7 Easy (ish) Steps To Creating An Iconic Startup Brand

In an early stage startup, creating a brand may be the furthest thing from your mind, especially if you're creating a tech company, B2B services, or any other type of company that won't be focused on directly reaching the consumer market. 

But the very best companies (which, as a reminder, were all startups once!) have built strong, identifiable brands that instantly convey what they're about to anyone who encounters the brand.

In fact, we recommend to our clients that they consider solidifying and starting to build their brand and voice even before launching their main product. 

If you're thinking about creating a strong brand for your startup, you've come to the right place. Read on for our 7 easy (ish!) steps to do it yourself...


(or, contact us to explore a Branding Jumpstart)


Building Your Startup's Brand From The Ground Up

1. Focus on a single brand.

Startups have limited resources, too many conflicting brands or names or product concepts will confuse customers and stretch your resources too far.

The perfect example of sticking with one brand is

Salesforce started out way back in 1999 as the world's first SaaS CRM solution. They quickly made a name for themselves as the most modern software for salespeople. If you can believe it, before Salesforce came along, salespeople often had to jot notes down on paper (!) and then retype everything once they got back to the office, sat down at a desk, connected to the company intranet, and logged into a big UNIX based mainframe system. Salesforce cut all those ties, and allowed field salespeople the flexibility of recording sales call information from right within a browser window (and later, from mobile apps). 

Nowadays, the Salesforce offering is much more than just a simple Sales CRM solution; they have acquired or built many products for many purposes, including marketing, marketing automation, customer service, quotations, analytics, community and much more. But the core brand is and remains Salesforce. 

2. Check for conflicts.

Before you fall completely in love with a brand name, make sure that no one else holds the copyright or trademark of that name. The easiest way to do this is to make sure you can secure the URL. If the base URL is unavailable, it's a good indication that someone else has beaten you to the punch and is using that brand name. You can double check with the Trademark office to be sure (more on that in a moment), but the easiest thing to do is simply choose something else. At CYNSCH, we strongly recommend proceeding with a brand name only if you can secure the .com domain. Starting a company with a .co or other unusual domain type without owning the dot com puts you at an immediate disadvantage.  

Several years ago, we worked briefly with a company that was starting out as a SaaS platform, with no mobile app. They loved the name "Tout" but another company, a video marketing platform, already had secured that name. They went ahead with, and both companies have survived, although there is a lot of potential for consumer confusion between them. Especially because both companies use almost the identical color of blue for their branding!

We don't recommend this. 


3. Protect your brand.

Once you have selected your brand name, go ahead and register it with the US Patent & Trademark Office as your Trademark. You will want to do this for a number of reasons, both preventive and proactive. Go ahead and do it at the beginning, so that you're not scrambling or stressed later on. It's cheap, easy and fast. The fees range from $225-$325 to register your Trademark. 

#protip: investors will often ask during due diligence if you hold the trademark to your brand name. 

4. Know what you stand for.

Now that you have a name, it's time to think about the meaning of your brand, and what it stands for. It's important to understand that a brand is more than just a logo and a color scheme. 

What is the personality of the brand? Fun vs Serious? Dependable vs Exciting? Cutting Edge vs Experienced? Colorful vs Subtle?

Smart branding distills a company's entire message into familiar terms. In fact, many branding experts say that one key to the best brands is that they feel instantly familiar, even when encountered for the first time. 

We recommend creating a list of 10 to 20 sets of adjectives that describe the brand and the company you want to be. There are a number of formats you can use; here at CYNSCH, we prefer either a simple list of attributes that we do identify as on brand, or a "this not that" list such as "Colorful, not subtle". 

5. Create a core message that underscores your purpose. 

Once you have reached this step, you should be well on your way to being able to create a core message. Some people call this a mission statement, but bear in mind that for the purposes of branding, this core statement is brief, focused, and definitive. 

Let's compare two startups that might seem similar at first glance: Bonobos and Chubbies. They're both in the same general space: men's clothing. They were both founded by young, entrepreneurial guys. They are both aiming for a market in a specific age group and socioeconomic status.

But that's where most of the similarities end. 

Bonobos has a clean, clear, modern, no-nonsense image. Their core message really demonstrates just what they are about, and this is borne out by the simplicity of their branding:

Bonobos: we strive to make great clothing


Chubbies has a fun-loving, irreverent, casual and bro-y image. They're colorful, not neutral.

Their core message also demonstrates what they are about, and their branding carries it forward in design and graphic format:

Chubbies: we're all about inclusivity, and not taking things too seriously.

When you compare these two brands of men's clothing, even if their logos and tag lines were the only inputs you had to draw conclusions from, there is a clear and different impression given by each brand. 

You can use these same types of differentiating factors in your own branding and marketing. Pay attention to attributes like language choices, color, case (upper case, lower case or mixed/proper case), serif vs sans serif fonts, lettering shapes (for example, the oval letter shapes of Chubbies logo read as "friendly", while the perfect circles in Bonobos branding read clean and modern), and even the sizes of lettering relative to other letters. Notice that slightly off-kilter dot over the "i" in Chubbies? These small choices can make a world of difference in how your brand is perceived.

6. Create a Brand Book.

A Brand Book may be the most important facet of any pre-launch (or later) branding efforts you do. Think of a Brand Book like a Style Guide for your product design or website. It lays out many varied guidelines that will help to direct your choices.
Aspects of a good Brand Book include: 

  • Logo
  • Core Statement
  • Taglines
  • Target Market
  • Colors 
  • Fonts
  • Sizing for headings, type, etc.
  • Imagery styles

A well-designed Brand Book can also serve as a great training tool for any sales or marketing hires who will join your company. Being able to define specific guideposts for new team members will help them hit the ground much faster, and create assets and messaging that truly resonates with the rest of the team and with your customers and prospects. 

7. Apply your brand consistently.

Last but not least, it's important to remember to apply your brand consistently, across all channels. For many founder-led early stage startups, the company's Twitter or Facebook pages read like a stream of consciousness taken straight from the mind of the founder. Depending on the day he's having, it might be a steady flow of positive messaging; another day, there might be angry commentary on the state of venture capital in the tech industry. 

By sticking to the concepts in your core message and Brand Book, and simply asking yourself before creating or releasing a new piece of content into the world: "Does this feel like it's on brand?", your startup will reap untold benefits. 

Customers, prospects, investors and partners will be able to quickly form a clear impression of who the company is, why it exists, who you serve, what you do, and what they can expect when they interact with your team. 

As you can see, the foundations of Branding are pretty simple. As with everything else in a startup, though, it's all about the execution! If you'd like some guidance and help on your journey toward building an iconic brand for your startup, please get in touch today. We're here to help! 

Six Signs It's Time For Your Startup To Hire a CMO

When is the right time to hire a Chief Marketing Officer for your startup? It's a burning question for many founders, especially technical founders with less experience in sales, branding, strategy or marketing. 

This post will walk you through a checklist of questions to ask yourself, so you'll know if you're ready to hire your first CMO.

Startup CMO

1) When you've reached product market fit. 

In the earliest days of a startup, you're iterating and changing your product, your approach, and maybe even your target market rapidly. Hiring a senior marketer before you've reached product market fit may not make sense, because a CMO is really a strategic role. Their expertise lies in creating a long range strategy and managing the people who need to execute on that strategy; not in short term growth hacks, experiments, or A/B testing. Hiring a CMO too early is likely to frustrate her (and you!) because the constant moving targets of an early stage startup make it really difficult to produce sustained results. 

2) When you are ready to scale.

Once you've dialed in your product market fit, you've figured out who you're selling to, and have a pretty good idea why they're buying, you're ready to scale. This is a good time to start looking for a senior marketing executive. A CMO will be able to work with a stable, shipping product, and a defined market, to create a long term approach to brand voice, distribution, channels, partnerships and more. 

3) When you need to address multiple sales/marketing channels.

If your business model requires multiple sales and marketing channels, you may be ready for a CMO earlier than some of your peers. CMOs are experts at managing trade shows, developer relations, B2B marketing, and partnerships--all of which may be of key importance for many B2B startups, especially in the SaaS space. If you're a B2B SaaS company, you may need to hire a CMO within the first year that you're shipping product. 

4) When you need strategic marketing every day as part of your executive team.

Ideally, your CMO will become an invaluable part of your core executive team. A strong CMO can use her expertise to help inform product decisions, finance, fundraising, and many other areas of the company. When you find yourself asking in exec team meetings, "What impact will this decision have on our growth, partners, or customer satisfaction?", it might be time to hire a CMO. 

5) When you have 3 or more 3 full time marketing roles in the company.

The first marketing hire in most early stage startups is a community manager or customer success manager. Usually, the next is a social media manager, and then the third hire often has a mix of paid ads and analytics to measure all of the efforts of the various marketing people. Sometimes these roles enter the company in a different order, but typically these are the first three marketing-related hires in a startup. And typically, each of these folks have <5 years of experience. 

Once you reach this critical mass, it's time to look for a senior leader, who can manage the team, tie together the brand voice, ensure consistency across every channel, set KPIs and create the overall strategy for your marketing efforts to scale. 

6) When you can afford it.

Unlike a young engineer, or a recent college grad in business or marketing, a CMO will usually not accept equity to offset a substantially lower pay rate. Top marketers truly are worth their weight in gold and they know they can command this pay scale elsewhere.

But no other role in a young company has quite as much impact on the bottom line revenue as the senior-most marketer. This person tells the story of your product, and what it can do for customers, to the entire world. They create and nurture the face and the voice of your company. Given the fact that the average salary of a CMO is a bit over $164K, availability of funds is a major consideration. Generally, most startups can afford this kind of pay rate once they've raised a Series A, or exceeded $10M in revenue.


"But I'm not there yet..."

That's OK. If you haven't reached yet all of these milestones, but you're in need of marketing assistance with branding, strategy, content, marketing automation, social media or pitch decks, we're here for you! CYNSCH was created specifically to fill this gap between just starting up, and being ready for a full time Chief Marketing Officer. 

We are experienced at both operating and consulting with early stage startups.  We understand and can work within your budget constraints. We've been there and done that; we've taken ideas from concept to product to team, to seed round and beyond--and even a few exits along the way. 

The CYNSCH team operates like your "part time CMO", so you can focus on building your product and team, and leave the marketing to us. Let us help create a marketing strategy that will focus your target market, fill your funnel, and translate to real revenue growth.

Contact us today to schedule your FREE Needs Assessment Consultation!