3 branding tips every startup should know in 2022

Growing a strong brand takes much more than looking professional — you also need an established set of beliefs to drive your startup’s behavior from the inside out.

Matty Brownell
Onbrand
5 min readDec 8, 2021

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Welp, we’re at the end of another crazy year. Much is still uncertain, but with the chaos comes new startups, new brands, and new growth.

As we approach 2022, I’d like to pass on a few of my most common observations as a brand designer in hopes that tomorrow’s founders can be better equipped to tackle their challenges ahead.

The 3 areas we’ll cover:

  1. Your logo isn’t that important
  2. Stand for something, not everything (and stick with it)
  3. Put empathy first

1. Your logo isn’t that important

Yes, you heard it from a designer.

Back in the day of traditional corporate branding, companies had all the power, pushing their products and messaging onto their customers. There were no company Twitter handles, immersive websites, or other avenues for customers to experience a brand. In this context, logos were the most effective tool to outwardly convey a company’s attributes.

Today, we have endless channels to communicate directly with customers, requiring startups to think differently about how they express themselves to the world. We’re seeing a continued shift to logos without symbols (like Hims or Quip) putting a greater emphasis on other human elements such as photography style and tone of voice. Some use mascot characters (like the DuoLingo owl or the Headspace blobs).

Whatever it may be, founders should start thinking less about logos in isolation and more about a unique combination of elements that fully embrace their vision and the complexities of today’s technology.

Our recent rebrand for Brave Health extends across the product experience

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a strong brand identity in place that can flex across my product, website, social media, and customer experience?
  • Does the tone of voice on my website align with the voice of my customer success team? My sales cycle experience?
  • Who is creating my branded content and materials? Is my brand easy for them to use?

2. Stand for something, not everything (and stick to it)

Today’s customers are 4x more likely to purchase from a strong, purposeful brand with a unique set of values that guide every facet of the company’s behavior.

Startups align themselves with traditional demographic characteristics such as age, location, and income, but often overlook emotional details like customer values, aspirations, and fears. These powerful insights can provide a better sense of who your customers are and how they behave.

Put more focus on the emotional details within your demographic set

There may be difficult scenarios in which businesses choose to follow their values above financial priorities. Let’s take the recent example of Lush.

In response to the recently leaked Facebook Papers, Lush shut down its global social media accounts, stating, “concerns about the serious effects of social media are going largely ignored now.”

By Zoaghram Dumee, Source

Lush is estimated to lose around $13 million as holiday shopping continues, but the decision is well-aligned with their strong set of ethical values.

Yes — this is a larger-scale example, but it highlights a company choosing values over short-term profit. Lush took an enormous risk by shifting to less lucrative marketing channels, but it is confident that its loyal customers who share the same values will continue their long-term support.

Ask yourself:

  • Have I established a focused set of values and do I stand behind them?
  • Are my KPIs aligned with my brand? (e.g., is customer lifetime value more important than customer volume?)
  • Does my customer experience reflect my values? (e.g., if your brand is environmentally conscious, consider carbon-neutral checkout options)

3. Put empathy first

The first step in solving a real business problem is knowing the felt pain of that particular problem.

I’ve built brands for tech startups led by engineers, and understandably, they obsess over product renderings, specifications, and other functional elements. They fear looking anything but sleek and high-tech.

I get it, there’s a lot of pride in building the next cool thing, but this can dangerously overshadow the emotional customer benefit. If you make it about the customers, there’s a greater chance they’ll see themselves in your product.

An example of empathy-led messaging

Starting with empathy is essentially saying, “I REALLY get where you’re coming from, this is why I get it, and I’m here to relieve your pain.” Experienced branding experts can help elevate your empathy narrative using visuals, messaging, and other storytelling elements.

If you don’t yet know the answer, a good place to start is conducting empathy interviews. It’s a powerful way to tap into the depths of your customer’s mind (think part user research, part therapy). Techstars has a great video on it here.

How to tap into empathy

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a genuine understanding of what my customer is going through before, during, and after they engage with my product?
  • Do I know how I’ll empower my customers?
  • Does my brand toolkit capture both emotional and functional communication needs?

As customers become increasingly harder to win, it’s more important than ever to think about branding as an emotional growth driver and less as an external marketing veil.

The true measure of brand awareness isn’t determined by vanity metrics, but by how open and receptive customers are to your story, values, and visual identity.

Want to build a brand together? | matty@weareonto.com | weareonto.com

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