Put a Brand on It: a simple startup branding framework

What is Brand?

brand anatomy

So… how do we get started?

We used those six elements above as a jumping off point. For each element, create a response that fits your company — within an hour or two, you’ll have the first version of your brand! We outlined the easiest order (and our favorite examples) here:

1. Story

Our favorite example is the Clif Bar founding story, “The Epiphany.”

  • Does it have enough genuine detail to make it feel real (like living in a garage with two trumpets)?
  • Does it communicate our genuine passion and enthusiasm for our product (like “The Epiphany”)?

2. Purpose

For a model of purpose, we loved IKEA’s vision statement:

  • Beyond our current small product, how do we foresee fulfilling that vision (not just selling a chair, but a line of furniture)? What is the ultimate goal (so that… “as many people as possible will be able to afford them”)?

3. Emotions

Some of the emotions we wanted to evoke were obvious after writing our story and purpose — we thought about how we wanted people to feel when learning about us. We also browsed a few lists of emotions, to see if they had any ideas that we might have missed. At the end, we asked ourselves:

  • What are the most important feelings that our product will create in its ideal use case?
  • What are emotional ‘traps’ we might fall into? (For example, if we go too far into evoking nostalgia, our brand might come across as old-fashioned or kitschy.)

4. Voice / Tone

Given that we had already written a story and a purpose, and had already chosen the emotions we wanted to evoke, we found that creating a voice for our brand came much more easily.

  • How does this copy make me feel — does it match the company or product’s emotional goals?

5. Value Proposition

Especially for a startup making its first pitches or landing pages, we thought SumoMe had some of the best examples (Mailchimp, Trello, Airbnb…)

  1. Sub-headline: a ~one sentence description of how you deliver what you promised in your headline, specifically.
  2. List of key benefits: what are the best parts of your product, your key differentiators, your star features? Should be <=3 or 4 items.

6. Creative Elements

Creative elements, by our definition, are everything visual: the company logo, colors, typography, imagery, etc. Since we are not expert visual designers, we felt it was best for this part to come last: now that we robustly understand our story, our purpose, and our tone, it’s much easier for us to pick creative elements that match our brand goals.

How does this all tie together?

With an answer for each of these six elements, we now have a Brand “checklist” we can use as we roll out each new piece of marketing material, new landing page, or new UI design.

  • Does our message feel a natural and genuine extension of our company purpose and our origin story?
  • Have we communicated our value proposition clearly?
  • Are we evoking the emotions we want people to feel when interacting with our company and our products?
  • Have we been consistent with our creative elements, making this piece of work quickly identifiable as ours?



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Emma Townley-Smith

Emma Townley-Smith

Early-stage Head of Product. Love learning how people and products work.