The strongest startup brands today don’t just market, they embody their brand and culture across everything they do. Airbnb is a prime example. In just 7 years, the company has built a rumored $25 billion valuation and one the stronger reputations in Silicon Valley.
Branding and culture is more than a gorgeous custom-designed 72,000 square foot office with a three story living wall (which Airbnb has) or the kombucha on tap in your kitchen (ditto) - branding is about celebrating what makes your company special and telling your story well through design, sales, marketing, media, product and culture.
I toured Airbnb’s offices with the Startup Bike crew a while back and spotted 7 easy, affordable branding ideas that any stage startup can put into place:
1. Make an entrance. Anyone visiting your startup’s office (or your corner of a co-working space) can have a brand experience. It could be as simple as interesting lamp on the desk or a brightly painted wall. If your brand has an “exclusive” feel - think about how your registration and visitor badge process boosts that secretive experience. If you’re a food startup, provide snacks. If you’re a travel site, you could project airline safety videos and offer tiny bags of peanuts.
How to do it: Pick a couple elements of your brand that are most important for a visitor to see right away. How can you show those to every visitor?
ROI: Better conversion on job candidates, more social media posts by visitors, more interested reporters and investors, employees start the day with a reminder of the mission each morning.
2. Open up. Startups, even small ones, are inherently interesting. Opening up your office to visitors and events can be an easy way to share your story.
How to: Look for meet-up groups, college tours and recruiting events that like to make a visit. Some startups even have a monthly “open house” for customers.
ROI: Helps with recruiting and lead generation, builds inexpensive buzz, provides guinea pigs for testing messages.
3. Act like you’re making history from the very start. Be your own yearbook editor. You might not have even raised a Series A yet, but you can still celebrate your startup’s origin story as if you’re a sure thing for the cover of Fast Company next year. Start a small timeline museum in your office or on social media. Airbnb has early days photos of the founding team and the first product sketches on proud display.
How: Frame your original napkin sketch and hang it on the wall. Save your first business card design (it will be predictably hilarious to your team in four years).
ROI: Shows momentum and origin story to team, investors and press, engages the team.
4. Paper is cheap. Provide your team the tools to be creative anytime. The ROI on paper, post-its and markers is massive for brainstorming the next big idea, making a birthday card, creating a new geeky meme or playing a prank. At Practice Fusion, practically the entire office was designed to be whiteboard-ready for brainstorming at a moment’s notice. At Cuyana, the team keeps an inspiration corkboard up for each new design season in their San Francisco office/boutique.
How: Use paper, chalkboard, whiteboards, glass or cork to create a brainstorm area in your office.
ROI: Your next billion dollar product or marketing idea, happy and creative staff.
5. Show your work. A big website design or new product development cycle takes a lot of time, energy, paper and (often) cost. Make the most of the investment. Case studies of your process can be compelling for media coverage or award applications. At Airbnb, their recent logo redesign was turned into a mini museum showing the process and thought behind the designs.
How: Ask your design and product teams to share sketches and photos of their process.
ROI: Better buy-in for new ideas, new brainstorming is inspired by old work, shows your creativity to job candidates and press.
6. Celebrate your customers. Even when you only have a handful of customers, celebrating their perspective will help you keep their needs in focus and also help turn them into superfans. At Airbnb, the founders visited their early customers and took photos of them in action. These photos are now blown up to 5 feet high in the entrance area of the office and the original customers are still brand ambassadors. Make the most of fan mail, happy tweets and photos of your products in action.
How: Ask your clients for photos or testimonials, plan an on-site visit with your customers.
ROI: Instantly turns featured fans into brand ambassadors, keeps the team focused on serving customer’s perspective.
7. Give back. You might not have much of anything yet, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have something you can share with the community. This concept was part of my SXSW panel on building startup culture a couple years ago. Consider lending part of your office to a meet-up group or set a once a month team volunteering session with a charity. Airbnb has turned one of their conference rooms into a community space that local non-profits can book online to use for free.
How: Decide if it makes sense to donate time, space or products. Pick a cause that is aligned with your startup’s mission.
ROI: Builds community support, strengthens team relationships, brings in fresh perspectives, deepens your company story for press
Thank you to the Airbnb team for the tour! Interested in applying these ideas for your own startup brand? Email Uncommon Bold today to learn more about building culture and buzz.