Anyone can be an entrepreneur, but what sets your company apart from the thousands of other startups that will be launched in 2014? Available technology has made starting a business faster than ever. No one is saying it will be easy, but you certainly have the resources to do it. So I repeat: What sets you apart? Start-ups are often innovative in and of themselves. They enter a market with their own twist on existing products, but that innovation hardly means automatic success. Your brand is your connection to the people, and they decide if you’ll make it big or not. This is why digital branding is so important, it's your chance to prove to them, the people, that you're worth it.

 “How essential is branding for startups?

It’s a survival tool, no surviving startup doesn’t have.”

The journey doesn’t end at becoming the leading brand in your market, staying on top is an even tougher challenge. The good? Technologies at our disposal have made this easier and cheaper than ever before. The bad? Everyone has access to these technologies, so setting yourself apart is as important as ever.

Here are five ways you can use to start building and maintaining your startup’s digital brand:

 1.    Spend Time on Your Logo, Do it Right

“Your logo is the face of your brand. It becomes associated with every aspect of your company. Quality reflects credibility, so it's paramount that you put in the necessary effort for it to speak your brand's language effectively.” – Kevin Boodtama, Webonise Graphic Designer

The logo is your first impression. In a quick glance, it has to make your potential consumer curious about your business proposition while providing insight into the nature and identity of the company at the same time. It’s tough work, but in the fickle world of business there aren’t too many second impressions, so the first impression has to stick. Many large companies go through tremendous work during the logo design process, usually involving focus groups to help them pick the right design elements. (There are so many considerations to mull over here. We’ll dedicate a future post to specifically talk about this.)

In the meantime, the bottom line in logo design is knowing your story and the story you want to tell. It’s a careful dance of internal reflection and external research. You need to understand who you are as a company and how you are going to brand yourself, while knowing what your consumers will respond to. Company principles and values come alive in logos, and it shouldn’t just be carried by market data.

Don’t forget your logo can evolve with your brand, but you don’t lose the core that inspired you from the beginning. Take Twitter for example:

"Our new bird grows out of love for ornithology, design within creative constraints, and simple geometry. This bird is crafted purely from three sets of overlapping circles … similar to how your networks, interests and ideas connect and intersect with peers and friends." — Twitter Blog Post

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 2.    Deliver Brand Consistency.

Consistency plays a huge role in building customer recognition by establishing your brand. This isn’t as simple as you think. It goes beyond ensuring you update your social media accounts at the same hour everyday, it’s about making sure that every message you deliver is guided by a single brand direction, and every point of interaction stays true to your brand’s voice, culture and theme.

How do you deliver brand consistency across different channels of interaction?

Identify a foundation of consistency. This foundation will ensure that even if your tone and platform of engagement differs, your message and your brand remains the same. When starting a company, you’ll be tossed around in a million directions and wear many different hats. If one of those means marketer, stay organized from the beginning. Sit down and come up with an internal handbook (note: take elements from your business plan.) Include your company mission, key competitors, how you plan to respond to negative feedback, a PR crisis plan and chain of command so there is direct authority over public messaging channels. As you begin to expand your employee base or hand off responsibilities to other parties, this will ensure that everyone is crystal clear on what the expectation is across all messaging scenarios.

In a larger sense, consistency means professionalism and stability. When customers see a consistent brand message being aired out, it becomes easier for them to understand who you are as a brand and trust you. Given the multi-platform marketing approach of businesses today, consistency involves greater disciple. If customers ask you a question on your Facebook page, that response has to be consistent and uniform across Twitter, LinkedIn, your phone lines etc.

 3. Maintain a Business Blog.

Brands are incomplete without a voice, and there is no better way to deliver branded messages than blogging. Social media is great, but sometimes 140 characters are not enough. Blogging gives your audience a better perspective of what your business is, it increases your brand’s visibility and SEO and it fosters trust and bolsters your brand’s reputation. Many startups are afraid of opening their own blogs because they fear they are not good enough writers to pull it off. So while it’s much more cost-effective to manage a blog personally, delegation is the next best thing.

There are numerous pools of writers out there that are just waiting to be tapped. Freelance job marketplaces, such as Odesk and Elance, will give you a wide range of writers to choose from. Bloggers in these workplaces offer their services at a minimum of $8 an hour (for well-experienced freelancers with established profiles,) but rates can go lower. One caveat, though. While it’s a lot easier to delegate blogging tasks, it’s also entails a great deal of supervision. You know your company best, and you know the kind of voice you want to transmit through the internet. Thus, it falls upon your shoulders to make sure that the articles that your hired writer churns out align with your vision (bring in branding handbook) and goals for the blog and the company.

Another way to handle the responsibility is to share it internally, like us!

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Whether you have five or 10 employees starting out, this is a great opportunity for your team to share their expertise. If you have a team member who is stand out writer and copy editor, put him/her in charge. Rotate your blog voice throughout topics and team members, and have the ‘editor’ pull it together to sound compelling and smooth. This is also a great way to showcase your company’s culture.

4.    Plan out a Social Media Branding Plan.

Social media is the bane and boon of the marketers of this generation. Here at Webonise, we celebrate the power of social media and how it can empower businesses to connect consumers. It’s a complete brand-building package that you can use free of charge—and free is always good! What’s more, if you stick to personally creating content and managing these accounts, you should not be worried about costs.

Yet with great power comes great responsibility. Social media branding is one of the most carefully calibrated marketing strategies out there. Customer response can be quick or even scathing, and the public nature of this response can immediately affect brand perception. So responsible social media branding has to be exercised, and this means actively and carefully considering all released content and heeding advice #2 by making sure that everything is consistent across all your social media accounts.

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Social media is also the most effective customer feedback and response tool. It’s immediate, and you need to be immediate too. Search for mentions, talk back and forth with industry pros and potential customers and answer questions right away. More and ever, consumers are using social media as a customer support tool. Make sure you’re there to offer that expected expertise on the fly.

5.    Measure Success through Analytics

Every strategy ends with assessment. You have to know how well you’ve done based on your goals. (Oh yeah, make sure you are setting milestones to hit.) Feedback allows you to be dynamic and to respond with strategic realignments that can help you reach your targets the second time around. In the world of social media, analytics allows you to listen more closely to your consumers. Is my blog working? Are the colors of my logo attractive? Is my brand growing? These are just some questions that analytics can answer for you.  Google Analytics shares its free service so companies, like yours, can capitalize and make the most of it without shedding a penny.

The only problem with analytics is that it’s so easy to get lost in the data. With so many social media metrics such as likes, comments, tweets, shares, and clicks, the challenge is to wrestle insights from the data. It doesn’t end with saying that Facebook fans shared your blog’s content more this month than the last. You have to ask yourself what it all means, what you’re doing right, and if necessary, what you need to do next time to get it right. Data gives you a solid first step in the right direction, but your brand won’t go anywhere if you stop at the first step.

These are exciting times for start-ups. The public looks to them for smart, unique and innovative business propositions and solutions. There are media outlets and social media accounts specifically waiting for the next big thing in start-up land, but this also means that the competition is getting stiffer. What do you need to do to stand out?

Biggest takeaways:

  • Do your research.
  • Implement consistent strategies.

Don’t be afraid to outkick your coverage, as they say. Be smart about how you do it, but move full speed ahead and always be thinking about the next step so you don’t lag behind the market.