When should startups invest in their brand?

3 reasons why the right time is always now.

Ah, January. A time of detoxes, personal reinvention, hasty resolutions, and freshly-minted gym memberships. We know we should look after ourselves all year round, so why don’t we? The same is true for your brand. Now is always the time. Here are 3 reasons why. 

You’re just starting out and looking to scale

Design and branding is sometimes an afterthought for companies who want to spend the early stages concentrating purely on product. It’s something that’s regularly put on the back burner - there’s an idea that it can wait until there’s proper funding/MVP/a proper sales funnel. But if you really believe in your product, it makes sense to start investing in the brand as soon as you can find a budget for it.

Developing the brand from day one means that you actually have to sit around a table with your co-founders and decide what it is you’re trying to achieve, what your values are, etc. Working on your public-facing identity is the best way to figure all that stuff out. How do you want to be seen? What do you want to be known for?

One of the biggest advantages of investing in your brand early on is that you won’t develop painful legacy issues that will need to be dealt with later. Going live with a set of brand assets and guidelines for usage means you can project brand consistency and maturity from the get go. That impresses investors and customers, helps you scale, and eliminates a lot of potential pains that you’ll end up having to deal with down the road. 

You’ve hit a brick wall In your growth

Across most companies early stage growth goes through very similar phases. First, you test the product on friends and family to find out if it’s any good. Then you progress to your first paying customers who might be old employers or ex-classmates. This leads to more customers through word of mouth and you’re able to slowly grow the business by selling to people in your immediate network. The problem is that this is a very finite resource. Eventually you run out of personal connections that can be turned into potential customers. 

So, once you’ve rinsed your entire LinkedIn network where do you go? At that point it’s tempting to ask “How do we attract customers from outside our network?” A better question to ask is “How do we make our network bigger?” The best way to do this is by investing in your brand. This is a good time to have a brand refresh, or even a complete rebrand. Make a strong visual statement that will attract attention. It’s also a good moment to pivot from some of your earlier ideas/values that have lost their relevance. Some of the ideas you had straight out of college are maybe a bit cringey by now. A rebrand when you’re looking to scale is a great time to project greater maturity to your future customers. 

You’re looking to exit

You might think that this would be the time to stop worrying about design and branding, but you’d be wrong! If you’re looking to maximise the value of your company in the lead up to a sale - and why wouldn’t you!? - then investing in the brand is an obvious way of increasing your value in the eyes of potential buyers. 

Being able to supplement the balance sheet with a strong brand identity will get you more money in the final sale. One customer who recently made a successful exit estimated that work done on the brand added 25% to the final value of the company, representing 10x ROI on design. It really does pay. 

Now is always the time

Ideally, the way you use design and content to project your brand should be an ongoing process that’s never truly finished. Those of you with eagle eyes might notice the frequency with which Atlassian are constantly tweaking their logos. From the earliest phase right through to the exit you should be working to continuously deploy your brand in the real world and online. It tells people who you are on a daily basis. It makes sense to update it as often as you can.

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