Not so long ago, if somebody mentioned owning a startup, you could assume it was all about a nifty app or gizmo. But these days, food is the new tech. While food and beverage categories have always had a steady stream of newcomers, the arrival of shared commercial kitchens, in particular, has given entrepreneurs a place to create, iterate and rapidly whip up epicurean delights at relatively low cost (and in compliance with state and local regulations).
The renaissance has been inspiring, but as we’ve seen at our branding company CBX, it has also translated into a ferocious competition for customers’ attention among fledgling brands. To stand out, startups need to raise their game in basic brand-building, including positioning, visual and verbal identity, packaging design, and quality — and cost-control.
Below are three tips for startups on how they can gain an edge through effective branding and design.
1. Invest in your brand strategy
Most startups spend their early years staying scrappy. Some even default to hiring a friend or acquaintance to draw a logo as part of an overall effort to keep it lean and mean. That’s all well and good; however, products are easy to imitate. Brands, on the other hand, have a value that surpasses that of the physical object in a number of ways. This is precisely why you see the likes of Trader Joe’s or Costco investing so much time and attention in the creativity and appeal of their store brands.
Developing a true brand strategy is critical to a startup’s prospects. What is unseen is unsold. Whether your rollout is local, regional or national, it’s important to invest in your story — not just financially, but with your passion and creativity, too.
Winning brand recognition requires the ability to use small spaces and short snippets of time (like a shopper’s quick glance at the shelf) to capture people’s interest and spark intrigue in ways that lead to personal identification with that brand, trial or purchase and, ultimately, enduring brand loyalty. Agencies live and breathe the art and science of making this magic happen. If you’re passionate about your product, you’ll want to see your vision translated into a visual and verbal language that connects with people across logos, packaging, ads, websites, social media channels and other touchpoints.
2. Ask yourself hard questions
Creating an innovative product is just the first step in connecting with consumers. Before meeting with an agency, think carefully about your own story as well as the brand’s story. Yes, practical questions such as what differentiates you in the marketplace are essential, but it’s also important to get in touch with your own feelings and imagination related to the enterprise: What’s your idea all about? How does it connect to your values? What are your dreams?
Related: The 8 Laws of Branding
By walking into your meeting knowing who you are and what you want to be, you can catalyze your collaboration with branding and design pros.
3. Ask the agency hard questions
For startups, finding a brand agency can be a bit like choosing a mentor. Before entering into this critical relationship, it’s important to ask a lot of questions: What can the agency tell you about its experience with concepts like yours? Process-wise, it’s also important to find out specifically how the collaboration will work. What can you expect along the way?
You should genuinely like the brand and design consultants you hire. Look for partners who are smart and have a genuine passion for your product, brand and business. In a best-case scenario, you’re willing to be honest and vulnerable, and the agency feels comfortable challenging you to think differently and be your best. It’s the nature of startups to require a little more handholding. Are the consultants willing to invest as much in you as you’re willing to invest in them?
Partnering with a branding and design agency is more than a business relationship — it’s a learning process. Open and frequent communication can make a big difference in a new brand or product’s long-term trajectory. The agency should understand the dynamics in your specific category and be able to help you scale the business while steering clear of costly mistakes.
Startups are catching on precisely because both consumers and creators are so passionate about authenticity. Look for the agency that can best help you shape and tell your brand story, it can be the difference between languishing on the shelf and creating the tipping point that gets consumers to put your product in their cart.