A brand is much more than a logo and hiring a “branding agency” only gets you half-way there.Often you need a team of designers, writers, attorneys, etc. to make sure you have a everything in place to launch your brand. You need to manage the big picture. Here are the minimum 8 things I believe you need to launch your brand.
1) A name
It’s true, most of the good names are already taken, so startups often have to make up funky names. But you can minimize the randomness by bringing in an expert (such as my friends at Eat My Words) who can help you create a name you’ll be proud of . That’s fine as long as you can secure items #2 and #3.
2) A domain that matches the name
This may go without saying, but domains are perhaps the most difficult part of getting your name these days. Take Off The Ground for example, I couldn’t get the .com domain, so went with .biz (someone was squatting on the .com on it for years and I tried to buy it , but never heard back from them – now are finally using it – grrrr. I’m not trying to build a national brand, so it’s not a huge concern for me). But if you’re looking to become a large company, you need to nail this. Fortunately, it’s becoming more and more common to have a non .com ending for your business often doing what’s called a name hack (i.e., visual.ly, del.icio.us (which ultimately was able to acquire delicious.com once they had the cash).
3) A Trademark
I recently ran into trademark attorney Molly Garhart, who told me that many of her startup clients come to her too late in the game. She said she finds that they often start doing business with a brand name, only to find that it’s already been trademarked by someone else and they have to go back and relaunch their company / product with a new name. While you may have done a Google search on a business / product name, that doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t already trademarked it, but they just don’t have a lot of traction. So it’s well worth it to do a trademark search early on.
4) A logo
So once you’ve got a name, a domain and a trademark, now you can finally hire the “branding agency” (in quotes, because typically you just get a logo, not a complete brand). The trick is finding the right agency who will create a logo that will meet all your future marketing needs (i.e., social networking, promotional products, etc.). At a minimum, you’ll want your logo designer to provide you with:
- EPS version of your logo (1 color & 2 color)
- jpg / gif versions of your logo in high res and low res
- a version with a clear background and one with a white background
- a square logo option for social networking
- a 16 x 16 pixel favicon for your webpage tab
Designers can be expensive, so it’s tempting to put a placeholder using one of those $10 logo agencies online. 99% of the time, this is a huge mistake because the cheap designers make a ton of technical mistakes (see Top 5 Logo Mistakes). You’ll end up paying a LOT more downstream to replace your logo with something professional than you would by just spending a bit more at the beginning and having something that will last.
But wait, there’s more. The first four elements of a brand are the bare minimum you need to start doing business. The next 4 are what you’ll need to start marketing your business.
5) A tagline or short company description (elevator pitch)
I’m a big fan of institutionalizing tight language to describe a company. When I was at startup called Onlink, we had a very vague and confusing company elevator pitch (in part to increase the valuation) we were all instructed to memorize: “We provide an online guided selling solution that helps companies show options and features available to them and enhance their up sell and cross sell opportunities ….” This resulted in blank stares until I whispered “we’re a really great online configurator”. And then I got very positive responses “Oh – cool, we need one of those”.
For SmartsCo, we spent years before we finally settled on marketing language that clicked with folks.
Tagline: Explore Life’s Greatest Pleasures
Description: Games and Guides that make learning about life’s greatest pleasures easy and fun.
Tech companies in particular struggle with this aspect of their brand because they are by nature creating something very innovative and different. However, you have to brand yourself in something people connect with.
When it comes to design agencies, you get what you pay for. Any good agency when building out your brand should provide you with suggested fonts that compliment your logo. It’s important that you test out what they’re recommending and make sure they’re readily accessible on the average person’s computer. 9 times out of 10, I’ve found designers choose obscure fonts which you can’t really roll out to your employees or web fonts that you can’t use in many of your online marketing tools (such as your email marketing tool).
7) Color Pallet
Another important aspect of brand is to test out the colors and make sure they look equally good in an offset printer as they do on your color inkjet (i.e., orange in particular can be a problematic color to get a consistent match on). You also might want to create a broader color pallet to choose from beyond the 1 or 2 colors used in your logo. When you ask your designer for a color pallet, make sure they provide you with each color spelled out
- Pantone (basically custom ink)
- CMYK (4-color process match to your Pantone)
- Hex (HTML version of the color)
- RGB (color equivalent used in most desktop applications)
Another important decision I recommend you get your branding designer to work on is creating some go-to images you can use throughout your marketing. This may be some custom illustrations (see Off The Ground airplanes and balloons) or photos you purchase from a iStock or Getty that you can use throughout all your marketing materials. Choosing these early on, makes the production work much easier down the line.
In a nutshell
I could talk forever about what a brand is and isn’t, but in a nutshell, these are the minimum 8 elements you need to launch a solid brand. I’ve said this many times before, it’s important to do branding well the first time, as becomes more and more difficult and costly to change it as the company matures.