Authentic Branding for Startups

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” – Seth Godin

Are you being YOU?

We hear the term “authenticity” thrown around a lot in today’s marketing world. However, there is still a tendency for business owners to separate themselves too much from their brand identity. Sure, you may know your own interests, goals, and personality traits, but when it comes to your brand, the style and vibe may not feel so natural. We often obsess over minuscule details and wonder whether we’re trying too hard, not enough, or whether we’re nailing the true message behind our brand. For some startups, the brand can remain hazy and unclear despite efforts to pinpoint a strong identity.

Truthfully, it is easy to get lost and stray from the underlying message of your brand without even realizing. For example, your design or the tone of voice you use may vary from what you intended. You may even be unclear about what you intended!

Authentic branding for startups must begin with the founder. So if you are a founder in need of clarity, answer the following questions to reveal if you are on the path to authentic branding.

Am I delivering what I have taught customers to expect?

Going back to the Seth Godin quote above, expectations are a big part of branding. Things can get dicey if you’ve trained your customers to expect one thing, yet you dish out another thing. Carefully run through the products and services you offer – the condition they are in, what they include, what they do not include, their qualities, etc. If you uphold a particular quality, such as being fast, and there are some aspects of your process that lag or take longer than necessary, these need to be worked out first. It’s important to nip these little issues in the bud before your brand loses trust. If you find that you cannot fix these issues, the next thing to determine is where you do excel – and how to exemplify that.

Are my strengths reflected in my products and services?

How easy is it for your customers to list your strengths? You might even want to ask some friends about this as a test. Have them look at your website or anything else that represents your business. Then ask them, “What are the unique strengths here?” If the answer is vague, it’s time to display your strengths more obviously. This will give your brand uniqueness in its market and amplify your value proposition. If done well, there will be no question as to who you are and what you do best. In addition to building your brand into your offerings, you’ll also want to build it into your culture.

How can I better lead with authenticity in day-to-day tasks?

Authentic branding is not just a polished sign you hang in your store window. It’s a way of life. The more you can embody your brand, the easier it will be for customers to retain your identity. If this sounds strange or foreign, it’s time for a review. Look back on your original goals and the qualities you want your brand to exude. Now, consider how those qualities can be brought into daily operations – not just digitally! For example, a brand whose identity revolves around fun should certainly not have a team of miserable, uninspired workers. Regardless of how polished and perfect your digital content is, you need to literally build brand identity into your culture. Otherwise, it’s not truly authentic, and it won’t truly catch on with your customers.

In what areas does my brand feel inauthentic – forced, unfocused, weak, or limited?

Sometimes it’s just a matter of spreading your identity throughout everything you do. You may be doing a great job in your newsletter, for example, but your Facebook page may be stagnant. If you find an area in which your brand identity is thriving and gaining attention, mimic that avenue in your other avenues. Take success in one area as evidence that your branding is on point. Customers want to hear from you in that particular way, so find ways to take that success and replicate it.

Authentic branding for startups doesn’t have to be rocket science. It just needs to be an honest process. It’s an ever-evolving practice where the founder stays clear in their intention and takes direct action to stay true to their brand.

Want more on branding? Check out Finding Your Brand Voice.