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Identity crisis

04 May

Riddle me this Batman, why do start-ups spend the least amount of time and resources on the most visible feature of their business? No I’m not talking about a storefront, website or even products. I’m talking about branding. Your corporate image, your logo, your brand represents who you are in the eyes of the outside world. And yet I see so many eager entrepreneurs leap into website designs, full color brochures and even expensive exterior signage without giving due diligence to the one image that is supposed to speak their name. Let’s take a moment and think about why your logo is so important.

Creating an identity for your business doesn’t have to cost a fortune. I realize there are agencies that specialize in identity systems who will try to sell you otherwise (I came from this industry so I say that without judgement). And to their credit they may be worth it. But there are also steps you can take, on your own or with a little help, to ensure that your brand will be successful without dipping into what’s left of your 401K.

Here are a couple recent examples to help you avoid an identity crisis.

The “what I really need first is a website” mentality. How is that website going to look without a cohesive message that ties the products and services to your company? Printed collateral, media and packaging is about reinforcing your brand in the eyes of the consumer. Providing a consistent message and image builds that confidence. Inconsistency demonstrates indecision or lack of planning.

I recently had a discussion with a friend who’s launching a new business with an existing product line. Her enthusiasm for the quality of the products was obvious, and the sales were starting to get off the ground. I heard stories of the brand new website in development and plans for distribution on a large scale were already underway. And then I noticed the branding. It said nothing to me about her new exciting business. She gave careful consideration to the packaging, the products and even the delivery system, but the overall image created by the brand screamed copy shop clipart. As a consumer, I want to feel her passion and energy when I see her product on the shelves. That’s the importance of branding.

The name game. When a child is born the parents must face the somewhat daunting task of choosing a name. So you eliminate any names that reminded you of childhood bullies, ex-girlfriends, strippers, hillbillies, relatives you’d rather not remember, politicians, etc. You have to brainstorm possible nicknames, especially the awful ones children invent on the playground that will linger like the stink of skunk on the highway. What will their initials spell? Questions, questions, questions. Until finally you narrow it down to what you like…or at least what you don’t hate.

You should use the same process when developing the brand for your business. What names are your competitors using? Be original, but not so much that no one gets it. Will you need to abbreviate or use initials when referencing the business? If so, is that a nickname that you’re willing to live with? A little time spent on branding R&D now can eliminate a lot of headaches and costly redesigns later.

I recently, albeit reluctantly, mentioned to a friend that the name of her new organization, which is designed to support and promote Michigan products, begins with the abbreiviation NoMi. No MI. Without the periods in the abbreviation it appears to say NO to MI, exactly the opposite of their intention. Now I realize that I may view these details more closely than some, with the critical eye of a designer. But society is critical and brutal. They catch our mistakes and call us out. So better to prevent them when we can.

A brand is more than a slick name and catchy tagline. It’s a philosophy. And it’s the means by which you connect with your customers. Take the time to make that connection. Recognize the importance of your brand so this can be one crisis….averted.

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