Online Branding Basics for Startups: Essentials for Your Website and Beyond

online-branding-basic-for-startupsYou want your brand to shine online, but you don’t know how to make it happen. Fortunately for you, there are experts who have been there. Here’s what they have to say.

Tell Your Story

According to Brian Honigman, humans are natural-born storytellers. And, telling stories is a great way to get your brand noticed, but also a great way to spread your message in a natural way. It won’t come off as “salesy” or gimmicky if you do it right.

Stories invoke emotions. And, those emotions are very powerful. They can forge a deep connection with people that a didactic message cannot. Honigman uses the example of OKCupid’s blog. Each blog post uses data gathered by the company, compiled in such a way that it tells a story not only about the OKCupid community, but about dating in general.

Instead of the company telling people how great they are, they develop a “voice” through their customers. No one likes a brand that goes on and on about itself. It’s like listening to a braggart. If you let others talk about you, then you don’t have to sell yourself. Others will.

Be For Something

In a world where everyone is quick to say what they’re not (or what they don’t like), it’s rare to see a company tell customers what they stand for. Most of the time, brands hide behind industry jargon and lofty platitudes. That’s boring.

And, customers don’t care about any of that. It’s nothing more than ego-stroking.

But, if you take a real stand for something, you’ll become genuine in the eyes of prospects and customers. But, don’t confuse cause driven business models with cause-driven marketing. If your main message is to increase shareholder revenue, it looks like nothing more than a money-grab. Who are the biggest shareholders in a company? Rich people. Or maybe the board of directors.

But, it’s not the customers (not usually). So, maximizing revenue doesn’t strike a chord with them. Well, it does, but the wrong one. You want to be a cause driven business. You want your values to reflect the values of your marketplace.

An ideal business is in business to solve a problem, but not just any problem. Founders who start a business centered around solving a problem they personally find annoying or unacceptable tend to be the most successful in the long-run. They also seem the most genuine.

Business owners who get into business just because they want to make money tend to have a harder time connecting with their customers and building an audience.

Be Audacious

You have to be brave. You have to say things that others in your industry aren’t willing to. You have to do things that others in your industry aren’t and won’t do. It means going out on a limb. But, it’s the businesses that stand out that create a new story – a story worth telling.

Create An Experience

Your web design should be an experience, not a destination. People should be engaged with it from the moment they land on it. It should provide a media experience, plunging them into a new world that they don’t want to leave. If you’ve done a good job on your company’s site, your visitors will find it interesting, engaging, and will want to come back for more.


This is a little-known strategy that’s been helping people get started online for a while now. It’s called “newsjacking.” Basically, you inject your brand into the news in a meaningful and natural way. Let’s say you’re a car dealer.

You sell cars. Not exactly newsworthy, right? Not so fast. Could you lurk in the financial section and wait for a news story about a major car manufacturer? Think about when a major brand comes out with a big story about some new model they’re unveiling. Maybe there’s something that the manufacturer doesn’t cover in the story that you could.

You could then inject your brand into the story by having someone interview you and quote you about that piece of news. Then, run a media placement. What this does is it gives journalists more information about a “late-breaking” story. Journalists are always looking for more in-depth information to publish – especially when the news is so fresh that there’s not much being said in existing press releases.

But, what if you were that source? What if you provided the depth that a reporter was looking for? And, what if you could arrange all the facts for the reporter so that he or she didn’t have to do a lot of work?

That’s “newsjacking.” If done tastefully (meaning you don’t try to inject a sales message or gimmicks into the news), then it can be picked up and published in major publications. It can completely transform your business.


John Foret is the CEO of JGWZ Media and built the agency to help clients achieve success through highly focused digital media campaigns. John believes in continually striving for excellence while maintaining a balanced life.

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