Startup Branding Almost Always Changes

Three ForksOne of the paradoxes in life is balance.

A common balance in the startup world comes with branding.

Your name. Your logo. Maybe a slogan. The look and feel. The style. Etc.

When you’re a startup it can seem like this stuff is really important. And it certainly holds a high amount of importance, but it shouldn’t tip so far to that side of things that it deters attention from more important tasks.

For example, it’s not worth making tweak after tweak to the logo if you’re pulling resources away from selling or from making improvements to your product and service.

In my first job out of college I worked for a company that had multiple brands. And during my time there they launched a new brand. I remember sitting in a meeting with a consultant. The internal team was struggling coming up with a name for the new brand.

The consultant simply said that we should just pick something non-offensive and move on. His feeling was that the brand, regardless of name and look and whatever, would take on the attributes of what the company did.

It wasn’t so much about the name and styling and all that as it was about what the customers experienced.

And there was another thing to think about…what your startup does at the beginning will likely change anyway. So the branding you work so hard to perfect in the beginning will likely need a tweak or two as well…or maybe it won’t…

When The Business Interests Change

General Electric began in the late 1800s with mostly interests in the electric field. So the name made perfect sense. Even after a few mergers and acquisitions, the company was mostly in the electric field for much of its early existence.

But as the 20th Century moved along the company branched out into many other areas of industry. But the name remained the same. Eventually the branding changed a little bit to the shorter, GE, but even today many people still think of the full name, General Electric.

The question is what you should do when your company does other things outside of a seemingly limiting name. For General Electric it seems that they haven’t really worried about it too much.

Just because their name had “electric” in it didn’t mean that people wouldn’t associate them with other things like aviation, entertainment, digital products and much more.

When we think of the brand today we associate it with all the things we know about the company.

It’s like when a parent names their child Michael. Originally, it seems the name was after the patron saint of soldiers. But when we know a person named Michael we associate the name with the person that we know and all their attributes. We don’t think about the patron saint of soldiers.

When The Business Interests Stay The Same

In the early 1960s, Sam Walton opened his first Walmart. The company has pretty much continued doing the same thing ever since. They’re a discount retailer.

Oddly enough, the branding has gone through a little bit of change over the years. The original logo didn’t include the dash in the name, but after a few years they added it to separate Wal and Mart. The dash remained for several decades until 1992 when they swapped out the dash for a star. Then in 2008, they went back to the original logo and removed the star and it just became Walmart again.

But to the customers it really didn’t matter. They see and hear the name it whatever form and associate the brand with their experience at the stores.

So What Should You Do?

The big takeaway for this topic is not to let the branding get in the way of the business operations. Yes, branding is important. I’m a huge believer in it. But like anything there is a balance.

You want to spend time finding a good name and getting a good design and style. But then get back to work. And when the time comes that your business has changed what it does, perhaps look to tweak the branding a little bit, but don’t let that detract from what you do.

And you also don’t want to get to a point where you’re confusing your customers. That can happen with large effort rebranding where you’re changing the name and basically starting over. I like the General Electric situation. They just stuck with what they had and knew that their name wouldn’t limit them.

However, if you’re in a situation where your name is offending people or giving off a bad impression then maybe it’s time for something new. But remember that when you make a name change that you’re throwing away a lot of brand association and recognition.

Most often you’ll be best to just leave things as they are or by making a few small tweaks here and there.

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