5 Paradoxical Principles of Branding and Design

Time to Read: 5 minutes

Written by Asa Goldstein, Founder

While branding your startup for growth may seem like a straightforward process, it's counterintuitive to the core––rooted in paradoxes that are deceptively simple. By understanding (and even embracing) these tricky concepts, you can strengthen your brand, avoid common pitfalls, and ensure that nothing stands in the way of your startup's infinite growth.

1. Your logo is not your brand.

A startup's brand is often misperceived by the founders as merely a logo and a name. This couldn't be further from the truth: your brand is your reputation, it's the experience people have with your company, and it's the purpose that drives your team. It's the basis for your marketing strategy, and it encapsulates the qualities of your company that transcend the fundamental.

Of course, your logo is one of the first ways people perceive your brand, so it must clearly and concisely convey the essence and purpose of your company––still, in the end, your logo and name are mere expressions of your deeper brand. They work strategically to communicate the key aspects of what you do, who you do it for, and how you're doing it differently––but they're a supplement, not a substitute, for true brand strategy.

2. You are not your audience.

You most likely recognize this classic entrepreneurial mistake: assuming that one's pain points, motivations, and desires align perfectly with those of their audience. Almost always, this results in a fundamental disconnect from your customer base due to a lack of understanding and leads to an ever-deepening divide between what your brand offers and what your customers want.

This sort of 'self-centered' startup branding extends to all areas of the business. Examples include naming your company after your own life or interests, designing a logo based solely on your team's sensibilities, or building a website that you think is nifty but is near-impossible for people to navigate effectively. Of course, these mistakes weaken your brand, leave opportunities to connect on the table, and risk alienating your audience.

The most crucial step of the branding process is empathy––leveraging quantitative and qualitative data (sometimes as simple as good, old-fashioned conversations) to understand the perspective of your key customer profiles so you can build a brand that truly resonates and motivates.

To craft a brand personality that connects, you need to do more than merely imitate your target customer––you need to understand the relationship they are seeking and embrace your role in their story.

3. Less is more.

This common saying applies tenfold to branding, design, and communications.

Firstly, the most effective brands communicate their complex products and services with the utmost simplicity. Simple, emotional messages break through the brain's filtration mechanisms and empower decision-making––if your message is overlong, difficult to understand, and focused more heavily on features than emotional benefits, you're missing out on opportunities to connect and drive sales.

Naming and tagline creation are often the most difficult steps of the branding process because they necessitate consolidating a complex, multi-faceted brand and story into a few simple, memorable words.

In design, the clever use of white space and ultra-simple branding directly correlates with perceptions of premium branding. The more complex and convoluted a visual identity is, the more likely it is to be perceived as a budget brand. The most influential brands employ balance, perspective, and simplicity to position themselves as a premium option.

We often evaluate brands at face value––but sometimes, it's what's not visible, or what's left unsaid, that makes all the difference.

4. The "simplest" website creators cause the most problems.

You may have built your early-stage website on Wix, Squarespace, or another 'beginner-friendly' platform. You likely discovered soon after that the platform was more trouble than it was worth––difficult to manage and update, limited in capability, and inflexible in design. Even WordPress, which offers templates and semi-understandable systems for first-time website builders, often presents a host of issues and ongoing headaches.

Even if these platforms served your startup well in your beginning stages, you may notice now that your most intimidating competitors have built websites that embrace cutting-edge tech, stunning interaction design, and lightning-fast loading speeds.

To overcome these competitors (and attract the most in-demand talent to your startup), you'll need a website that is custom-coded to your startup's needs as much as it is to your customers' desires. We custom-code our clients' websites in Webflow, a platform that allows infinite creative freedom while ensuring ease of management and editing after launch.

5. You have to give to get.

Modern brands have a responsibility to implement sustainable practices, to give back to causes that matter (both to them and to their audience), and to provide upfront value to potential customers without asking for anything in return. These efforts not only inspire your team, but they also build relationships of goodwill with your customer base and instill your brand as a force for good in your community and the world at large.

The return on investment for these practices is almost always exponential. Solidifying your contributions to society (and commitments to sustainability) are a key step of the branding process.

Even if your startup is already based upon a sustainability or impact-related product or service, it's important that you align with causes that matter to your audience, both in word and deed. People (and businesses) patronize companies that share their values, and they actively avoid companies that don't.

It's always better to be proactive about your brand's reputation than to risk getting caught unawares in the shifting waves of public opinion. By embracing and acting upon your most noble convictions, however controversial they may seem, you'll earn the loyalty and advocacy of your most important customers.

Final Thoughts

The branding process requires that you dispel your illusions, broaden your perspective, and think outside of the box to capture insights that fuel growth and inspire excellence. If you can set aside your preconceptions and balance your personal pride with your sense of empathy, your brand will reach heights that are reserved for the cleverest few.

Of course, this work is difficult to do on your own, and even within your own company––after all, it's impossible to properly label a bottle from the inside. That's why you need a partner, and that's why our agency exists. Reach out to us if you'd like to illuminate your brand, empower your marketing, and realize your startup's infinite potential.

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