Most Startups Get Branding All Wrong. (Here’s How to Fix It)

By: Gordon Conner


Tried to start a new business lately? It takes a lot of energy, time and Starbucks to get it off the ground. It’s tough, and even painful sometimes. You loose all your sleep, but at the same time your excited, anxious and scared to death.

You’re thinking you’re entire future is hanging in the balance, as you dream about how the world will be a different place as soon as you get this thing off the ground.

As a startup, you have a strong need to get this baby generating revenue before your seed money vanishes. So you’re feeling the pressure to launch NOW! And that’s normal. When most companies get their goals and strategy down, they launch. The first things to be addressed: logos, voice, social media and website are at the top of the list. It’s hard to argue with that thinking since all of the pundits offer these as the steps to build your brand.

But, here’s the rub. Brand identity and brand awareness are getting all of the attention. But wait a minute! Aren’t we missing something here? Isn’t branding more than logos, colors, voice and tone? Duh!

So, think about it. What is a brand anyway?

Isn’t your brand the experience you deliver to your customers? Remember the expression “your brand is how you make your customers feel”. The entire essence of this brand is about your connection with the customer, getting to know them and why they love you. After you learn all of this, then you can create the visual identity. So why do startups get this wrong so often? Here are a few suggestions:

Forget About Connection and Depend on Assumption

Entrepreneurs get so wrapped up in their concept and perfecting everything that they just fall in love with their idea. They focus on brand awareness and brand identity and don’t even think about asking their customers for feedback. And if they do get feedback, they just ignore it.

Startups are convinced their branding will cause customers to fall in love with their company if they have the right website, logo and marketing. And don’t try telling them otherwise. They simply ignore the customer and let the brand experience fall by the wayside.

Ready – Fire – Aim!

If this is the approach you’re going to take, you’re risking the fact that your brand won’t even resonate with the market. And if you don’t connect with customers, the result is a forgone conclusion. Trouble.

So what happens is you wind up fine-tuning the things that the customers don’t care about. Eventually the startup runs out of money and they finally realize what they’re missing: brand experience.

The Brand Identity Mistake

Entrepreneurs miss the boat by focusing on brand awareness and identity and they ignore brand experience. They wind up spending years promoting products the customers don’t even care about. No website design or logo is going to solve a flawed product/service. If they don’t get the brand experience right, brand identity doesn’t even matter. Why keep trying to add customers when your current customers don’t even love your product?

How to Nail Your Brand Experience

Neither you nor your web firm is qualified to evaluate brand experience. To do that you have to talk to real customers. By getting feedback from your customers, you can find out what they really feel about your brand and its value, plus you can use that feedback to make your product/service better, quickly.

Brand experience questions to ask your customers:

  1. Ask customers, “What would happen if you couldn’t use our product any more?” You want them to be unhappy in this scenario.
  2. Ask them why they would be unhappy and what is the main benefit they receive from your product.
  3. If your product was no longer on the market, what would they do as an alternative?
  4. Find out how your customers would describe your product to a friend.
  5. What type of person do you think would benefit most from your product?
  6. How can we improve our product to better meet your needs?

Which Method Makes More Sense? 

So, you have a choice, talk to your customers and find out how you can improve, or spend all of your money first without getting any results. Then talk to customers to find out how to improve.

So get your priorities straight. Improve your brand experience first. Don’t worry so much about the perfect brand identity or growing your company until you’ve built a tribe of passionate customers.  Nail it first, scale it second.


About the Author

 Gordon at St. John

Gordon Conner is a Branding Consultant/Coach and Copywriter who helps build killer brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing, branding and copywriting services for 39 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached at, or


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