How Important is Brand Image at The Early Stages?

Q: I’m involved in a start up where we’ve made a lot of progress.  We’re currently in our coding stage but there are a lot of undefined areas as far as usability and layout are concerned.  A few of the team members strongly believe its necessary to get professional help from experienced designers on usability and get competitive analysis on our design and brand image.  I, on the other hand, feel its not necessary at this stage and these can be accomplished once we close our Series A round.  Specifically my question is, how important is brand image at this stage in development?

A: (Brad) Anyone that knows me knows that I’m not a fan of “classically defined textbook marketing.”  “Brand image” can fit in that category – or not – depending how you approach it.  If you “get professional help from experienced designers on usability and get competitive analysis on our design and brand image” you are engaging in a set of activities that I think are a complete waste of time and money “pre Series A.” 

Instead, develop your own brand, image, and style that is consistent with the company you are creating.  Let it come from you – rather than an “experienced” consultant.  A great example of this is Dogster, a company I have an angel investment in.  No one is going to award the Dogster website the “most beautiful website in the world” award, but it has style.  Dogs (and dog owners) appear to love it (based on their traffic growth) and it is definitely “dog freaks crossed with computer geeks.”

Once you’ve raised a Series A and have plenty of cash in the bank, feel free to hire expensive consultants to help you take your brand image to the next stage.  Or not.  But don’t spend your precious seed stage dollars on it.

  • Brad-
    andre and i just naturally had a “brand” with ping (mostly cuz we’re
    both marketers at heart), but the bottom line is that the ONLY thing
    that marketing should care about when starting a company is getting the first customer (and then the second, third, etc)……let proctor and gamble worry about branding.

  • It is probably worth noting the difference between “brand & image” and “design & usability.” I agree with Brad — going on a branding journey is a waste of your time at this point (arguably ever). That being said, do not underestimate the value of a well designed product. If you don’t have the resources that can put together a product that is easy to use, I would strongly recommend finding help. You will get good return for your money.

  • You are dead wrong: branding is everything (well ok not EVERYTHING but totally important) and the earlier you start the better.
    You are absolutely right: you don’t need to pay big bucks to build your brand. There are plenty of brand templates out there you can use but you should go through the steps of doing it just the same as you probably did for the other parts of your business (so whoever asked the question feel free to email me leigh at if you want me to send you one I use that’s super simple and works great)
    Last note, I agree that usability and design aren’t necessarily lumped in with brand, but that’s only bc agencies and a lot of so called professionals don’t have a clue (WPP buys what? Why? When?) when it comes to interactive communications.
    Usability and design should be an experience of your brand and how the user interacts with your product/service will become as much a part of how they feel about you as a brand as anything.
    Good luck!

  • I’m in agreement with the general sense of the post, but I fear it doesn’t do justice to the difference between brand image and a good brand.
    A good brand doesn’t mean spending gobs of money making fancy and expensive marketing communications: logos, flash websites, brochures, etc.
    A good brand means that your differentiation in the marketplace can be clearly and concisely expressed in emotionally and rationally compelling terms… by people who just overheard your elevator pitch.
    EVERY startup should have their value proposition distilled that clearly. Some do that instinctively, as the differentiator is bundled into their core invention… their “identity” is there from the beginning. Others have a great idea, but need help distilling it into something that can be consumed & energized in 30 seconds or less by the average customer.
    That’s a good brand.
    A good brand image simply applies that brand to everything touchpoint you have with the marketplace, including logos and websites. Should you spend a lot on an expensive brand image? No. Should you make sure that you have cost-effectively created the most effective brand image for your stage in the venture? Yes. Just like everything else in the startup, cash must be paid for in clear, unequivocal, and immediate value.
    Pre-money: your marketing guy should be able to throw together a simple, but resonant identity based on your brand strategy.
    Seed money: paying for a professional logo and stationery make sense, perhaps a simple website (less than $15,000-$20,000 total). Save anything more complicated until Series A.
    Of course, if your team is convinced that you have the right idea, but you haven’t distilled it into a good /brand/, bringing in a consultant to catalyze and facilitate that effort could definitely be worth it. Just make sure that they are focusing on strategy and not image.
    However, I would /not/ go to the premier brand strategy consulting firms who charge upwards of six figures for brand strategy work, not until you have raised seven figures or more. Find an independent consultant who does good work and understands the difference between a good logo and a good brand.

  • I like to believe that it is important to get help on usability (and SEO) if that skill is not within the team. In a lot of sites, you’ll find that there’s hardly any usability done when the target audience to where its brand is positioned to are having a hard time to move around with.
    An alternative, instead of getting experts, lower cost way of doing it is by inviting key users to participate in doing some usability test or open it up to a helpful set of alpha users.

  • Peter

    Agree with Eric. Clients is uppermost for a start-up