Startup Branding Guide: How To Build Your Startup’s Brand Identity From Scratch

If you’re in an early stage startup, as a founder or a key member of the team, one of your biggest obstacles at the beginning is always going to be the lack of brand awareness and identity.

You know the awkward pause. Maybe a little too well.

On dates. At networking events. At job interviews. At reunions with your college friends.

Whenever the stakes are high and the right words are what you need, it  – the awkward pause – comes flying unbidden through the window, perching on your shoulder and filling up the room.

It shows up without fail, especially after the terrifying question: tell me what you do.

Every time someone asks that question, you (a good proportion of the world) stumble for words. And while you wonder with rising panic what the person wants to hear, the pause grows. And grows. And grows.

You die a little inside each time this happens, both in personal and professional cases. The difference though is that in business, the death is literal – if you don’t have an answer every time a consumer asks you to tell them about your brand, the awkward pause will kill you.

And in this, like in every horror movie, the only way to survive is to kill it before it kills you.

Here’s how to cultivate the ability to effectively talk about your brand:

1. Take This Test (establishing your brand identity)

A brand is not one thing. It’s everything. It’s not just your value proposition or your company culture or the awesome logo you designed. It’s everything from creating the product to marketing it, selling it and creating strong loyalty in your consumers.

To understand your brand, you need to take a test. Don’t worry, the only person who will see the results is you, so open your heart and be sincere.

Pull out a sheet of paper, grab a pen and answer this questions about your business as it is today:

  1. How do we help people?

  2. If we closed down tomorrow, what would people remember us for?

  3. What do we do better than everyone else?

  4. Who are the people who give us their money?

  5. Why aren’t we doing something else?

Answer all these questions and benchmark yourself against your top 5 competitors in the market, identify where you can uniquely stand.

Grading yourself consists of taking a long hard look at the things you wrote. They’ll be the answers to the toughest questions you’ll have to answer when talking about yourself or brand.

2. Know Your Audience – Create your key customer personas

Your consumers are each unique. No matter how many, no matter how similar a demographic, they each stand alone.

But they do have one thing in common: they are your consumers. They buy into your brand.

The question then, is not “Who?” It’s “Why?” And you’ll never know the answer to this question if you don’t talk to your audience and listen to what they have to say.

Run a survey. Send a friendly message on social media. Ask for their opinions from their experience working with you. Find out what are the key factors they make them your consumers (or potential customers) and you’ll find a way to retain them and keep their numbers growing.

3. Build Your Protagonist – What is your ‘superhero’ USP

When you think about your business, what do you see? Odds are, you picture the processes involved in your business. You have a mental picture of the product, or the people, or the day to day operations involved in running your business. Great stuff, but hard to articulate, and hard to get other people enthused about.

For that edge of excitement, you have to build your protagonist.

Which hero do you see your business representing? It could be anyone. A cartoon character, an action hero, a superhero, an animal… anything at all. Find something that inspires you and creates excitement. Something that makes you go- “that is badass!. I want us to be that thing.” And then claim it for yourself.

When next you have to describe business, take the attributes that excite you about that thing or character and use them to describe your brand.

4.  Listen Hard – Building an effective feedback loop

Talking about your brand is great. Just, don’t forget to listen.

Here’s the thing, maybe you put in the hard work. Maybe you’ve figured out the details of who you are and figured out the perfect way to say it. That’s only half the job.

The other half involves listening to the responses you get. Remember, communication isn’t complete without feedback.

So many brands and business fail because they ignored what people were saying about them. Listening to people shows that you care and truly want to fulfill their needs.

Never underestimate the value of a good hard listen.

Avoiding the awkward pause in explaining your brand can be tricky but can be practiced to perfection. Brands are complex, fluid, evolving things. There are no tidy boxes, no neat labels; it’s tough grueling, iterative work. But as long as you keep asking yourself the right questions, looking at yourself from an outside perspective, you’ll find the perfect answer to the recurring horror question – tell me about your brand.

Create a system that effectively encompasses your identity, before the awkward pause kills you. That’s how you create a brand that is 10x more identifiable than the rest of the pack.

Originally published on

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About the author
Theodoric Chew is a growth marketer and branding expert well involved in the tech start-up scene in South East Asia. He managed a news curation platform that got acquired in 2016 and now serves as the Head of Affiliate and Content Marketing at Voyagin, a company acquired by Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten Inc. He writes at