How to choose the right brand strategy for your early-stage startup, according to an expert

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Having a smart branding strategy is key for an early-stage startup. Maskot/Getty Images
  • When it comes to selecting a brand strategy for your startup, there are plenty of options to choose from.
  • Branding expert Zaheer Dodhia says it’s key to pinpoint your audience and company values to uncover your brand identity.
  • If you want a wide audience, consider the flanker strategy; if you’re in a niche market, consider the competitor strategy.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Every startup needs a branding strategy. Your brand strategy gives you an outline and a plan to work through, making sure that your company hits all the goals along the way.

Zaheer Dodhia
is an entrepreneur and branding expert. Zaheer Dodhia

But choosing which strategy will work for your startup depends on the details.

What is a branding strategy?

In the most simple terms, a branding strategy boils down to the plan you make for actions that will grow your business. It includes your brand personality, how you interact with your customers, what you offer to consumers, and brand identity design elements including your logo and print materials.

A good branding strategy utilizes your brand as a cohesive whole so that each aspect of your brand will work with the others, creating growth synergistically.

Obviously, the exact strategy you choose will depend on your company and what has the greatest chance of success. And your strategy may change as your company grows and develops.

Key branding strategies for startups

A branding strategy for an established business will differ greatly from startup strategies.

For example, a business that is already running may choose to branch out in a line extension strategy, creating new products to capture a further audience or to fill a need that their current audience has. That could be a strategy that you choose later down the line.

For a startup, however, it’s a matter of getting the brand launched and building a core before you start branching out too much.

Here are some important startup branding strategies that could potentially work for your own new business:

  1. New brand strategy. This strategy creates a brand around a central product. It enables you to launch with your product at the center of the brand, connecting your brand with that product in the minds of your audience. This strategy also works for companies that are already established but which want to create new products and garner new audiences.
  2. Flanker brand strategy. If you’re looking to gather the widest audience possible, this is a good possibility. To establish this strategy, create product variants that appeal to different consumer groups. For example, you may create a tech product that is higher end, with a stripped-down lower-end variant to appeal to those who may want something more affordable and don’t need all the bells and whistles. The high and low end products can be launched under the same basic brand, but should be differentiated by name or designation, ie. iPhone 8 versus iPhone X.
  3. Attitude branding strategy. For a startup, it’s less about leveraging brand loyalty and more about projecting a personality. Attitude branding pushes attention to marketing a lifestyle, feeling, or emotional connection, rather than just a product or service. Nike is a great example of this; their branding promotes a healthy, athletic lifestyle, which is represented by their individual products.
  4. Competitor brand strategy. At times, a company already enjoys a share in a niche market, but wants to pull above against their competitors. If that’s the case for your startup, you may want to focus on a competitor brand strategy, which means going after an existing audience rather than seeking a new one. Ultimately, the advantage of a competitor brand strategy is that you already know there’s an audience for your product. You just need to determine how you can rise above the existing competition and secure a bigger market share.

How to choose a branding strategy

Before you make a decision on which branding strategy you’re going to adopt, it’s important to identify the core concepts, values, and promises that make your brand unique.

Take the time to pinpoint these details:

  • What is your target audience?
  • What promises does your brand make to this audience?
  • What values is your brand built on, and how do they play into the messaging?
  • How do you tell your brand story?
  • Who in your business is involved in implementing your branding strategy?

The last question, ideally, should be answered with, “Everyone!” Even hourly employees should be aware of the branding strategy and willing to whole-heartedly support it. Remember that customer service is also deeply involved in effective branding – everyone involved in the startup needs to be a team player, and remember how their actions and words reflect on the brand.

Along with these, the visual aspect of your branding, such as your logo, color palette, and website design, should all be taken into consideration.

Ultimately, the goal is to choose a branding strategy that matches your brand to better reach your customers and communicate with them on a meaningful level. Align your branding strategy with your brand personality, and you’ll create a plan that will help you to reach each and every goal.

Zaheer Dodhia is a serial entrepreneur and creator of DIY logo design tool Logo Design. He works with small businesses and startups on affordable branding solutions. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.