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February 4, 2014

Branding for early-stage startups

Developing a brand at an early-stage company is an important balancing act.

A startup’s brand is our reputation in a developing market, an appeal that goes beyond the features of the products we build. Our brand differentiates us from our competitors, it makes us memorable.

However, developing a brand often means critical time lost from the development of our products. It’s incredibly difficult for early-stage startups to justify diverting their focus away from product for weeks or months at a time.

That’s why when faced with the task of re-branding Bugsnag over the course of the last few weeks, we challenged ourselves to strip the process down to the essentials; to move the brand forward with just the right amount of deliberation for a company our size. We created the following prompts to guide our internal conversation and establish a foundation upon which our team could design a new identity:

What is our purpose as a company?

The goal of this question isn’t to formalize a public facing statement. It’s to get everyone on the team aligned on the core message that will be communicated to the market.

Keep the conversation focused on clearly identifying the problems you’re aiming to solve for your users. What experiences did they have with the products or services you aim to replace? How are you going to fundamentally improve that experience for your users? What higher order goals will your product will help users achieve?

There are usually many reasons why companies get started. Capture all of them in writing and then boil your list down to what matters most to you and your team. Don’t complicate things by trying to get your entire team to agree on the wording of an exact statement. Focus on the core idea and move on!

What thoughts or emotions should our brand evoke?

Explore the idea of your brand as a foil to the negative experiences your product or service is trying to mitigate. Bugsnag is working against the anxiety that software engineers feel rolling out a new release and the stress of debugging under pressure. We’re aiming to counter those feelings by evoking confidence and calm. What challenges do your target users face and how can your brand act as a counter to those challenges?

What is our personality like?

Inspired by MailChimp’s excellent styleguide, try to express your brand’s personality in a sequence of “This but not that” statements. In other words, get clear about who your company would be if it were a person. MailChimp is fun but not childish and we’re expert but not condescending, amongst other things. Who are you?

What does our product do for our users?

Start writing about your product as if you were writing the headline for your website’s home page. Write a draft, and then go back and re-read your answers to the questions above.

Does your statement implicitly or explicitly express your company’s purpose? Does it evoke the emotional response that you’re targeting? And most importantly, does it explain not just what your product is, but what it does to help your users achieve a goal? This time the wording matters. Sure, you can continue to evolve the language, but this statement makes the abstract answers to the previous three questions into something real.

What are the visual requirements for our identity?

Finally, get everyone on your branding team to express their opinions, desires, and hard requirements for the company’s visual identity. Whether you’re working with an internal or external designer, building consensus on the core requirements and cementing them in writing is a critical step.

At Bugsnag, we agreed upfront that we wanted to associate our company with a mark or icon, not just type. The mark needed to be abstract and geometric, not a symbolic representation of the function of our product. We required that it be readily scalable down to small sizes so we could use it as an small-format icon, either within our app, or in the browser as a favicon. The more detailed the requirements you establish, the more efficient the design process will be.

The Road Forward: Iterative Brand Development

Yes, we’ve launched a new website and designed a new logo, but we’re not done branding Bugsnag. Instead, we’re going to be taking an iterative approach. We’re going to continue to explore what it means to be Bugsnag as we build new features in our product, add and revise pages on our website, and pick new colors that are “on brand.” Startups like ours need to give their brands time to change and settle. We need opportunities to put our brands to work and see where they succeed, and where they need revision.

So, keep an eye out for changes to come and let us know what you think of our direction and approach!


We’d Love Your Feedback

Get in contact with us via email to tell us what you think about our new branding and website.

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