Branding Business

Startup Branding: Six Questions that Help You Define Your Brand Early

Photo by Patrik Michalicka on Unsplash

So you’re creating a game changing product or a revolutionary service, but in order to succeed as a business you need a great supporting brand. But why is brand so important? Brands sell x 1000 better than products. They do this by creating strong emotional connections – the kind that any business regardless of sector can benefit from.

What is a Brand?

Put simply, a brand is how other people describe your business when you are not in the room. Marty Neumeier described it as “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.” A strong brand provides a unified experience to your customers, employees and partners across all touchpoints and channels.

Sound complex? It doesn’t have to be. Think of it as a system consisting of strategy, visuals and messaging.

Messaging and visual identity are often overlooked by young companies yet both are integral to success, especially in the highly competitive startup world. Early stage startups need a memorable visual language and narrative to make up for a lack of history and reputation. It’s no secret that in most start-ups sharp messaging and strong design are not the founder’s primary focus, especially given the shoestring budget available. However, the market proves that whether B2C or B2B, all successful innovation-led companies are driven by design.

Where to Begin?

So where do we start? Before thinking about visuals and messaging, do your strategy homework. Strategy is the first step in building a brand. Without a clear roadmap it is almost impossible to create a coherent visual identity (logotype, colors, imagery); the same goes for messaging. To put it simply, brand strategy identifies what your brand is, visual identity defines how it looks and messaging – how it speaks.

Before working with any creatives – agencies, solo designers or copywriters – it is vital you first define the basics of your brand within your founding team through simple strategy exercises. It will save you money and time through negating the need to retrofit your visual guidelines or messaging pillars because they do not match your vision.

At Wunderdogs (my agency) we always recommend one simple exercise to early stage founders when working on startup branding. In order to DIY the Strategy stage your key team members need to reach a consensus on six simple questions – the “Six Whats”.

The Six Whats

What We Stand For

This is the reason your company exists. For example, Uber exists to make transportation “as reliable as running water, everywhere and for everyone.” Try getting to the very core of the issue you are trying to solve, and have it written down. That is your reason for being – and your entire pitch is built around making it happen.

What We Believe In

Shared values form strong bonds: with employees, customers, partners and investors. I love how Slack clearly defined their values – “Empathy as expressed through courtesy, Craftsmanship tempered with playfulness and Thriving, both in ourselves and others”. Slack employees remember these values by heart and work by them — you can see them shine through Slack’s product, customer support and communications.

What Audience We Seek to Engage

Or rather, who is our core customer? The more we know about our core customer, the more relevant we can be in all areas of our business. A good rule of thumb here is to think about people’s pains, wants and needs rather than simple demographics. This may sound obvious, but we’ve seen many founders obsess so much over products they neglect consumer research.

What We offer

For example, you may sell clothes, or be in the business of personal style (e.g. Stitch Fix or Rent the Runway). Remember, what you offer is a solution to your customers pains or needs – a solution that elevates them and improves their lives. Try to keep this in mind when thinking about the type of experience you provide.

What Makes You Different

This ties back to our audience question. We are not doing everything for everyone, so what is it that differentiates you in the minds of your core audience? For example, Zappos have a famous one-year return guarantee: it reduces barriers to entry when buying their shoes because you have an entire year to decide whether or not to keep them. This is justified in their business model, and gives the company an unprecedented advantage.

What You Say and How?

What is your story and how do you tell it? Does it merge with your personal experiences? Is it your response to a global trend or pain? How are you planning to connect with your audience on an emotional level?

These six questions form the basis of strong creative briefs to designers and copywriters. Copywriters will focus on your voice, tone and messaging (is your brand cheerful, assertive, visionary, formal or conversational?); whilst designers define your brand identity: logo, typography, key visuals or any other features that identify your company.

About the author


Daria Gonzalez

Daria is the founding partner of, a branding agency for tech startups; TEDx speaker and mentor at several accelerator programs in Silicon Valley (Founder Institute, Momentum by Eaze, WeWork Labs, AIGA SF).