Does an early-stage startup need a brand strategy?

Brand strategy is closely related to business strategy and affects product and user interaction. My name is Daria Volkova. I’m a brand strategist and product marketer, describing how startups at an early stage can work with a brand strategy.

I have experience working in startups, as well as as an external consultant and mentor, so I recommend that every startup, before building a brand, discover people’s need for its product.

In simple words, start selling, evaluate scaling opportunities, and only then engage in branding and invest in marketing. Otherwise, you will get a lovely picture that will not have a proven business model.

This is what the MVP stage exists for. Many startups treat it as a prototyping stage. But MVP should also be done to understand whether you are selling while spending a small budget. If the product is ready to be bought by your friends and relatives and a large number of people, then it is logical to start building a brand that will add value and recognition to your product.

The goal of branding is to see the strengths of a product or company and convey them to a potential audience as clearly as possible. The development of a brand strategy consists of the following stages:

  • Audience analysis and Customer Journey Map compilation;
  • Positioning and value proposition;
  • Brand mission and values;
  • Naming and slogan;
  • Competitive strategy;
  • Logo, colors, fonts, social media design, photo design, icons, corporate style management guidebook;
  • The corporate tone of voice and social media management strategy;
  • Brand book with strategy, design, basics of sales and service support.

I recommend doing all this to startups that have already passed the MVP stage, want to declare themselves and competently present their project to investors.

If you are starting and do not have a marketing budget (or it is minimal), then your main task is to get the maximum profit (not profit, but a benefit for the project) with minimum costs. This principle is suitable for companies with any budget, but it is a matter of survival for early-stage startups.

So, if you or your colleagues know about marketing and design, it is easiest to do your first branding yourself.

You can interview first-time buyers and prospects who haven’t used your service or product (but have a pain point you’re trying to solve). You can learn more about user interviews by reading “Ask Mom” by Rob Fitzpatrick or by learning the basics of social research.

It is also worth conducting a competitive analysis — see how your competitors look and position themselves, and formulate your positioning, which will most accurately and accurately present the value of your product.

After understanding the audience’s pain points and formulating your positioning, you should think about the image and name that will best convey the essence of your activity. You should not go to extremes and take the first best idea from Google. At the same time, there is no need to turn on the perfectionist and come up with a name for two months. Remember that the main task of a startup is to scale a tested hypothesis quickly.

To create a corporate style, decide which elements are most important. The branding of cups for the future office is better done after your business model works and you open an office in principle. A logo and corporate colors will suffice in the first stages, setting the tone and emphasizing your idea.

By the way, you can also make the logo yourself — in Canva or Illustrator. If you do not know how to work with graphic editors and there are no acquaintances who could help, then the name typed in a readable font with open rights of use is your option for the first time.

I would also not advise you to immediately run to register a trademark and spend money on it. Do this when your product becomes at least a little bit competitive. I’ve heard that some startups are registering trademarks in the US and Europe to convince investors of their global ambitions. Time will tell if this works as a compelling argument (spoiler, it doesn’t), but a proven business model and a working prototype look more convincing.

To make a promo for your project, you can agree with opinion leaders and bloggers about advertising on social networks. It will work if they like your idea and decide to talk about you for free. Many bloggers have paid posts starting at $300-$500, so it’s better to try to win their attention with an excellent idea and a personal approach than to spend your marketing budget on 2–4 posts with no predictable ROI.

If you have a spare $100, $500 or $5000, spend it on hypothesis testing. Start targeting social networks (if you have a B2C product), invite early users or mentors to coffee, buy research data from your industry with this money, and apply them to the creation of the product.

If you’ve already found Product-Market Fit — the idea has potential and a growth market — it’s time to move on to the scaling phase. Achieving Product-Market Fit means finding a market segment where customers choose your product to solve their problems and return, turning into a regular audience.

This is where it’s time to start working with a brand strategist in the direction of Customer and Brand Experience to analyze customer data, adapt the product to changing market conditions and make it more attractive to users, investors and the media.



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Daria Volkova

Brand Strategist, Product Marketer, Startup Mentor. All about branding, marketing, leadership and business culture — without clichés and pathos.