -- it's good that you recognize that your story is part of this. Folks above who say to do it in-house or "just use Fiverr" don't fully appreciate the breadth and depth of what a brand truly is. If you don't have the capabilities on your existing team, you're going to waste valuable time riffing on logos and colors when you should be focusing on user acquisition or some other aspect of your business that's within your immediate skill set / wheelhouse.
  • It comes down to your company's growth strategy and expected value / ROI of branding...our perspective is "get it right now and save millions in the future." If your company becomes a huge success and you need to do a full rebrand, it's not going to be cheap.
  • "A comprehensive branding strategy" (full guidelines, identity, etc.) probably isn't something you need at your current stage -- but it never hurts to start thinking about it and populate those buckets as you can.
  • Find what works for you. There's a wide spectrum of help you can seek -- from the Fiverrs and 99Designs of the world, to readily-available brand design freelancers, to consultancies like Rocketure, to well established consultancies that might take you on as a passion project if you make the right connection. You should also be willing to explore alternative payment terms / schedules given your early stage -- which in some cases (equity, options, partnership deals) can lead to the branding team you work with having more "skin in the game" and therefore serving as a more effective partner (vs. someone on Fiverr, who is only trying to make quick cash).

Chris Gorges Managing Director, Infinia Group // Founder, Biddlist

November 6th, 2015

Benjamin, you make some good points, but wow -- irony alert.

Step 1: Accuse consultants who have contributed of "lacking real experience," "not understanding scale," and not having "any idea what you need as a 3-person company."
Step 2: Offer your own advice.
Step 3: Plug your friend's consulting business.

I'm just going to leave it at that.

Gregory Stromberg Founder/CEO cannedwater4kids inc.

November 2nd, 2015

You need to define immediately what you stand for, your purpose and how you will define success. Let your most important customers create the brand & the experience. Listen to their voice and how they perceive you and the values you are delivering. You can then create your story from outside in. Hope this helps. Sent from my iPhone Greg Stromberg Cell 414-791-2450

Ema Chuku Designer. Product Developer. Founder @ NuPad

November 2nd, 2015

Keyword "Bootstrap". I would recommend doing everything in-house for sometime. Outsourcing brand-development should come into equation later on or somewhere down the road, say after first couple years. You will save great amount of money that way. Because, by then you have a better understanding of your story and a polished one to tell.

Unless you have the cash to burn now, go for it.

Yaniv Levi

November 2nd, 2015

Hi Keira, congrats on your new journey:)

I would not advise you to spend to much of your efforts (and $$) on branding/logo/design stuff. I know it makes a great 1st impression but as you go along meeting investors, you would have to change everything - your messages, your positioning and might even need to pivot the product - this makes all branding $$ go to waste and it is a shame. Keep your $$ to provide for yourself during that time and impress investors with who you are and what your skills are - they don't expect anything more then that :)

Gloria Luna VP Marketing - Brand builder and creative problem solver

November 3rd, 2015

I agree with those here who say it is important to know who you are and have a message and image that makes a good first impression to your customers.  This would be particularly true if you are operating in a highly competitive space with other brands who have access to more resources.  

There is such a wide breadth of options and it is no longer necessary to spend a ton of $$ to create some good, professional branding assets.  If you align yourself with someone who has access to these resources and you define a budget, it can be done well and within reasonable parameters.  I would also suggest this effort include a strategy to market your product/yourself to make sure you get your great message out there to the right people.  I advocate that this all be done right at the start so you get off on the right foot.  You can make adjustments along the way as you further learn the landscape and get input from your customers.

Good luck Keira!

Steven Mason Brand Strategist & Ideator; Patent Strategist; Patent Broker; Negotiation Expert

November 3rd, 2015

Keira:

You have a children's clothing line. But what distinguishes it from the litany of other ones? Age/sex-boy-girl-androgynous/fashion sense/socioeconomic level/type of parents/etc.?  Can you or have you defined these in a compelling, distinctive way -- without using trite formulations or platitudes of any kind?

There was a reason, for example, that Daymond John hit it out of the park with FUBU; or why Joe Boxer sold hundreds of millions of dollars in boxers; or why Tommy Bahama (what would Tommy Bahama do?) was ridiculously successful. You have to do the same. Look at the kids' brands that Nordstrom lists: http://shop.nordstrom.com/c/kids-brands.  Quite a lot. So why are you really, really, really different?

And once you know that and your distinction is so memorable, so compelling that it would be impossible to forget -- have you forged that into a name, a look, a lifestyle?  Because a logo can't really come first either.  A logo has to evoke the attributes of the brand.  It's the visual representation of all you stand for.  Being in such a competitive market, you have no choice but to do something amazing and, in its own way, outrageous.  

Controversial can be good, too -- what I like to call "rationally" controversial.  It's easy to argue Benetton went over the line with some of their advertisements years ago, and so it's questionable whether that approach was rational, especially since it essentially destroyed the brand! Abercrombie & Fitch failed to keep up with the times, even though they once were, for their target market, the epitome of cool. You needn't insult anyone to get noticed, but you need to do something so it's impossible for your target market not to notice you.

None of this is easy.  But it's the core of your brand and your brand story. Outsourcing branding until you've got this nailed is not a good idea.  Working with someone who can help you establish the essence of your brand -- or validate what you already have -- could, on the other hand, have merit. Funding branding for what is not distinctive -- and you can find plenty of firms that will "execute" on anything, great, good or bad -- is, on the other hand, precisely what you want to stay away from.  

Good luck to you. Of course it's not easy, but nothing truly rewarding ever is!

Tim Kilroy Analytics - LTV - Boosting Profits - Digital Marketing

November 4th, 2015

Keira- 
  1. Best of luck. All of this is hard stuff.
  2. As a startup, all of your effort should be focused on selling product (your logo never makes anyone buy - your product does!)
  3. If you are doing direct to retailer selling, then none of your branding matters in the short run, it is your product.
  4. If you are doing B2C selling, get a cheap logo from Fiverr - you can get them for as little as $5. Until you have customers, your brand doesn't matter - in fact, you don't have a brand. You have products to sell.
  5. Work on the brand "story" as you grow your revenue, because no matter how well you have planned things out, your "story" will change in the next 12 months (personal example - we spent a year building a product for small e-commerce companies - as it turns out the buyers are big e-commerce companies - totally different story and approach)
  6. The only thing that matters to you is getting order #1 - then order #2 - then order #3. Brand, story, logo and websites are all contributors to order #1, but the deciding factor will always be product. Don't let these fungible assets (logo, site, brand) be gating factors - work on product - and if anybody tells you need to work on your "story" as a reason not to buy your great product, that will be the 1st time ever.
  7. Focus all of your time and energy on finding the buyer 1st, and they will tell you the story of why they purchase - that becomes your brand.
  8. If you are stuck for getting a place to have discussions or show your clothes, if B2C, get logo from Fiverr and head to shopify and get a great theme for your website. You need few design or technical skills to make something passable. If you need a wholesale focused site that just needs to do lead capture, go to a place like WPEngine.com and get wordpress hosting, then go to Themeforest.com or Envato.com and search for a theme that speaks to you - follow the instructions on install and start loading in the great images of your products. You can bootstrap this stuff and use all your available cash to get to tradeshows and to stalk your wholesale buyers, or use it for paid search to drive your 1st retail orders. 
Your brand and image will change. Focus on products and growing sales - that is what drives your business - brand and story are byproducts of what you do better than anyone - they aren't the reason why your products are worth buying - your products should do that by themselves (by the way, I used to be the CMO of a $200mm fashion retailer - and wholesale buyers buy products 1st, and interesting brands 2nd, because they know that consumers buy products they love - which creates their personal story of what a brand means.
Best of luck!