Navigating the Stages of Branding

Pre-Seed, Seed, and Series A

Courtney Bensinger

Courtney Bensinger

Co-Founder & CEO | Cooth

Building a strong brand is a crucial aspect of any startup’s journey. It’s not just about creating a catchy logo or a memorable tagline; branding encompasses the essence of your business and how it resonates with your target audience. Purchase decisions are made based on emotion – whether you like it or not. As your startup progresses through various funding rounds, your branding strategy should evolve in tandem. We’ll explore the stages of branding based on pre-seed, seed, and Series A funding rounds, and how each stage presents unique challenges and opportunities.

Stage 1: Pre-Seed

Planting the brand seed

You’ve got a vision, a business plan, and perhaps a prototype, but your brand is still in its infancy. You might have an idea of your product, a temporary name, or even a visual identity you created on Canva for those idea-stage decks. Those are all great tools, and it might be what it takes to get you some immediate traction. At this stage in the game, your focus should be on laying the foundation for your brand’s growth. Companies have to draw the line at different places during their pre-seed building days, but here are a few key components you will need to make it to the next step and attract investors.


1. Define Your Brand Identity

Start by identifying your brand’s core values, mission, and vision. What problem does your startup solve? Who is your target audience? Have you created personas that you can target with your messaging and visual identity? Answering these questions will help you shape all future steps in the process.


2. Craft a Memorable Name and Logo

Your startup’s name and logo should reflect its personality and resonate with your audience. Keep it simple, unique, and easy to remember. Want one key tip? Some of the biggest brands don’t have “obvious” names (think Lululemon, Nike, Slack, Apple… the list goes on). Find something that’s unique and perhaps even has a story tied to it when someone asks you “Where did Cooth” come from?”

The logo is the first step in a bigger brand system, but not all pre-seed companies need the whole kit and kaboodle (do people still use that term?). If you don’t have the time or money to invest in a visual identity, try creating a logo that you can use to get things off the ground first. 

Things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t use too many colors 
  • Do keep the fonts legible
  • Don’t make it complex – think about putting your logo on a hat – would the embroidery be easy to see and recognize?
 
 

3. Establish an Online Presence

Create a basic website (even a landing page will do) and set up social media profiles to secure your digital footprint (even if you’re just grabbing the handles so nobody else does). Even if you’re not fully operational, having an online presence can help you start building brand awareness. If you’re in stealth mode, simply purchasing your domains and securing your handles will be important for future-proofing the brand.


4. Build a Story

We have a whole framework around this, but it’s imperative that you develop a compelling brand narrative. Share your startup’s journey, values, and mission through storytelling. Connect with your audience on a personal level to build trust and cater to the emotions that cause them to buy a product or service like yours. Whether you’re in stealth mode or yelling from the rooftops about your brand, it’s imperative that everyone on your team is telling the same story. You don’t know HOW many times we speak with founders and their first team members and get different versions of what they do and how they do it. Get this story straight and iterate on it as you get feedback until you see it stick. 

 

STAGE 2: SEED

Nurturing growth

With seed funding secured, your startup is ready to grow. This is the stage where your branding efforts should focus on scalability and capturing the attention of a wider audience. You’ll want to dig in a bit deeper to set your future self (and business) up for success and not have to recreate the wheel over, and over and over again. We find that so many startups have had more than 5 websites by Series A, and let us tell you – following the right brand process won’t require that if you have your business plan in order. 

 

1. Refine Branding Elements 

Now that you have some resources, refine your brand’s visual identity, including logos, colors, and fonts. You should end this process with a structured and substantial brand guideline (about ten pages should sound right at this stage with some exceptions). Some brands at this stage will really “go for it” and invest the time in a 50 page brand guide that they’ll use for years to come. Weigh how committed you are to your current branding and make the best decision for where you’re at. Now the most important part: ensure your brand is consistent across all platforms. 

A brand guideline is NOT just a suggestion. The brand guideline should act as your brand bible. Straying away by using different colors, fonts, etc. will cause your brand to become less recognizable. Use the rules laid out in the guide. If you don’t like how it looks, it’s the guide that should change first, not the deliverables you’re creating! 

 

2. Develop a Go-To-Market Strategy

Usually, brands that receive funding are ready to press “go” on building a robust go-to-market (GTM) strategy. A GTM is a multifaceted process that involves meticulous planning and execution to ensure a product or service reaches its intended audience effectively. This strategy encompasses a comprehensive understanding of the target market, competitive landscape, and customer needs. It entails defining key messaging and positioning, identifying optimal sales and distribution channels, setting pricing strategies, and creating a compelling marketing plan. A successful GTM strategy not only focuses on launching a product or service but also on sustaining its growth and relevance in the market, all while continuously gathering and acting upon customer feedback to refine and improve the offering.

 

3. Develop a Content Strategy

Based on your GTM, you may want to start producing valuable content that showcases your expertise and provides value to your target audience. Blog posts, videos, and social media content can help you establish authority in your industry. This content and the strategy that goes along with it should be determined based on your long-term goals as well as your short-term goals laid out in the GTM. Do you want to raise a series A? Do you want to sell the company (and to who)? Do you want to establish a loyal brand that creates repeat customers and consistent buying habits? These questions need to be answered before you dive in and create content for content’s sake. Remember: when you build it, nobody will come (except your friends & fam). Be sure to set aside a budget for content marketing if this is a tactic that makes sense for your business. 

Not sure what makes sense for you? Schedule a free consultation and we can help guide you! 

 

4. Engage with Your Audience

If you’ve already hit the market, it’s time to actively engage with your audience and respond to their feedback. Building a community around your brand can foster loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing. There are about a million ways to do this: review collection, NPS scoring, social media community management, 1:1 meetings, focus groups, interviews, and so much more. Think about how you can continue to provide value outside of “selling”. What surprise & delight moments can you create to make your customer base happier? The world is your oyster.

 

5. Expand Your Online Presence

At this point, it might be time to consider investing in different digital tactics that can push your brand to the next level. Consider search engine optimization (SEO) and online advertising to increase your online visibility. Consider influencer partnerships to reach new audiences and create emotional connections with their fans. Just remember, when it comes to influencer partnerships, they are representing YOU. Be careful about who you use and be sure to vet all influencers appropriately before diving into a relationship!

 

Stage 3: Series A

Scaling the brand

At the Series A stage, your startup has proven its viability, and it’s time to scale rapidly. Your branding efforts should align with this accelerated growth. While there are many directions you could take to achieve this, take the below as a general guideline that works for some companies. You can take or leave what works for you and what aligns with your strategic goals and KPIs. 

 

1. Solidify Your Brand Positioning

Ensure your brand’s positioning is clear and distinctive. Highlight what sets you apart from competitors and emphasize your unique value proposition. By now, you’ve gotten a lot of customer feedback and have probably spent some time refining this offering. Make sure it’s rock solid, and make sure you’re in a blue ocean, not a red one. 

 

2. Enhance User Experience

Invest in user experience (UX) design to create a seamless and enjoyable customer journey, no matter what industry you’re in. Whether it’s a physical product that requires unboxing or shipping, or a SaaS platform, your UX can make or break a customer. A positive experience with your brand can lead to customer loyalty, and the extra time you take on this UX can change the game for the future. 

 

3. Data-Driven Marketing

Leverage data analytics to refine your marketing strategies. Personalize your marketing efforts based on customer behavior and preferences. Use tools like Domo or Amplitude to bring data to life and help your team understand what’s working, and what’s not. If you’re not a/b testing, iterating, and iterating again, you’re not working hard enough on getting the best results. Push yourself and your team to get into the nitty gritty here; it’ll be worth its weight in gold. 

 

4. Expansion

If you’re looking to expand globally, adapt your branding to different markets while maintaining a consistent brand identity (again, super important). Consider cultural nuances and localization, and hire experts and local consultants where you can to ensure you’re hitting the mark with the target.  

Branding is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor; it evolves with your startup’s growth and funding stages. By understanding the unique challenges and opportunities that each stage presents, you can develop a strategic approach to branding that aligns with your business goals. Remember that branding is not static; it should continuously evolve to reflect your startup’s growth and changing market dynamics. By investing in your brand at each stage, you’ll build a strong foundation for long-term success.

 

Not sure where to start or want a team to help you build this out? Shoot us a note and tell us what you need, and we’ll give you our honest opinion about what suits your model, your stage, and your offering.