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When Should Startups Consider Branding?


Many startups jump the gun on branding.

And while it's an important role in the process, it's not always smart to prioritize brand and marketing initiatives too soon.

Where do we begin?

In a recent talk for Founder Institute Texas, founder Tim DeSilva touched on how to order marketing budgets, and where branding fits in for startups. What's our name? What should our logo look like? Do the digital properties exist? How will we advertise? All are valid points but order is important, and knowing when to act is critical before wasting time on non-essentials.

Prioritizing Startup Brand & Marketing Goals...

1. Validation should always be top priority.

There is no greater importance than validating the proof of concept. Before branding & marketing begin, get an Minimum Viable Product created as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible. And if you have the ability, utilize marketing methods such as email campaigns, user surveys, or even digital campaigns to test your market interest and your MVP. If you can't prove interest and monetization, there's no logo that can do it for you.

2. Brand Positioning is a crucial first step.

Positioning all stems from understanding your audience inside and out. Explore any existing data you have available. What web analytics do you have available to study? What surveys can you create to pull data from your audience when none currently exists? Getting to know your users / customers / clients is key to building content strategy and knowing how to speak to them. What are their needs? What are their fears? What delights them? What other factors might influence their decisions?

Exercise: Empathy Maps are great for exploring user personas that lead to more accurate development of values (and voice and tone – see below) that work (read: sell) well. Use this as an opportunity for inclusion – gather ideas from your team and create consistency on the Why, How, and What exactly it is that you do.

3. Know the landscape.

The next step to improving Brand Positioning is knowing exactly where you fit in the current market. Through industry analysis, it's important to explore potential competitors, comparable products, and a growing list of ancillary products or customers that exist just outside your market, or in a market influenced by your value proposition.

Discover what others are doing, determine what appears to work well (or what doesn't) and further your uniqueness to increase value.

4. Know where you stand.

Lean hard into your Unique Value Proposition. If your value isn't striking, why will customers choose you over anyone else? And if your value is obviously unique, what surrounding markets might have customers that double as your own? If your value isn't extremely unique, your approach can be. Find a way to enter and speak to the market like no-one else in the industry. Make your culture stand out even if your uniqueness does not.

5. Create a consistent voice.

When your idea is cohesive, and you fully understand your customers, their needs, and the existing landscape, make your voice consistent. Whether you realize it or not, your company will develop a voice and tone based on how the most influential business development team members pitch it. That voice will further extend to your marketing channels (website, social media, etc. ) where your brand will begin to speak for itself, on your behalf when you're not there. Does everyone describe it well and in the same vein? Make your messaging work, and make it consistent.

6. The time to think about design.

Did you make it this far without a logo? Congratulations. Now might be the time to spend energy and maybe a few dollars developing a bit of visual identity around your product. But don't waste too much time here. Use inexpensive service providers such as 99designs or Fiverr to get the basics done. Your logo, color palette and type families will create the foundation of a good pitch deck. When inevitable success becomes apparent and growth is on the rise – once you're ready for that series round, consider working with an agency like Culture Pilot to take your brand and marketing initiatives to the next level.

7. Build the deck of your life.

Because the success of your business just might depend on it. By this time, you should be able to nail your voice, your values, your key talking points, the solidity of your team, and hopefully your projections. It's time to bring it all together into the all-powerful pitch deck.And if you can't express it well and with trusting professionalism, keep practicing until you do. There are many great resources for building a solid deck and your circle of colleagues, friends and family may offer the perfect support system for practicing and providing feedback along the way.

Book Recommendations: Get Backed and slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations

Exercise: Convert your pitch deck into a blog post. Another great opportunity for inclusion, and to improve writing and communication / sales skills is to take the story of your value as provided in your deck, and convert it into a blog post. Your sales approach will be ingrained and consistency will further develop.

8. Iterate

Create, test, fail, and keep improving. Never stop, even when you think it's perfect. Our end goal for everyone is to eventually create enough obvious value so that your brand can sell itself.

And that's all there is to it. Easy peasy.

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