top of page
  • Writer's pictureTed Olsen & Kara Redman

The Foundational Elements of Brand for Startups

Updated: Jul 15

Creating a strong brand requires understanding and addressing your customers' core issues, presenting a relatable personality, and delivering clear, impactful messaging. By focusing on real problems rather than just benefits, you build trust and meaningful connections. Below are essential strategies that resonate with customers and help you outshine the competition.

1. Clear Customer Tension 

Your ideal customer is the perfect audience for the issues your company addresses. We define this by looking at things like: 

  1. Demographics: age, gender, income, number of locations, annual revenue, number of employees 

  2. Geographics: local, regional, national, international, global

  3. Psychographics: values, opinions, emotions

But most overlooked (and arguably the most important) are the problems you solve for them, or your “customer tension.” Benefits and solutions selling are a thing of the past. Today’s brand marketing sells to problems, and those must be clearly defined and universal among your target audience. 

Focusing on the people who need us most simplifies sales, improves retention, and builds trust. And best of all, most of your competitors will be fighting over differentiation while you’ll be creating meaningful connections by showing your customers that you know them.  

Example: Although controversial to some, Wells Fargo tapped into a real tension their customers had around their kids taking on liberal arts degrees instead of notoriously higher-paying careers, like engineering. Their messaging spoke directly to the tension parents felt, without mentioning a single product.

2. Brand Personality

Relating to your customers on a human level means sounding, well, human. When we interact with startups that feel like engaging with a friend, it’s because the founder’s put effort into defining the brand’s archetype, voice, and personality attributes to enable emotional interactions. Brand personality gives us a framework for how we communicate with our audience (and other brands on social platforms) and inspire a cult-like loyalty among our customers.

Example: Wendy’s is well known for its snarky, bold comebacks on social media. They never back down from a competitor challenge and treat the entire social media landscape as a roast.

3. Visual Identity

The visual expression of your brand is vast: your logomark, wordmark, color system, patterns, icon set, photography styling, packaging, grid systems, even your UI, all reflect the artistic experience your customers will have with your brand. 

These decisions should all be made around a clear feeling you want your customers to have when they see you: Protected? Excited? Curious? Loved? Inspired?

A comprehensive set of brand guidelines should be created to ensure that every application is consistent. This meticulous attention to detail and consistency across all touchpoints helps build a recognizable and trustworthy brand presence, crucial for a startup aiming to make a strong impression in a competitive market.

Example: One of the most iconic brand identities of all time, The New York Subway made Helvetica what it is today. With simple, clean and consistent lettering and color palette, it’s as accessible to all as it is recognizable. 

4. Brand Messaging

What you say matters. Most companies will speak about themselves more than customer’s care. To cut through the noise in the market, your messaging must be clear and speak to a true problem your customer has. Strong brands know how to take the customer tensions they’ve defined and write an entire brand messaging system that not only speaks directly to those problems but evolves as the market needs change. Your messaging should clearly tie your product, as the obvious solution, to the customer problems you’ve articulated. Remove the fluff, get to the point, and show your customers you get them. 

Example: No brand has had more hard-hitting campaigns than Nike, and at first glance they seem as though they stand alone. But Nike’s brand messaging revolves around one core promise: to make customers better athletes. Every communication focuses on driving home that commitment. 


Sticking to these rules will help you build the foundational brand elements of your business, without getting distracted by all the shiny objects that larger, more established brands get to take on. Keep in mind: your brand is intended to create emotional connection and foster trust so you can generate sales and build brand equity. It is not for you; it is for your customers. In the same way you are building your business for people, build your brand with your customer top of mind. And while your competitors are running in circles trying to find new and exciting ways to describe themselves, you’ll be connected to your customers and solving real problems for them in the market. 


bottom of page