2nd Base - Reach Product Market Fit

Building your B2B SaaS Branding Guide Identity

A quick B2B SaaS branding guide to forge your identify and create a meaningful brand strategy.

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Building your brand as an early-stage startup should not be taken lightly. As a small, fast growing company, it’s important to look bigger than you are. A high-quality brand style guide is a good start. This is a document that defines your brand assets like company name, logo, visual style and brand voice.

Finding your Voice

Your voice is a fundamental part of your positioning, messaging, and ultimately your brand and B2B SaaS growth. What you sound like, how you say things, what you say, the vocabulary you use all add up to what people feel when they interact with your content, and what they remember about the engagement.

To keep things simple, I recommend picking a couple of words to define the voice of your brand. It’s very powerful to do this with the key leaders in your team, and ideally, with a couple of customers and partners. I like to challenge a team to get down to 5 words at most, maybe even less.

You’ll find that deciding between specific words gets hard when you need to go from 10-20 to the final 3-5 words. Here are a couple of examples that illustrate the type of decisions you will make as a leadership team:

Platform vs. Solution – This is a fundamental brand positioning choice. A technology platform has the potential for extreme growth across multiple ecosystems. The downside of positioning yourself as a platform though could be that customers buy solutions, and might think of a platform as incomplete, more than they need, complex or even “locking them in”.

Customer Centric vs. Innovative – Will customer needs drive your R&D priorities, or the innovations you come up with that will drive capabilities that customers cannot even imagine possible? Will you be a leader or a follower when it comes to your product category?

Casual vs. Formal – Is it important for your brand to be accessible? To be easy to work with, not too rigid and conservative? Or is it important to be seen as buttoned-up, predictable and secure? What do these words mean when you make strategy choices, or when you develop copy for your website or advertising?

Leading vs. Safe and Familiar – Leadership can be overrated? Does it mean in the minds of some customers that you take too much risk? Do you want to cater your brand identity to the early adopters or the conservative larger part of the market? 

After you pick your core set of brand adjectives to define your brand (and maybe a list of adjectives that define what your brand is not), it is time to create a clear narrative. Use these adjectives to write sentences that define your persona, like “we are formal, but not elite.”. It’s helpful to write examples of what these brand voice attributes sound like in your messaging and positioning guide.

Once you have gone through each item on your list, you have accomplished something that most brands struggle with by articulating a clear list of concise brand traits that make you unique. This is your guide to building your brand. These traits should resonate with everything you say and do as a company.

Looking the Part

For your visual branding, the rule is to keep it simple. This will allow you (and your small team) to apply your branding in a consistent, professional way, and make you look bigger than you are.

Keep your colors safe

For B2B, picking a color scheme can be easy. Just go with blue (confidence) or red (power, strength). Both are safe color choices in the business space. Sometimes you’ll be forced to select another color. In telecommunications, Verizon already has staked out red and AT&T has cornered blue. So Sprint was forced to go yellow, CenturyLink green, and T-Mobile pink. If you have a specific reason to go down a different path, that’s fine. But if you’re not sure what hue is you, red and blue are safe bets.

Make your logo recognizable

A logo consists of a mark and a logotype. The mark is the icon, and the logotype is the typeface of the name of your company. Together they make up your company’s signature. If you want to spend money on designers or an ad agency for this, do so. But picking something very simple often does the trick. Think circles, squares, triangles. Or pick outlines of recognizable symbols or objects. You can’t go wrong if you err on the simple side. Make sure your logo design does not become a multi-month project that holds up your company. If you go with a basic shape it’s pretty easy to update it later with a brand evolution.

Once you’ve settled on a shape, colors and fonts, there’s one more important step. Think on it. Your first impression isn’t important. The logo you’re creating must last, and you must step away from your initial excitement. Most likely after a week, your first logo love will look too complicated, noisy, and boring. Great logos often don’t get early praise. However, as they grow on you, they become powerful. Give it time, then test it on different people.

Duplication? A similar logo design is usually not an issue if you’re not in the same business. Look at Pepsi and Korean Air. Both are circles, both have the top part colored red, the bottom part blue. Both have a white swirl in the middle. Or Acumatica and Ally bank. No conflict at all since in both cases the companies are completely different.

Your brand style guide

A style guide defines your brand look. It helps you breathe consistency and exude credibility. It’s important to invest in a style guide for your company’s brand appearance from the start. First impressions are going to be important in the coming years. Your style guide should include the following components:

  • Introduction: Your company’s mission, brand promise, brand values
  • Identity: Your company’s logo, logo space, logo colors, logo misuses, color palettes,  and gradient use
  • Typography: Primary typeface, secondary typeface
  • Graphic elements: Graphics, iconography, mark, photography, marketing communications
  • Verbal identity: tone of voice, examples of phrasing
  • Your company’s brand voice, using your voice, key messages

Naming your company

Most companies have settled on a name when they get to MVP. I recommend not to change it unless you can make it significantly better, or your current name is causing you a specific challenge. Many big brands have names that were not great to start with, but the brand really gets made by what the company does, and how the product builds its reputation. If you haven’t named your company yet, here is an article describing the specific steps to follow when you (re-) name a company, including getting the right trademark registration, securing your domain and other important things you should not forget.

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