In my previous post, I explored the distinction between your brand identity (what people can see / touch) and the more ephemeral concept of your brand positioning which covers things like personality, experience, and promise.
With your brand positioning defined, you’re ready to work on your brand identity. Working with a designer, your brand identity will include your logo and visual aesthetics along with all the other visual touch points your target audience might have with your company.
The visual identity will communicate your core brand positioning and be immediately identifiable as your company. Importantly, it should provide a consistent and coherent experience that reinforces your brand identity wherever you interact with your customers.
Many founders invest in an impressive landing page or product dashboard but fail to follow through on all the other ways you have contact with a customer. A common mistake is to ignore onboarding emails, transactional emails (such as alerts or invoices), and documentation even though they are some of the initial or most frequent ways customers interact with your product.
Delivering a consistent visual identity builds familiarity and prevents a disjointed relationship with your tool, making it easier for people to recall and recognize your brand. From a practical perspective, it also offers a higher level of polish that builds trust in your product.
Brand Style Guide
One of the easiest ways to ensure consistency is to create a brand style guide that sets out the look and feel of your brand complete with how your logo should be presented, the typography and color palette you should use, and any rules regarding other visual elements such as the use of photography or illustrations.
This can be a lot of work, especially for a new startup or project. Starting out, I recommend creating a simple document that outlines your brand assets, and the rules for how these assets, colors and fonts are expected to be used. At Console, we currently use a living Figma page that we update as new assets are introduced.
Even with a small team and budget, you’ll be surprised how far your brand will travel and opportunities for inconsistencies will emerge. From social media posts and conference swag to new iterations of your tool, without clear guidelines, you risk undermining your visual identity with rogue fonts and slightly off colors that undo the brand you're building.
Tone and Voice
As a natural extension of your visual identity, all the copy you write should also cohere and be true to your brand. Copy is often overlooked, and while you’re unlikely to have an in-house copywriter at hand to draft and proof all copy, it pays to give some thought to how and what you write best expresses your brand positioning.
As with design, your writing style should be consistent across all communication channels and match the voice of your product. The tone of your writing will vary depending upon the scenario. A landing page is likely to have a more evangelical tone than an email to a disappointed customer, but your brand’s voice should remain consistent.
Mailchimp’s Content Style Guide is an excellent primer for anyone starting to think about how they should approach copy. While their voice and tone are likely to be different from yours, their guidelines serve as a valuable template for any start-up to consider.
Tell your story
When planning your brand positioning you will most likely also set out your company’s mission. With a clear mission statement, your story should reinforce and bring context and clarity to your mission. A story that is misaligned with your company’s mission will feel disingenuous and confusing.
Good storytelling delivers a richness and emotional connection with your brand. It builds trust in your company, makes your products more memorable, and increases the likelihood of word-of-mouth recommendations thanks to the empathy for your mission that it can engender.
To begin you will need to define the narrative you want to tell, outlining clear messaging that will resonate with your target audience and be true to your product and brand.
Your story should be meaningful (what do you stand for? / believe in?), simple (can you communicate it clearly?), honest (is it true to your product?), and emotional (how does your product or brand make people feel?).
Your story can be communicated in many ways, and the best brands take their customers on a journey that is delivered across a range of media.
When thinking about your brand story, consider answering these questions:
- Why did you start this company?
- What problem does your product solve?
- What unifies your audience / what do they care about?
- What can you do to support your mission beyond what your product does?
- How can I personalize my story?
- How do I want people to feel when I tell my story
Strategies to communicate your brand
Building a brand is largely a layering experience achieved through ongoing connections with your target audience. As a start-up, with limited budget and resources, your brand story can become one of your most powerful marketing tools. Here are some of the ways to tell your story:
Founder interviews are a simple and effective way to build resonance with your product through sharing the journey you've taken to launch the product. The best stories bring meaning to the value of your tool and a deeper understanding of why I can trust this product because of the founder's journey.
DuckDuckGo’s brand story is told through a range of formats that collectively reinforce each other. From the founder’s origin story, to marketing stunts and messaging that always positions them as the little guy taking on the tech giants:
‘DuckDuckGo began as an idea for a better search engine experience. We hatched out of a few servers in a dusty basement.'
DuckDuckGo have aligned themselves with their customers, in their mission for greater digital privacy. In 2011 they invested $7,000 in a billboard ad for four weeks in San Francisco's tech-heavy SOMA district. The ad caught the media's attention immediately and put DuckDuckGo on the map with people who care about digital privacy.
Branded content through blog posts, videos and podcasts are an effective way to demonstrate your expertise in a topic while offering value to your target audience. For start-ups, investing in branded content can be expensive and time-intensive, so careful consideration needs to be given to the role this can play in wider marketing efforts during your early months. Successfully done, branded content can deepen engagement with your customers and reinforce your brand positioning as an engaged leader within your field.
Supporting the Community
Talk the talk and walk the walk! Giving back to the developer community is a great way to demonstrate your affinity with a particular cause or project. Supporting the developer community can involve financial support, but it can also be achieved through partnering with projects that need help from your expertise. Fixing docs, helping spread the word and submitting pull requests for fixes and improvements are all good options for open source software.
Similar to branded content, events (virtual and IRL) are an effective way to deepen your relationship with your customers and reinforce your company's mission.
Gitpod's DevX Conf provided a platform for them to connect with customers, making their team available to answer any questions they have about their product as well as showcasing their latest releases.
Customer service interactions provide a rare opportunity to surprise and delight customers. Strong brands typically extend their brand ethos to customer support treating it as a chance to build a greater connection with their customer, rather than a problem to navigate.
As customer service-type queries are increasingly managed publicly on social media (and GitHub for developer products), ensuring that your communication is on-brand is essential.
Investment in thought leadership research demonstrates authority and understanding within your category, also creating useful marketing collateral. Thought leadership branding can be achieved through independent research, white papers, and surveys that reveal insights that align with your company's mission.
There are countless little things you can do that can be both memorable and support your brand communication. At Console, our mission is to be a developer-first company. With this in mind, it was imperative for us to demonstrate our credentials through even the smallest interactions, which is why we offer dark and light mode on the website.
Building a brand takes time and is the product of many customer interactions. From the visual identity on your website to the comms in your marketing campaigns, crafting a brand in the imagination of your customer is the product of a consistent and coherent approach to speaking to your audience. Successfully realized it will forge stronger relations with your customers that improve long term retention and that will support all your marketing efforts.