The Basics of Branding for New Digital Product Makers

How can you get started with branding that will set you up for Apple-level success? Well, you could hire an elite and very expensive branding firm to design your logo, build your website, and aestheticize your product. That’s one approach. Or you could bootstrap it, keeping the following tenets in mind.

As you strategize and launch your product marketing agency, always keep the following “greater brand guidelines” in mind. To help illustrate how some very successful startups have done this, we’ve included some examples to perhaps inspire you.

From the very beginning, your visual style must ladder back up to your vision. Everything about your look and feel should stand out and be memorable and distinctive, from your logo to your website to your customer experience.

Apple and style are synonymous in the world of technology products. The company topped Forbes’ “Most Valuable Brands 2018” for the eighth year in a row.

User interface, or UX, is an important part of the design, too. Hand in hand with visual style is the user experience you build with your design choices. Be known as the product-maker who really gets people.

One brand that does this well is Dropbox. Their overarching design style is distinctive, and we’re not just talking about their logo and website. Dropbox’s impressively easy installer downloads an application to your desktop that adds a Dropbox folder to your Favorites list on your computer. This folder is complemented by web and mobile versions of your Dropbox that sync seamlessly and automatically, so you can always access your latest files from any device. But because of the desktop installer, even though Dropbox is a cloud-based product, you can easily drag and drop files in and out of the folder like you would any other storage device.

Keep everything about your product simple. People don’t necessarily buy products because of specs and features. They buy because your brand appeals to them, and then they decide to stay or go because of specs and features. When you overwhelm people with options and clutter up front, you frighten them away. The best websites are simple and mobile friendly. And this simplicity should be mirrored in your UX, too. A great homepage is one with a single call to action.

We love the way the messaging app Slack does this. Their website ( is visually rich, lean, and mean. There isn’t a lot of overwhelming information and unnecessary details. Instead, the center of the homepage is a large signup box, with a clear call to action. But Slack manages to work in a powerful and compelling client testimonial with its homepage as well, tying its brand to another equally or even more impressive brand — smart.

Appealing to users means finding their pain points and knowing exactly how to solve them. If you can tap into an emotional connection with your potential users and show them that you understand their experiences, you create a bond that leads to a relationship. Toymakers seem to really get this. Barbie’s “Imagine the Possibilities” campaign uses the concept of helping girls dream big and is about much more than just a doll — but it definitely makes you want to buy the doll.

Lego also does this well with their grassroots “Lego Ideas” campaign. Fans come up with innovative new ideas for Lego sets, upload proposals to the Lego Ideas site, and then do the promotional work themselves to get 10,000 votes for an idea. Once an idea has enough votes, it enters the Lego review phase, and a review board selects projects to move forward into production, to be sold worldwide. The original “idea person” — a regular joe — gets a cut of the revenue. As Adweek put it, “This may be the best example of user-generated content in the history of online marketing agency.”

Referrals are crucial in these days of social media transparency. From online reviews to social media brand advocates to paid influencers, never ignore an opportunity to be the topic of conversation. Modern-day startups are built around one-to-one, customer-to-customer interactions. Some of the most successful businesses are simply enablers for these conversations — including Dropbox, whose primary growth strategy in the early days was word-of-mouth advertising.

You can’t hide from the internet, so you might as well get people talking about you. Strong brands use this philosophy to their advantage in cultivating bold marketing agency strategies. REI’s #OptOutside marketing campaign takes a bold stance against Black Friday. Unlike almost every other retailer, REI closes its physical stores and shuts down its online ordering operation the day after Thanksgiving, and then the company brags about it with an advertising campaign that’s wildly popular with users. Their smart hashtag makes it easy for people to join the online conversation. In 2015, REI’s social media mentions rose 7000 percent around this campaign, and they received 2.7 billion PR impressions in 24 hours.

These are by no means the only ways to build a brand. In fact, coming up with your own ingenious way is even better. Think original, audacious, and bold.

Want to keep going? Read our book Got Ideas? How to Turn Your Ideas into Products People Want to Use, which takes novice product-makers through the journey of creating great, user-friendly digital products from the thin air of their imaginations. Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook, it’s a hands-on, practical manual for aspiring entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.

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