Branding your billion dollar startup

You’ve probably heard that London-based Improbable are the latest billion dollar startup. I have no connection the company apart from the fact that they’re based in my old office in Farringdon in Central London. It’s fun to think that we left some creative energy hanging in the air for the new tenants to breathe in – especially as their simulation platform owes quite a bit to the world of the Matrix.

You can be fairly sure Improbable wouldn’t have such a high valuation if their brand and trademarks weren’t in order and that they’ve taken the time to get the right brand and trademark protection in place for their business and their platform.

Without the right brand and trademark protection you could find your startup doesn’t have the value you’d expect

You may have already built your website, your brand identity and your social media channels, but if you haven’t had the time or the inclination to get expert advice your startup and your product could be in a serious situation. Without the right brand and trademark protection you could find your startup doesn’t have the value you’d expect.

It’s not enough to have a brand. You need to have a brand that’s unique and one you can defend and protect when it comes to seeking major investment and when registering your name and trademark for international markets. And don’t make the mistake that because you can register a domain name that’s all you’ll ever need.

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Branding – your future has already happened

Language can imprison and constrain human ideas and thinking. That’s the theme of Arrival, one of the most successful and thought-provoking movies in recent months. Understanding the language of an extraterrestrial race helps the main character played by Amy Adams realise she can break away from the constraints of traditional thinking and embrace her future. The future has already happened.

This idea resonates with my thinking on the total brand experience approach to design and business growth. Successful twenty-first century brands are not fixed. They’re not immutably encoded in fixed ideas and thinking. They move and grow. They evolve. They tell a fluid yet logical story that’s unique to the brand – unique to you. Your total brand experience includes the future as well as the past and present of your brand. It helps you create your future. It’s everything you do.

Your total brand experience includes the future as well as the past and present of your brand

Every great brand tells a great story and the future growth and development of your brand is already far from unknown. You can know where you want to go, know or have insight into what your future will be and plan for growth and revolution. Branding and design are an ongoing process that helps you grow your brand and build your future too.

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Our new work for Brooklyn’s Lifestyle magazine in New York

Brooklyn’s Lifestyle is a hyper-local digital magazine about all things Brooklyn NY and sometimes beyond. The site’s founder Nat Cleary asked us to help her rebrand and relaunch her site, having seen our work for Luger London featured on a global web design showcase.

The new brand identity echoes Massimo Vignelli’s pioneering design work for the New York transportation system. The Helvetica typeface gives the design a classic feel and we’ve reworked some iconic elements of Brooklyn and New York metro signage. We combined this with lifestyle imagery but given it a distinctive style that’s urban, engaging and works well on social media.

The new design has helped Nat bring some major new advertisers on board including Mercedes-Benz and the new site is already getting lots of extremely positive feedback. Have a look at the new site here.

It’s significant that although we’re based in Ireland and the UK we can work with a client In Brooklyn NY and help them grow their brand, grow their business and get the best results.  We already have lots of experience of working with clients in Silicon Valley, China, Japan and mainland Europe, so we’re very proud of our international reputation.

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Future Now – an introduction to Big Data

Google, LinkedIn and Amazon are essentially Big Data companies, so you’re probably using at least some of the tools they offer every day. Google search, for example, is a Big Data tool that everyone can use – the trick is to turn it into a tool that works for you and your business. But let’s look at Big Data and what it is. Essentially Big Data is about finding meaning in what you can measure about your business performance and you may have already come across data mining tools that measure specific business areas such as social media.

Essentially Big Data is about finding meaning in what you can measure about your business performance.

A Big Data approach allows business owners and managers to see the future before it happens, to see the meaning and the patterns in what they are doing now that can tell them what will happen to them and their business tomorrow.

In other words it gives you a better, more reliable view of your own performance and customer behaviour and takes a lot of the gut feeling out of business strategy by giving fast, reliable, real-time insights.

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Paul Smith and the power of a simple brand story

There will hardly be any Paul Smith customers unaware of the simple, yet powerful ‘origins’ story of the Paul Smith brand. A 17-year-old with a driving desire to become a professional racing cyclist, Smith had a serious accident and ended up in hospital for several months. While in hospital he made some new friends involved in the local art and design scene in Nottingham. So young Paul started to take an interest in their stories about the Bauhaus and contemporary design.

As the story goes ‘with the help of his then-girlfriend (now wife), Pauline Denyer, who was a Royal College of Art graduate, and a small amount of savings, he opened his first shop on 10 Byard Lane, Nottingham in 1970 named Paul Smith Vêtements pour Hommes.’ With no formal design training and having never gone to art school, Paul Smith still became one of the great English fashion designers, developing his own ‘classic with a twist’ style which has evolved for well over forty years.

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The Paul Smith brand story is simple, but compelling. It’s the story of the thwarted athlete who is still becomes a world beater. It’s the story of an outsider, not a fashionista, who makes interesting and enduring clothes and accessories with taste and quality. You don’t have to be one of the elite to be able to afford them. It’s the brand story of an everyman, which everyone can relate to.

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Does becoming a more social brand really help grow your business?

Recent research from statista.com says 83% of SMBs use social media as a way of driving growth for their business. The same source says 70% of professional marketers claim to have been successful in gaining new customers using social networks.

These figures tend to support my own analysis. Social media has become one of the first things business owners and marketers turn to when they want to get more growth or launch a new product. But just how effective is social media in building your brand and growing your business?

I recently talked to customer experience professional and social media expert Augie Ray of Gartner. Augie argues that marketers “cannot achieve their goals with the limited and shrinking reach of organic social media.  Within a year or two, I think all social media marketing will be paid ads, with little effort dedicated to organic and free marketing.”

Brandcasting on social media rarely works

Augie thinks that while some brands do have a great success with social channels as they have great brand experiences that involve their audiences (examples are sports, entertainment and lifestyle brands like Apple and Samsung). But most do not and should be wary of placing too much of their focus on social media for marketing.

Social media marketing which isn’t really social will always be largely ineffective whether it’s paid for or not. Brandcasting on social media rarely works.

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Design your future and get used to success

When you work with start-ups it’s soon clear which ones give themselves a greater chance of success. Companies that value design and value ideas and creativity in everything they do, always seem to do better than the rest.

If you don’t think creatively you’re not using the power design and inventive thinking give you to design your future and plan for success.

Design is important in everything you do. From the way you send emails, to the typeface and logotype you use and the signals your web site and social media accounts give your users. Good design helps you engage with, learn from and better understand your customers.

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Mulholland Drive and the lesson for startup brands

David Lynch’s 2001 neo-noir film Mulholland Drive left many viewers baffled and perplexed. But many were impressed by the audacity of the invention and creative vision and many critics consider it a masterpiece of modern cinema. It was even voted the best film of the 21st century.

Lynch had to take a massive change of direction to make the movie happen at all.

A TV production company backed Lynch to develop a new TV series to follow the success of Twin Peaks. So he developed a new idea, and shot an open-ended proof of concept pilot. Mulholland Drive was his new vision, his new creative plan.

Mulholland Drive is a good example of a creative pivot. You set out planning to reach a target, but end up finding something you didn’t expect to find.

But when his backers saw the pilot they pulled the funding and decided not to go ahead and produce the series. Lynch’s plan was in trouble.

But he didn’t stop there. Convinced of the idea and his concept he sought a new producer, a new backer to turn the TV pilot into a feature film. He dug deep and found a new way to reach a target he hadn’t set out to reach. Read more

Every great brand tells a great story – what’s your story?

It was Mad Men’s Don Draper who said that every great ad tells a great story. But you no longer need a Madison Avenue advertising agency to tell that story for you. You need good design, a great website and social media channels. And lots of hard work of course!

In my view every great brand needs to tell a great story. If you’re a brand owner or a marketing professional I think you’ll probably agree.

Each new Steve Jobs keynote created a chapter of the Apple story with every new product launch. Usually that was an insanely great story that anyone could connect with.

Enzo Ferrari took the famous prancing horse logo from a design on the fuselage of a World War 1 plane. He added the yellow background and invented the Ferrari logo as a good luck symbol. But you don’t need to be a petrolhead to understand and admire the power and history of the Ferrari brand.

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Five lessons from the Uber brand experience

Many of my clients are exciting startups intent on changing their market and, in some cases, changing the world too. But in the post-‘Zero To One’ business landscape every company is a startup. Every business needs to keep learning and every brand needs to keep evolving otherwise you risk becoming irrelevant. A fascinating long read on the history, failings and ‘uberise’ of Uber in London (you can read it here) led me to an in-depth look at the rise and rise of the Uber brand experience. And of course ‘uberize’ has become a verb meaning to change a market or economic model by the introduction of a cheap and efficient alternative.

1. Your brand needs to evolve

If you live in a city, Uber makes it very easy to not own a car. In fact it makes it cool not to own one, as co-founder Travis Kalanick explains: ‘Uber started out as everyone’s private driver. Today we aspire to make transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere and for everyone.’

Where it was once ‘everyone’s private driver’ now the essence of the Uber brand and the product that it sells is movement itself. As Kalanick told Wired, “The early app was an attempt at something luxury. That’s where we came from, but it’s not where we are today.”

The lesson for every business is that continuous brand evolution has played a huge part in Uber’s growth.

No one can accuse Uber of not thinking big: ‘Today we aspire to make transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere and for everyone.’

The lesson for every business is that continuous brand evolution has played a huge part in Uber’s growth. If your brand is static you get overtaken. It you don’t move, you get run over. Read more

Every great brand tells a great story.

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