The three things a startup should focus on from day one are in order, the product, the people they hire and the brand they intend to build. Alas, branding teams are usually not hired until the startup has reached stability, or some measure of success- and, this is where founders go wrong.

Reread the first line. From my experience, marketing can only get you so far, and after that, it’s a strong brand that you should bank on to take you to the next level.

Branding is what your potential customers see, interact with and experience even before they come in contact with your product. That being said, branding plays a large role in perceptions and how your brand is envisioned. When you set the right context, tone and emotion on the first touch, you set the right expectations with your prospects and would-be loyalists. 

Now that you’ve decided to hire your brand team, that’s a step in the right direction! One that will be filled with dilemmas and confusions. The reason, you can’t hire a branding specialist the same way you hire for marketing or any other role. As the legend says, branding is a long-term game.

When hiring for brand, it is advisable you look out for these particular functional skills, in the right person, for these skills will help your company brand right and brand at scale.

Understand the brand guidelines in detail

Branding is a domain where there is really no limit. You can go extremely over-the-top noticeable and that works, and also so does subtle consistency. Your branding specialist needs to know when and where to draw the lines when it comes to your brand.

All these guidelines are normally laid out in a brand guideline which should ideally have been done in the early stages of the startup. If that step was skipped, it’s absolutely fine to start today and build this guideline out.

The brand guideline is the starting point of any activity, and obviously, is open for a little bit of interpretation. Therefore, it is your branding specialist’s duty and job to deeply understand the guideline, set boundaries and be able to translate them into actual visualizations of deliverables.

Your branding specialist should be in every meeting where a deliverable will touch the public eye. They will then take the idea, translate it into briefs and visualizations, assist the team responsible for taking this idea to market, and then measure the success,

So, when hiring a brand custodian, first and foremost test them on their ability to place your brand, with the brand guidelines, into deliverables. They should be able to creatively think of everything from an ad copy till a thought leadership blog cohesively once they see the guideline.

If you do want to take it one step further, test for technicalities when hiring. This would be for example an in-depth understanding of creating content for several platforms based on the same idea

Research-driven, immersion focused

Not to sound like a sore thumb, but branding requires a lot of research and more so subjectively rather than objectively. Branding research requires you to understand what’s between the lines and the intent of what they’re seeing.

Branding research is also about finding opportunities, or creating opportunities.

When it comes down to the campaign level, it is your brand specialist’s job to understand ‘how’ the end goal was achieved, and ‘why’ that particular vision was executed on.

Therefore, branding research is extremely important to the success of your campaign. If you copy or campaign even minorly seem like you’re overlapping a reputed brand – you will get called out. If you do an extraordinary job – you’ll be called out for the great campaign. The lesser of the first, the better.

Looking outwards to see what’s happening, and then inwards to understand what’s brand-like and doable, branding specialists should be able to convert big ideas into actionable insights for your brand. 

All of this is possible with being research-oriented, having your ears on the ground and keeping tabs of what’s happening in the market. Branding opportunities are all around us.

Moreover, if your branding specialist leads you down a path of “if only we had 50CR…” they are definitely not the right fit for your organisation.

Every campaign can be run, efficiently, smartly and within budget, if appropriated for your brand and product.

There’s nothing that dictates a large branding campaign will succeed or fail, the juice is in the execution. Execution originates at research, then strategy.

Understand the feature-benefit-emotions corundum

Consumers nowadays don’t buy products, they buy solutions to their problems that satisfy their emotions.

There is at least 1+ competitor in every single category and competing on product features is not always the best branding strategy. In recent times, therefore, benefits have come to prominence within communications because that plays into how brands position themselves. The best brands tap into emotion and the ever so famous FOMO. 

Your brand specialist should be able to think beyond your product, and think for your customer. 

Think what your customer is looking for as a solution, understand the emotions you can bring in and then tie that back into the branding activity. This sounds very simple on paper, but it’s extremely hard to draw the parallels. Imagine if doctors branded themselves based on fear – for sure they’re not going to succeed.

When hiring a branding specialist, ask them the right questions to gauge their understanding of the brand missions and vision – and if they are able to translate that into words and contextual conversations. 

Multi-channel branding

Think of how many channels you’re present on, and where all you’ve interacted with a brand before buying the product. 

Nowadays, in 2020, every brand is in fact on every channel, and therefore, it is essential for your branding specialist to have a stronghold of the major channels for your business. They do vary B2B or B2C, and then by industry.

Your customer needs on average 5-7 touchpoints before they are convinced to buy or invest in the benefits that you offer. And, all of these usually do not occur on the same channel. However, the communications remain ‘on brand’ so the experience is cohesive.

When hiring for a branding specialist, ensure that they know channel nuances, can nitpick on-brand and off-brand, and can build a campaign omnichannel.

Omnichannel is the umbrella – under which paid and organic rests. The communications on each again will vary where one is action-oriented, and the other is emotion-oriented perhaps, but again sound like the same brand messaging.

Startup founders do need to spend time with their branding specialist when it comes to messaging, initially, for the best results to show. There will be trial-and-error, but if you hire a good branding specialist – there should be fewer errors.

If you really want to push the limits on your branding specialist, ask them to dig into deep data with your growth/performance subsidiaries. This will help them narrow down on cause-effect-success/failure.

Your branding specialist’s goal should simply be, increase exposure/awareness as much as possible and then move the audience towards a decision.

Prioritize simplicity

This is such an overrated skill! However, let’s place some context into the message. At a startup, everything is limited – resources, money, time and more. With brand specialists already fighting that battle – add on the dwindling attention span and you can start with disappointment – not a happy place to be.

The only way to battle internal constraints and customer attention spans – is to attack them with simplicity.

As overrated as this sounds, this is truly what your customer wants. They want to see themselves benefiting from your product, in the most straight-forward way possible. And, here is where the brand specialist comes in, with messaging, that does that.

The greatest advertisements don’t always have clunky-text, the best digital advertisements have simplistic imagery. It can’t be a coincidence.

Here is also where a brand specialist plays a large role in the prioritization of messaging. Your sales staff may want to say 50% off, whereas your product staff will say that they want to push this feature out. Your brand specialist needs to take in everyone’s views, understand where they are coming from, and then build a brand strategy and messaging on top of it.

Simplicity is where brands win. 

Clarity of thought is where you allow your customers to win

Conclusion

When you’re hiring a branding specialist, apart from these five points it’s crucial that you align on thought processes and the bigger picture. Once you align on those, combined with the 5 pointers above – you’re sure to succeed. Your branding specialist will be an asset to the organisation, and everyone working with them. Your customers will then not just notice you, but praise you for the work you’re putting in if you brand right.

Branding right has benefits that don’t always meet the eye. And, that’s the beauty of branding.

About the author

Vanshika Mehta is a brand storyteller and communications specialist with 4+ years of experience. Her journey from Dubai, to Boston till DelhiNCR has given her a global exposure into all things marketing and branding. As a solopreneur since January 2020, she has worked with 50+ vibrant brands to bring their brand visions into reality and in the hands of the right consumers.

Vanshika is reachable via her Linkedin or from the contact page.