How we're building strong start-up brands

Virgin is one of the world’s most recognisable brands, and the strength at the brand is at the core of our success worldwide. So it’s not surprising that the businesses we support through Virgin StartUp often have red-hot brands too. Here’s how four of our businesses developed their start-up brands.

Dicky Broadhurst – Morse Toad’s Marvellous Messaging

Morse Toad is a quintessentially British brand that promises to bring a bit of quirkiness and entertainment to our otherwise drab and dreary letterboxes. Our goal is to deliver surprises that are delightful, memorable and put massive smiles on people’s faces, and our mission is to be the leader in innovative postal communication.

Our name has probably been the biggest contributor to brand development, as it encompasses so many elements of what we wanted to achieve. It began with the pun from a more traditional form of communication, injecting some humour. The toad in his top hat quickly followed, and that immediately linked to other inspirations like Mr Toad of Toad Hall, and Willy Wonka’s top hat, both of which contribute relevant characteristics.

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The majority of our early brand work was done in-house with the help of online freelancers. One particular designer really helped us realise our vision early on, and helped the packaging become what it is today. We then briefly worked with a design agency whose main purpose was to help us reign it in and focus on the core message. We had introduced too many themes, not all of which contributed to a focused product that spoke directly to the customer. 

Branding is a continuous process. Don’t be afraid to ask random people their opinion. Look at your customer reviews. Create a brand document, and then every so often review it. You need to think about all the places your brand appears, and ask yourself if it is on message. What is the tone of voice? What do people think when they see it? How do you describe your brand? What are you trying to convey? What is its purpose? How are you benefitting your customers? How do you make them feel?

We keep a document that we write and re-write. It includes the business elevator pitch, the one line synopsis, the one word description, and the brand description. We also use this place for ideas that might help enhance the brand, particularly to do with PR and events. Each time we write this document we think we’ve nailed it, then a month or so later we do it all again and make it better. We believe our brand must make the right first impression, and then remain consistent throughout.

Read more: How good is your branding knowledge?

Charlie Vaughan - Fudge Animation

At Fudge, we believe that the key to building a strong brand is to be passionate about it, making sure it lives and breathes in everything we do. For us, our brand isn’t just a fancy logo or a website; it’s the perception that people (clients, prospects, people involved in the industry) hold in their head about Fudge and what we do. Our clients realise that the creative, friendly, fun experience they get from our brand is an extension of our people and our work.

Everything about our company - our work, our people and our brand is based on the values that we hold as a business. These are:

‘Creative Challenger’

‘Constant Innovator’

‘Passion for Excellence’

‘Raconteurial Spirit’

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We designed the first version of our brand ourselves, creating our original logo and building our first website. We’re a bit more sophisticated then we were in those early days and recently worked with an amazing design agency called FHOKE who revamped our logo and website.

We spent a lot of time trying to understand the demographics of our target market, what their interests are, and how they communicate. That said, we also wanted to stamp our personality and values on the brand. The tools that we use to communicate – our logo, website and weekly blog posts - have evolved, but the brand still adheres to those same underlying principles we mentioned at the start.

We recognise that over time, Fudge as a company might change. But we also understand that if we don’t stay true to our brand, we risk losing the attention of our potential clients. We strive to maintain consistency throughout our comms and achieve this using our brand and communications bibles which hold us to visual principles, tone of voice etc.

Read more: How to find the right strapline for your business

Gemma Allies - SkinSincere

For SkinSincere our defining brand features are certainly the brand colours, and the SkinSincere heart in our logo. To me the heart encompasses our values of honesty, good ethics, and fun – in fact, if I had to describe our brand in one word, I’d choose ‘Ethical’. I also always knew that I wanted pink and white for brand colours. When I had the idea for SkinSincere and the type of brand I wanted to build, I knew this symbolism and colour palette would fit perfectly.

To develop the brand, I did a great deal of market research, including questionnaires, focus groups and secondary research to try and determine what my target market would like to see. I researched what other brands were doing, and where there were opportunities. I worked alongside a graphic designer with a range of concepts based on my initial ideas, and from there things started to fall into place. It was important to me that I get it right, because I believe a strong brand is the perfect starting point for any successful business.

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Right now I’m working alongside our marketing coordinator to freshen and improve upon the brand itself. From this we are formulating a strict set of brand guidelines to ensure a more uniform, professional and clean image. It’s important that the designers and internal staff working on a brand all share the same vision and ideals about what the brand represents and how this is conveyed, and fortunately the team understand this.

Our brand voice will naturally evolve over time, but we have a very clear idea of what type of voice we would and wouldn’t use, including the language, tone and key characteristics we wish to portray. Before finalising any promotional materials we always ensure they embody our brand values and personality  - if they don’t, we tweak it until it’s exactly right.

Richard Maxted - Mix & Muddle

I try to strike a balance between something modern, but also something which harks back to the recent past. Cocktails are very fashionable at the moment, but they’re steeped in history and nostalgia too. Finding the middle ground was key.

Personality is also a passion for the brand. Our product is a consumable, but also involves interaction between people, so honest, engaging, and fun is where we try put our focus. Obviously we still need to be viewed as professional, whatever that means...

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I always had a reasonably clear idea of our brand ethos, which dictated how the brand look was established originally. However I couldn't decide if we were a corporate, formal cocktail company, or a more light-hearted, experiential company. I got far more enjoyment from the latter, so the logo and branding changed to reflect this. An outside eye was needed as well, so I commissioned a designer to create something based on a set of images I'd collated. We're now far more secure in our branding.

The process of developing the brand was very organic, as it should be I think. I was a one-man band, and tried to do as much as possible myself. A sense of ownership and budgetary constraints kept outsourcing to a minimum.  And as we’re still a reasonably small company, the same people are delivering the brand ethos and message. This keeps our output consistent. As we grow though, this becomes more difficult. Brand is in the eye of the beholder, so we have to be reactive to client and colleague responses. There's no harm in changing our position if needs be. Personalities change - so should brands.

An important tip I’d recommend is to keep your User Experience (UX) lean! Don't over-complicate the journey your customer needs to take to interact with or purchase your services. Start with how humans interact with the world, and build up from there. 

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