Successful branding for start-ups

What do you need to know about branding your start-up for a successful launch? Read on to find out.

Know your start-up market

Hopefully, you are starting your business because you’ve had the most stonking idea for a product or service that you know people are going to love – and buy.

The problem with stonking ideas is that occasionally other people have had them first. Annoying, I know.

If competitors exist, you need to know all about them.

Oak Creatives client, Debbie van Eenennaam, launched Pétales de Provence, which sells dried peony petal confetti, in Spring 2020. Debbie runs the business from her flower farm in Provence.

“I looked at all the competitors in the UK and worked out exactly what I liked, and didn’t like, about them,” Debbie says. “Luckily, in France, we are the only people selling dried petal confetti. They still use paper confetti or rice at weddings here.”

When you have found your competitors, in terms of start-up branding, you need to ask yourself:

  • How do they look and feel?
  • How do I feel about their product/service?
  • Do I instantly like/hate them?
  • Do I feel I can trust them?
  • If so, why?

I know I’ve said this in previous blogs but make notes. Lots and lots of notes. The more you can build a picture of your competitors’ branding, the more chance you have of success with your own.

What difference are you branding?

Only by knowing what makes you different (better?) can you create branding that instantly sells that.

If you are launching into a crowded market, you need to set yourself apart. And remember, you have one chance, one glance to do that.

If your stonking idea is so innovative that no one has thought of it before, then you win in terms of competition. Your challenge is to persuade your potential customers to trust you. We humans are hardwired to be wary of the unknown. Something about that little thing called ‘survival’. For us to trust enough to buy from a start-up requires us to have bought into why they are selling – not merely what they are selling. We’ll come back to this because it’s vital.

“Launching in France, where no one sells natural petal confetti was a huge bonus, but we need to explain to every potential customer why they need to buy our product,” says Debbie. “And creating the right brand was key to that. It needed to be beautiful and simple so that people can see what our petals will add to their event.”

Ask yourself what keeps your customers awake at 3am. For Debbie’s customers, that might be the worry that their wedding won’t look insta-amazing.

For other companies, customers might want to save time, stress less, save money, fly to the moon with only a rocket pack on each elbow, or… well, you get the idea.

What makes you different? How can you help customers?

Remember, you might not be the most objective judge of your idea and what sets you apart. You need to ask other people for their opinion, ideally not just people who know and love you.

How to create a name for start-up branding.

“We needed our name to say instantly what we do and why we are different,” explains Debbie. “We sell peony petals; we are based in Provence. We want people to think of sunshine days and happiness in the south of France. We also need our name to be easy to say in different languages. After lots of ideas and much discussion, with invaluable help from Sian and Saskia, we settled on Pétales de Provence. Simple, stylish – and does what it says on the tin.

It is tempting to be smart with your name, especially when you have a blank piece of paper (too old school?) or screen in front of you.

Simple works best.


You’re at the traffic lights, the lights are red. You have time to read the expensively branded van in front of you. And again. And again.

The name is a clever play on words that doesn’t work or an odd letter salad that says nothing. As the light turns green, you are none the wiser about what that company does or sells.

My first thought used to be, “Maybe I’m not their target audience.” After years of helping clients brand their businesses, I now tut with a judgmental head shake.

How do you know who will be sitting behind, or in front of, your branding?

Make your name clear. Be bold if you can. If it’s right for your market, have some fun. Just make sure people know what you do – and why you do it – from your name.

If you can’t, if your business name is your (or your product’s) name, then you need a strapline, to sum up what you do. Need inspiration? Learn from the best.

Even you are 100% certain your name is perfect, before you commit it to business cards, flyers or even vehicles ask people (lots and lots of people) what they think and feel when they see that name.

How to brand your start-up image.

Is image everything? As the mother of an impressionable nine-year-old daughter, I wish I could say no. But when it comes to start-ups, your image is your one chance to capture a customer and convey your brand message without speaking to them.

You need to get it right.

Have you heard of Kenichi Ohmae’s 3 Cs Model for business success – customer, competitors, corporation?

Let me introduce the Oak Creatives Three Cs for Start-Up Branding Success. (Eeh, capital letter overload).

1 Colour

We all know that certain colours evoke specific emotions which can alter behaviour. Does a particular blue take you back to that beach from your last holiday? Is the terracotta pot outside your window a little piece of Tuscany? Does orange make you feel warm and hugged? We all have favourite colours that remind us of people and places. Get your colour right, and you can make your customers feel a certain way, ideally happy to buy from you.

For Debbie, the colour palette for Pétales de Provence needed to encapsulate the beauty of peonies, the simplicity of her products as wedding décor and throwing confetti, and the natural chic of Provence. “It had to let the simple beauty of peonies shine,” explains Debbie. “It would have been easy to over-brand in terms of colour.”

When choosing colours, you also need to consider cultural heritage. If you want to sell internationally, you need to understand the religious and cultural symbolism of colours and the message they send out about your brand.

To choose the right colours for your brand image, you need to know your customers, know your market, understand what makes you different from your competitors. Essentially, if you have read this blog post from the beginning, you’re good to go.

If you want to know more about colours and branding, this Creative Bloq article is a must-read.

2 Consistency

Fonts are fun, and there are so many lovely fonts from which to choose. Well, the bad news is you have to choose. Fonts have personalities: bold, creative, friendly, professional, dynamic, relaxing…whatever you need to convey, there is a font that will ‘say’ it for you.

Pick the font, or font family, which best sells your brand image. When you have found the right font use it…well, everywhere. Don’t, for example, use different fonts for your website or printed marketing. If you don’t stick to one font family, your branding will look confused. And that is not a ‘C’ you want for your start-up.

3 Creativity

You know your customers, you know your market, you know what makes your stonking start-up idea different. How can you create a creative brand to sell that?

Unless your start-up idea is branding and marketing, it might be time to call the professionals.

“I had a million ideas in my head about how I wanted my company to look,” says Debbie. “But my main priority is my flowers. Growing peonies, processing petals, packing them beautifully, that’s my expertise. I knew brand design was key for my business, and I knew I needed to work with someone I trust to get it right.”

How to tell your start-up brand story.

Every brand, every start-up, has a story. The key is to work out the aspects of that story that help you sell your brand – in the right order.

I would love to claim this as my own brain work, but the great Simon Sinek  did it first – and he did it very, very well.

Debbie started Pétales de Provence because when she fell in love with a Dutch flower farmer who lives in France, she swapped life as an English teacher in Istanbul for growing peonies. When a heatwave hit their harvest, Debbie wandered through the fields wondering what she could do with the flowers that had bloomed too early to be sold at flower markets. Her dried peony petal confetti business idea was born in those fields on that day. The Pétales de Provence brand story is a love story, with a happy ending. Debbie and her husband Marcel now sell beautiful, natural products to other happy couples for their special days.

It took Debbie a year from the devastation of realising that year’s peony harvest was ruined, to dry her first batches of peony petals. She took her time to try different methods to work out how to make sure customers receive dried peony petals with bold natural colours, no need for dyes.

“We sell 100% natural, dye-free, bio-degradable, dried peony petals for confetti and décor,” says Debbie. Telling her story helps Debbie’s customers instantly connect with the Pétales de Provence brand. The ‘what’ is essential for orders. But by the time customers click ‘buy’ they are buying into Debbie’s brand, her love story, her French flower farm, her planet-friendly approach to business.

Starting with the ‘why’, makes the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ so much easier to sell. 

Would you like help with branding your start-up? Get in touch. We’d love to help.

Image shows - Oak Creatives co-founders and directors, Sian Lewis and Saskia Snel.

About Us

We are two friends. A creative director and graphic designer, Saskia Snel, and Sian Lewis, a content strategist and commercial copywriter. Together we provide joined-up marketing so that every word and every image tells the story you want your customers to read.