BRANDING TIPS FOR STARTUPS FROM 3 EXPERTS

In order to paint a coherent picture of who we are as a brand, all of us need to be guided by the same goal, purpose, values and communication codes.

What makes a brand? Fundamentally, a brand is the entire identity of your business, a kind of personality people associate with the business. Building a brand is not an easy task. To better understand what it takes, we talked to three experts in the field : Srećko Šekeljić, CMO of DaiBau group, Nataša Samac, marketing developer of Anari.ai and Dorian Derežić, host of Highway to Scale by Bornfight, an award-winning design and development agency.

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With 15 years of corporate, startup and public sector career, Srećko helps international companies and organizations co-create value with their end-users, utilize integrated communications to grow their business, and innovate the way they engage communities in achieving a wider impact together.

Building a Multi-Lingual Brand

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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
Daibau group operates in over 11 countries in different speaking areas. How do you approach the brand building challenge in this case?
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Srecko Sekeljic
Building a brand requires something we’d call disciplined creativity. Yes, we should try being inventive every day to drive engagement, acquisition and loyalty. But we should also be mindful of the fact that each output our company makes, regardless of channel or form, is a new brushstroke on a canvas depicting our brand identity — through which people perceive us. Yet unlike the painter’s job, the brand building is a never-ending effort: we always keep adding that one more stroke, one more campaign, one more video, one more newsletter... Even this interview on your blog adds to the perception of the Daibau brand that I here represent. So in order to paint a coherent picture of who we are as a brand, all of us need to be guided by the same goal, purpose, values and communication codes. And that’s how we in time become more and more familiar, recognizable and trusted as a brand.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
When you joined DaiBau?
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Srecko Sekeljic
I joined the startup recently, only after Daibau has already defined its service-market fit, established organic business growth on initial markets, and streamlined group operations. Once these business essentials were set on a right course, the founders invited me to support the startup’s further growth through brand building. And since we already have existing structures, processes, teams, and customers’ perceptions, then we’re not creating the brand from scratch, but building it on top of these foundations. In order to achieve coherence, we developed the Daibau corporate brand strategy and long-term marketing growth model. Also, we made sure its elements are flexible enough to be adapted and applied in local contexts of all 12 markets.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
Does the Daibau brand have some specific aspects which are conditioned by the culture and customs of particular countries where you operate?
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Srecko Sekeljic
Being an online marketplace that juggles B2B supply on one hand, and B2C demand on the other, we need to have a deep understanding of our audience in order to constantly maintain the B2B2C equilibrium. Therefore we do leave space for some differences among our local marketing and communication approaches, and culture is not the only one there:
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
What is first?
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Srecko Sekeljic
First of these differences arise due to our varying business maturity in each of 12 markets. For example, being conceived in Slovenia, our group is the market leader in the country, with hardly any room to expand further. While in some other countries, such as Switzerland, the business is still in its early days, and people are not yet familiar with the brand. Surely we should maintain quite different marketing approaches in these two environments.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
Second one?
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Srecko Sekeljic
Secondly, the competitive landscape may dictate local rules of the game. With strong footing in Austria, Daibau still has plenty of opportunities to grow much more, but we also have to deal with strong competitors — unlike, say, in Serbia. Although regarded as an obstacle, healthy competition is essential for onboarding a broad customer base to a relatively novel business category for an average consumer, such as an online construction marketplac
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
The third one is?
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Srecko Sekeljic
Thirdly, as I mentioned before, we’re not starting brand building from scratch. In Croatia and Slovenia our platform became well-known under different local names, before the group was established as Daibau. As the cost of rebranding at this point seems higher than benefits, we maintain a hybrid brand architecture: the group is present on these two markets through its endorsed sub-brands (Emajstor and MojMojster), and on 10 remaining markets as Daibau
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
The last one?
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Srecko Sekeljic
And lastly — yes, there are also cultural and regulatory differences to pay attention to. Digital literacy and technology adoption do vary from country to country, and should be accounted for. Culture also seems to play a role in people’s preference for seeking support either from an independent service such as Daibau, or from their circle of friends and family.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
What do you consider the most important and essential parts of brand identity?
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Srecko Sekeljic
When we talk about what’s most important or essential, we inevitably thread on territory of our deep motivations and values, our aspirations for the future, and ultimately our purpose. Why did we start or join this company? What role we’d like our business to play in people’s lives? How do we want people to regard us? Then we need to define who’s “the people”, research our customer segments, and craft typical personas. What do these people say they want, what do they seem to need, and what do they actually do? Hint: though they are aware of what they want, they may not be fully aware of their needs. We should ask questions, but we should also learn from their behavior and interaction with our digital channels.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
So, first it is important to figure out customers’ journey and then craft our communications?
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Srecko Sekeljic
All this helps us figure out how we can stay meaningful for people in each stage of their relationship with our entire field of expertise. And if we succeed in learning this, only then we stand a chance of actually building a brand. Once we know how we’re relevant to different stages of our customers’ journey, we can consistently craft our communications, marketing and design in a manner that makes sense for people. So when their need arises, related to our service or product, we’ll be their first association and, hopefully, their preferred choice. And that is the most important role of brand identity.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
How do you ensure that everything you publish is consistent with the brand?
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Srecko Sekeljic
In developing brand identity we use tools and establish standards that help us remain consistent. One of those tools is brand positioning and differentiation matrix, which always keeps us aware of our competitive advantages on the market in serving the customers’ needs. And when we’re choosing the content of our message, we pay attention to both functional and emotional benefits our service provides to the end-users. After defining the rational and emotional elements that differentiate us, we need to decide how to pack these messages into copy and visuals. And there’s a model for that too — creating brand narrative, brand manifesto, and tone and voice. These tools together help us form specific and consistent communication style, whose character resonates with our customers.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
What are next steps?
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Srecko Sekeljic
Having all these elements set, Brand book and visual guidelines are necessary for basic brand recognition, but they can also convey a message. Colors in our brand pallette may communicate a certain mood to some people. Graphic elements, shapes and patterns we use will reveal whether we’re traditional or modern, technical or artistic. And art direction of photos and videos directly reffers to lifestyle of our audience, thus building a sense of connection with them without saying a word. Yet, it is important to know that our brand is not what we publish, but what other people eventually think, feel and remember about us. And as long as people’s impressions, associations, and emotions aren’t carved in stone, we as a brand also should be ready to recognise the change, adapt, and evolve.

Building a High-Tech Brand

Nataša likes to talk about #startup, hardware, technology, innnovation, and artificial intelligence. Her top skill is to identify relevant opportunities and content for the brand. Now, she is Marketing Developer at Anari AI.

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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
Anari AI’s story started 5 years ago, within a community symbolically named – Wonderland AI. How do you develop your brand from a community brand to a stronghold of 5 entities that impact our future with AI?
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Natasa Samac
Building the Wonderland AI brand has been a really interesting journey from the very beginning, considering that artificial intelligence is still not that close to people’s minds if we talk about Serbia and the region. Yet, we managed to organize one of the most innovative AI events in the world, right here in Serbia. We brought together the biggest AI companies on the global stage. The goal of the community is to change the perspective and bring a new approach not only in observing technology but also in involving young and talented people in creating something that really impacts the future of the whole society. Our organizations are focused on several fields - from brain research, in order to help people with mental disabilities, to the hardware AI industry where we’re bringing a new way of chip designing. So, there really is a powerful story to tell and we’re doing it through Wonderland AI Summit, Anari AI, Angelico, Serbian AI Society, and CITY AI.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
At what point did you start thinking about the brand and what were the biggest challenges to solve?
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Natasa Samac
Behind every brand, there’s a what-and-why moment that is actually a fundamental part of the story you’re building. In the case of Anari AI, as well as Wonderland AI, these questions have had clear answers, and we were focused on the ways we can spread them from the very beginning. The biggest challenge for sure was bringing AI-related problems closer to businesses and individuals. Also, I’d add - finding the right tone of voice that can convey the entire essence of what we’re doing here and why is that important not only for us or a few more companies but for facing some really complex challenges that affect humanity
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
How do you measure the performance of your brand strategy? What advice would you give to other start-ups when measuring the success of their brand-oriented activities?
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Natasa Samac
What I consider to be the most important thing here is constantly “taking the pulse” of your audience. This is enabled by tracking different metrics on social channels, but also through simple human conversations. They give you a chance to understand what are the needs and what’s your role in finding new solutions. In Anari AI, we’re turning hardware into software by providing AI chips in clicks, but without keeping in touch with all those who’re struggling with it, we’d never deliver the right solution that fits their needs. My advice for startups would be to rely on all accessible analytics across online platforms, but also don’t forget to include the human aspect that can provide you a big value in estimating how far you have come.

Branding Through a Podcast

Dorian is content creator at Bornfight and Host of Highway to Scale. He talks about #saas, startups, business, strategy and marketing. I will talk to him how to develop a brand that concerns a separate project within an already existing and developed business.

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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
Why did you decide to start a podcast? What inspired you to focus on the issue of scaling businesses?
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Dorian Derezic
We've been toying with the idea of starting a podcast at Bornfight for quite a bit of time because it has an insane amount of potential. It's like a perfect combination of elements. The first one is that it's extremely easy to consume because you can listen to podcasts anywhere and while you're doing almost anything — with podcasts, you don't have to be fully focused like when you're watching a video or reading a blog. You can do other activities while you're listening to a podcast and you still get the complete experience. The second is the popularity of the format which is growing like crazy because people are just now starting to discover podcasts on a massive scale. And the last one is production. The amount of time needed to create a podcast, and I'm including everything from contacting potential guests to defining the topics, recording, editing... it's around a fifth of the time that would be needed to produce a video or even a blog with the same amount of useful information.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
Tell us a little bit more about concept off Highway to Scale podcast?
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Dorian Derezic
Now, when it comes to the concept for our Highway to Scale podcast, the inspiration actually came from our clients. At Bornfight, we build quite a lot of digital products and applications for startup companies, and when the members of our marketing team talked with them at the beginning of the year to get some more insights about their industries and their work, we also asked them about what type of content they usually consume and what they want to consume. And the answer we got from almost all of them is — we're interested in business strategy, hiring strategies, how to grow a company and how to raise capital... but from the perspective of other startups that have successfully gone through those initial phases of building a business, that have picked up some momentum on the market and are now ready to go one step further. Instead of stories from companies that are already established and have billions in revenue, our clients wanted actionable advice they can relate to — from Founders and CEOs who have recently gone through the situations that our clients are going through now.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
At what point did you start thinking about the brand of the channel itself? Was that a consideration from the beginning and why?
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Dorian Derezic
Yeah, we started thinking about creating a specific brand for the podcast right from the start. We quite quickly agreed on not using core elements of the Bornfight brand, but actually positioning the podcast as an extension of it. This approach enabled us to place the focus on our guests, on the topics and on the insights that our listeners can extract from each of the episodes. And it proved to be a win-win situation as we now have a lot of flexibility to try out different approaches with the podcast, and Bornfight gets all the positive effects we generate.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
Which brand elements are of greatest importance to you?
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Dorian Derezic
I'm not really a fan of thinking about brand elements in terms of one is more important than the other, as they all need to be a single cohesive unit that tells the story of a company, a product or, in this case, a podcast. A name on its own doesn't mean much, and the same is true for a logo, a tagline, an emotion, a color, a typeface... but when they're bound together, then you get something that you as a user, a customer or a listener can connect with. Then you get a brand. Yeah, there always is one element that is created before the others and that influences the others, and in the case of our podcast, that was the name. We wanted something that is at the same time catchy and that clearly communicates the core of the topics that we'll be covering with our guests. And we got that with Highway to Scale.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
How did the selection of primary brand elements influence the selection of secondary elements and the framework you will work in?
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Dorian Derezic
We've gone through almost two dozen suggestions. I remember getting them all on a whiteboard as we were coming up with them, but only Highway to Scale caused that immediate 'we got it' moment from all of us. As you can tell, it's a cheeky play on AC/DC's mega-hit, Highway to Hell — it proved to be a great trigger as everyone can immediately identify that source, so I've heard quite a few 'I'm on the Highway to Scale' covers since we launched. Might see if we can acquire the rights to the song to make an official cover! That's the story of the name. Once we locked that in, the colors, the artwork and all of the other elements kind of fell into place as the name itself is very descriptive, so we knew right then and there what we wanted as the final output. We knew we wanted to incorporate some classic elements that communicate success such as arrows pointing up, but the concept of an empty road gave them a much stronger impact as it emphasises speed, freedom and unchained potential. And the last part was incorporating multiple roads to signify that there are numerous ways to achieve success.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
Why did you choose yellow?
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Dorian Derezic
This one ties with my love of Apple's Think Different campaign from 1997. You know the one I'm talking about... here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers... And this yellow was that small touch of being a misfit and a rebel. You see, before we started with Highway to Scale, we extensively researched other podcasts in the business category. And their artworks were all either black or white or some shade of green or blue. And I completely understand this approach — those colors are the ones you most often associate with business and entrepreneurship.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
What is the story behind that?
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Dorian Derezic
But we wanted to do it differently, we wanted to be like our guests who are breaking the mould, who are rebels and misfits — who refuse to be those 9 out of 10 startups that fail, and strive to be the 1 that makes it big. We wanted this podcast to represent them doing things their own way and succeeding. In the startup world, they are the yellow ones in the sea of blue and green and black and white.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
How you chose Videobolt for YouTube video production?
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Dorian Derezic
When we decided to start publishing all of our podcasts on YouTube, we knew we wanted to do something extra — something more than just combining audio with a static image in Resolve, exporting it and calling it a day. But we also didn't want to animate everything and dump a bunch of extra work on ourselves to ensure that it all looks good. This more or less meant that we were going to get an app that can automate this process for us. We needed an app that had premium templates, that was fast and reliable, that can handle rendering videos longer than 60 minutes and that won't limit us in terms of customization. We needed something that could provide us with the output that's as close to what we could do in Fusion or After Effects, but without us needing to actually do anything. So we started researching and we were specifically looking for apps that had a good selection of music visualization templates as that was the format we primarily wanted to use.
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Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
Why Videobolt?
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Dorian Derezic
We got a bunch of apps, loaded up the free trials and started testing. And Videobolt stood out from the rest quite quickly. You see, I hate limitations — I absolutely despise them. And Videobolt was the only one that didn't limit us. Although it has a smaller library of templates when compared to some of the more mainstream apps in this category, the quality of Videobolt's templates is a level above the rest. But the thing that really sealed the deal for me is the almost unlimited customization. Others tend to be underwhelming when it comes to this. You pick a template you like, you get three or four color presets to choose from, you can add your logo, change text, add a photo, add your audio and that's it. Want a specific color that's in line with your brand? Nope. Need another typeface other than the few default options? Not gonna happen. And in the end, your videos end up looking just like the videos of hundreds of others — and that's a hard pass from me. With Videobolt, I can add any color, any typeface, I can even choose which spectrum frequency range I want to display in the video. Basically, if a template has 15 different elements on it, you can customize all of them, and that means no two videos will look the same.

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Published on Nov 3, 2021 by
Olga Mirkovic Maksimovic
COO of Videobolt

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