Agile Branding for Startups & Growth Stage Companies

Moore's Law states that computing power doubles every two years, creating exponential growth. It was a revolutionary concept when proposed in 1965 by Gordon Moore and has forever changed how businesses develop long-term planning and set R&D targets. In the last 5 years, there's become another area to which Moore's Law can be applied—the world of new business startups. 

As one friend of mine eloquently put it, these days, people start companies instead of starting bands. There's pretty much a startup to fill every niche and need out there, and it's not just trendy new social media platforms or web apps like Pinterest or Lady Gaga's Little Monsters. Nonprofits have caught startup fever too, with orgs like The Designer Fund or Change.org ramping up to raise awareness, drive fundraising and create action. 

 

The harsh reality though, is that most of these business will fail, some spectacularly. Because despite the seemingly endless room for new ideas and tools to take flight, as startups move online and crowd the marketplace with me-too "innovation," everyone's still competing for the same limited available mindshare.

 

Consistent Branding Wins Every Time

So who will the winners be? Of course, the ones with the best ideas. But with market & media clutter at an all-time high, with traditional barriers to entry eliminated, and with previously closed distribution channels transformed into open thoroughfares, the spoils will be claimed by the startups and growth-stage companies that take those ideas, then design and deliver a consistent and comprehensive brand experience that represents something meaningful to their audience. Every brand is a parable for our search for meaning and identification in the world. Meet our expectations at every turn and you help us write our story, making your brand indespensible to our deep-seeded motivations.

This thinking was made clearer than ever for us when we recently had had the pleasure of partnering with startup-turned-growth-stage-company, Lark Technologies in launching the second generation of their company. Lark has an incredible idea, and an equally impressive line of products that promise to change how we approach sleep and wellness. 
 
But what's made working with Lark so rewarding wasn't their cool-looking products (but they sure didn't hurt). In meeting with Lark's founder and CEO, Julia Hu, I came away so impressed by how clearly she was able to articulate the purpose behind her products—and by how committed she and her team were to seeing this greater purpose realized in every aspect of how the brand experience would be designed. As a branding and design guy, it's the kind of engagement you dream about—Lark had put in the time to think through their brand during product development and design, then came to us primed to collaborate on translating these ideas into every aspect of our work designing their website. 
 
Because we were asked to execute on an extremely compressed schedule to coincide with the global product launch for LarkLife, this perspective made a huge difference. We needed to envision, create user experience and content strategy, design, build, test and deploy an extensive new website that would become the leading plank for Lark's new brand. There wasn't a whole lot of time to ponder what it all means! 
 

Agile Branding for Startups

In my experience, often startups prefer to "feel their way through" launching their brands, relying on trial and error to adjust on the fly. In the rush to get to market and demonstrate momentum to investors, they may not have the luxury to focus on the kind of brand thinking and design that's particularly critical to long-term success. And while there's some merit to this thinking, our partnership with Lark reinforced for me more than ever how essential clarity around the brand is to creating the accelerated upward trajectory critical to growing startups.

 
So, while we've discussed the benefits  of applying a proven process to developing a consistent brand experience, over the years, we've learned to adjusted our approach to better support startup and growth-stage brands when they want most of the benefits but have little of the time (or patience) to achieve them. 
 
If you're either a startup or a design firm partnering with one, here are 5 things to consider when designing a new site or launching a brand:
 
1: Be an Extension of the Team: When design firms partner with startups, rule number 1 is to be an agile partner. While it's important to reinforce process and enforce some discipline in the engagement, when time's tight, close collaboration, the ability to test ideas and getting real-time feedback are essential. Act like you're down the hall—even if you're across the country.
 
2: Streamline the Process, Never Eliminate Steps: There's always a temptation to cut steps to save time. Don't do it, it'll only come back to bite you in the ass! Our mantra is we don't change the fundamental process, just how much time we spend on each step depending on what's most important. This way we make sure everyone's still asking the right questions along the way.
 
3: Keep it Simple: When you're designing UX and UI for leading-edge companies, there's usually no shortage ad-hoc ideas and cool features that get thrown into the mix. Focus on what's essential for launch first. Get the core right, then set aside and prioritize a list of "nice-to-have's" that might jeopardize the project. If you have time, then go back and add them.
 
4: MacGyver It!: When timelines are compressed, you're going to run into "need-to-have's" that can't be achieved on schedule by doing them the right way. Find ways to get them done with creative hacks that are seamless on the front-end, but under the hood leave might a bit to be desired. Sure your developers will cringe, and it costs more to go back in and fix them, but that's the price you pay for speed.
 
5: Stay on Brand. Above all else, if there's one thing that speeds good decision making, it's always asking "Is this in the best interests of the brand?" If you're the client, be open to trimming or changing ideas that might hurt in the long run. And if you're designing for a startup or growth-stage company, be vocal and lend your expertise, that's why they hired you in the first place.
 
In the end, creating a startup that changes lives, rewards investors and knocks the world of it's axis takes developing a brand worthy of the idea behind it. When there's every temptation to do the opposite, stick to the fundamentals and a proven process and you'll be much more likely to get there.

 

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Posted by Niki Hammond

November 16, 2012

Categories: Branding, Design, Nonprofits, Process, Social Media, Strategy, Technology, User Experience, Web Design