We all know how important first impressions are. But it is amazing how many new ventures do not spend the time to make a great first impression.
In business, your brand is what communicates your essence to your audience. Everything from your company name, logo, tag line and user experience is the body language of your company.
Your brand exists at the intersection of company values, your target customer and product category.
Establishing your brand does not have to be a huge time or cost sink.
Start simple and evolve as you grow. Your brand needs to communicate a consistent and professional image. This is critical for employees, customers, and investors.
Your brand is the foundation for how others see your company. Here are 5 things to help make a better first impression:
- Pick a name that is easy to spell and remember
- Create a tagline that is short and impactful
- Design a logo that aligns with your core message
- Establish key messages that are devoid of jargon
- Be consistent and use standard fonts, colors, and key messages
- Follow best practices for user interface and experience design
Naming Your Venture
If you have not yet picked a name, do not worry too much. You have lots of choices (which is good and bad).
Over the 30+ years, my experience covers 100’s of naming exercises for company or product names.
Sometimes, we spent too much money ($25,000 or more) and in other cases, almost none.
Today, studies suggest that your company name even influences buying behavior.
“90% ...make purchasing decisions subconsciously, choosing products by brand names that evoke positive emotions.”
So, avoid names with bad connotations or where the meanings are too ambiguous or open to negative interpretation. My personal favorite worst example is a product name chosen by OneComm, a predecessor company of Nextel. The product name was “Unicator.”
On face value, the name was okay. We combined communications methods (phone, text, data, and push-to-talk radio) into a single (unified) device.
But to me, it sounded like the word “Eunuch” (pronounced /ˈyo͞onək/) - the result of cutting off a man’s private parts. Ouch....
An article in NextWeb highlights other negative impacts from choosing a bad name:
- Inefficiency: Lost emails because of misspelled names
- Frustration: Customers, prospects, investors become annoyed when unable to intuitively reach your site
- Ineffectiveness: Lack of audience recognition lowers marketing effectiveness
Also, do not violate trademarks or create confusion with competitors. And, if you are going to be a global player, check if the name has an unkind translation in one of your key markets.
Producing a name is a process. Support is available from many sources. Articles, companies, and applications can help. Plus, there are freelance services (e.g. Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer.com, Toptal, Design Crowd, and others).
But before you spend money, here are a few guidelines for picking your company name.
- Shorter is better (less than 10 characters)
- Start and end with a hard consent (personal preference)
- Stay away from plural names (people will always forget the “s”)
- Easy to spell and remember
- Avoid names that require uncommon URL naming abbreviations (e.g. products = prods)
- Unique but meaningful to your target audience
An Inc. magazine article, “10 Tips to Pick the Perfect Name for Your New Company” dives deeper into other useful strategies.
Of the naming processes that I supported, below are a few personal favorites:
- Q.Know (collaboration platform for complex financial transactions)
- ZoomSafer (application to help prevent distracted driving)
- Certus (enterprise anti-virus product)
Also, do not limit your name choices based on available domain names. There ways to change or shorten the name to find a useful web address. For instance, you can use prefixes like “2” or “4” or “get”. And, while there is a general preference for *.com names, the growing number of domain extensions provides some flexibility.
Finally, as a startup with limited dollars and time do not also try to name your features or products. Focus on creating awareness and value in your company name.
Once you have finalized your name, you should also look into getting a trademark.
Creating A Tag Line
Once you have a name, you can create a tagline. Not all successful B2B software companies use taglines. But the process of creating one helps refine your key messages.
A Tagline or Slogan is a memorable dramatic phrase that sums up your company and the value of your offering. It should leave a lasting, memorable effect with the recipient. Like your name it should be easy to remember. Use the following guidelines to create your tag line:
- Simple, creative, dynamic
- Focused on outcome value delivery (not you or your product)
- Not vague or complicated (but short is not always better)
- Clarity of message
- Creativity of phrasing
- Inclusion of a benefit
Check out the “Top 100 Taglines Ever.
The process for forming your tagline is a good exercise. A recent Quora post provide a good example. Start by writing out your initial thoughts. Keep trimming it until you get to the fewest words with the most impact. The process might look something like this:
This method forces you to focus on simplicity and clarity.
Designing Your Logo
Like other elements of your brand, your logo has a purpose. Some call your logo the face of your company. It communicates professionalism and builds trust, or it does not. It becomes your visual identity. Like your name and tagline, it should convey a clear message related to your value proposition.
Your logo is not just a pretty picture. Your logo design is a strategic tool – it’s not art.
The design, size, color, shape, and other elements of your logo should communicate a specific experience and message.
Another advantage of logos is that they show the professional approach of your brand in conducting its business. Usually, people associate a high-quality logo with the quality of services provided by a particular company.
Many of the websites, applications, and services for creating company names can also help with your logo design. But there are also websites and applications specifically for logo creation. There are even sites that help develop logos based on your specific industry. For more insights into good logo design check out these resources.
Writing Your Key Messages
Before you create your website, collateral, and pitch deck, create a few key messages. They will be the foundation for your content development. It will help ensure consistency in your message. Like the other elements of your brand, your messages should be specific to the outcome value you deliver to your target market.
Remember nobody cares about your product or technology. They care about the valuable outcomes you deliver.
Your initial messaging is also likely to be wrong. So, remember it is an iterative process. Its value increases over time. Every interaction with potential customers and investors is a learning opportunity.
Key messages are the core of your writing. They are the most important things that you want your audience to remember.
But your audience has little patience. Your messages must be simple and clear. If you believe what you are doing is so complicated that it requires you to personally deliver the message, it is too complicated.
To create compelling key messages, continually update and simplify. When your friends, children and neighbors get it, you are getting closer.
Remember not to use acronyms, buzzwords, and other jargon. Your audience may not understand what you are trying to convey. They can also have preconceived ideas of their meaning. And worse, their definition may be different than yours.
So, when crafting your key messages:
- Focus on outcomes
- Be positive
- Use the language of your customer
- Focus on solving your customers’ personal and enterprise pains
- Make the customer the hero (not your product or technology)
- Use simple language
- Be consistent with your brand
Establishing Your Style Guide
Like mismatched socks, having an inconsistent image creates a poor impression. Your colors, font and logo all need to convey a specific message to your audience.
Everything from your website to presentation template should have a consistent look and feel. Use the same fonts and colors. Your logo should not feel like the Sesame Street game of “one of these things is not like the others; one of these things doesn't belong.”
Colors also have common associations. But within specific industries, they can also have different meaning. For instance, in the financial word, red is bad (financial losses). But in consumer-packaged goods, such as Coke Cola, it signifies excitement.
In fact, research has confirmed that 60% of people will decide whether or not they’re attracted to a message based on color alone. How you use color also affects the visibility of your brand and reinforces brand recognition by up to 80%.
Some companies have very elaborate style guides but starting can be simple and inexpensive. Do a little research on your industry and competitors to see what others use. There are also websites that provide guidance on creating your style guide as well as tools such as Frontify, and other examples. There are even application that will help ensure consistency.
Architecting Your User Experience
Like the other elements of your brand, the look and feel of your application or product needs to be consistent with the other parts of your brand.
There is a real science around usability. It is not another deliverable for your development team. While there are folks who can code “your user interface”, there are professionals trained to design them. In other words, user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design is a unique skill set onto itself.
You don't want a plumber performing your open-heart surgery.
You do not need to spend a bunch of money or hire more people either. Start with a well-informed underpinning. According to the International Design Foundation, a usable interface has three main outcomes:
- Easy for the user to become familiar with and competent in
- Easy for users to achieve their goals
- Easy to recall the user interface and how to use it on subsequent visits.
To establish a user experience, I favor principles from an approach called User Centered Design. This follows a test, update, and repeat approach. It is based on your increasingly detailed understanding of:
- Target market and user personas (their role and related attributes)
- User journey context (where are they in their work process and how does this map to your application customer lifecycle)
- Prioritized outcomes (what is the most important and valuable result of the actions taken)
Much like brand guidelines, UX guidelines are a document to detail how the pieces of your product work together. To ensure consistency, work with your teams to break your user interface into reusable components.
To get started quickly, there are tools to help you create mock-ups and wireframes of your software products. Some provide best practice templates for mobile and web applications. Others enable you to create clickable prototypes to get early customer input without having a completed product. Newer tools enable you to convert your wireframes into actual code (Modulz and Framer). Others provide tools to help build user flows, select color schemes, and create icons.
Making A Great First Impression
You have worked hard to move your new company forward. Do not let a bad first impression hurt your chances for success. Spend some time to create a brand that communicates effectively with your audience. Starting simple is fine but start with a solid foundation. Be clear, consistent, focused on outcomes and follow best practices.