It’s impossible not to think about branding as a modern startup these days. With gorgeous visuals dominating our social media feeds; companies with impeccable designs are popping up all the time. And growing fast! Despite the amount of attention, so many new founders give their brand identities… I see some common branding mistakes that can hold their companies back.

The good news is, developing a solid brand doesn’t have to be as complicated as many folks make it out to be. Here are the three most common branding mistakes I’ve seen startups make during my 13+ years working as a brand strategist—and how you can easily avoid them to ensure you’re putting your company’s best foot forward.

Focusing on Form Over Function

Especially when you’re DIYing your logo, it can be tempting to choose what you think looks coolest. Don’t do that. What is cool changes. What functions is best. Consider their usability more. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen brands design funky logos that are impossible to decipher when they’re scaled down to fit in a social media icon, or choose a typeface that looks cool but is challenging for users to actually read.

Instead, make sure you think about your viewers at every step. Any time you’re making a brand decision, just take a step back and ensure it supports your users rather than you.

Spending Too Much on Branding

If you’re like most startup founders, you’ve probably spent a lot of time fretting over your budget for branding. Most ask themselves should they spend upwards of 50K on branding?

I’m going to let you off the hook and tell you, no, it’s almost certainly not. What so many founders don’t account for when doing this math is just how often early-stage startups pivot as they’re trying to figure out their product-market fit. 

Considering that good design is all about tying your brand to your business strategy (more on that in a minute), you don’t want to invest a lot into your brand until you feel secure in that strategy. If you do, that investment is quickly going to feel like a waste when you realize you need to rebrand to match your company’s new direction down the line.

But you also don’t want to try and create a sexy brand on the cheap. You get what you pay for in the design world, so this usually won’t end up looking as professional as you’d like. Instead, I recommend startups aim for simple branding that allows you a lot of flexibility for future changes. Think of this as a black dress: it’s nothing revolutionary, but it also looks timeless and sleek. 

Not Tying the Brand to a Solid Strategy

Of course, a DIY brand strategy may not work forever. Once you’ve found your market fit, you’ll want to invest in professional design and branding work. But too many startups walk into that process with a mood board of what they want to look like, instead of focusing on what they want their brand to convey.

The best brands aren’t plucked out of thin air—they’re rooted in the company’s business strategy. All of the design elements are carefully selected to align with a company’s mission and to attract its target audience. Above all, to set them apart from the competition.

As a professional creator, anytime a business owner tells me they don’t have a business strategy and just want a quick cheap logo – it’s a red flag.

You need to strategize your brand first. Yes, working through these types of questions is a lot harder and a bit less fun than thinking about your favorite colors and fonts. But doing so will be infinitely more valuable to your brand, and the future of your business. That’s why I include it in my branding process. I’m starting workshops one-on-one with business owners on what your brand and business should be in The Art of Brand Naming course (coming February 2023)!