Like Buying Frozen Pizza Dough: The Issue with Ready-Made Branding in Startup Culture

Posted inBranding & Identity Design

AI, XR, NFT, you name it, the tech industry and startups are at the frontline dealing with the most exciting innovations of tomorrow’s world, but when it comes to branding— especially in a company’s infancy— it has become a homogenous blur. Leading us to ask the question, Why? What is behind this trend of what appears to be a wave of ready-made and ubiquitous design among startup culture?

The present, fast-paced nature of startups demands them to act fast, be always visible, and be in a constant state of production and growth. Although the exposure potential is undeniable, it also poses companies with the continuous challenge of having enough content off-the-shelf, at all times. In the chase for highest engagement, the focus becomes more on the content and less on the presentation. Startups, thus, prioritizing content, opt for the most efficient and scalable solution for their branding needs— cue in the ‘ready-mades.’

Today, there is a ready-made option online for basically everything a startup needs in its early stages. From logos to company presentations to website templates. It allows startups to have all the materials they need to build a brand without having to invest much time, money or effort. Like baking a pizza with store-bought dough, all they need to do is fill in the toppings.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a clear reason for the success of platforms such as Canva or Vyond, for example. The design is clean, effective, efficient, and scalable. Content such as video and illustrations allow startups to emphasize their message using visual communication at a reasonable price, and online design platforms have put an end to boring generic pitch decks. What’s not to like? The issue becomes clear when we find ourselves in a cultural landscape where one-size-fits-all. When everything starts to look the same, how then, does your brand set itself apart?

Like a fashion trend, when you begin to see something everywhere, originality of design, of vision, loses its focus and becomes lost. When even the most brilliant startups with a unique idea and vision begin to look like everyone else they, ultimately, communicate an opposite message of innovation.

Even with a streamlined, clean design or even if the template was designed by a talented designer, photographer or editor, is that enough to bring your vision to the next level in a sea of competitors? Startups often make the mistake of leaning on ready-made aesthetics. It is important to be cautious, as choosing a ready-made design could sacrifice an aspect of authenticity. Unique aesthetics, like the content itself, become equally as important, especially when assuring and securing potential investors and a new customer base. For example, it is not uncommon for startups to present a well-designed mockup of a dashboard on their website over their initial product screens— Does it look good? Yes. Does it deliver a sense of trust and eliminate the legitimacy question? Absolutely not.

So, should we use ready made-designs or not? There is a reason why we do: it is practical, efficient, productive, and simply put, it looks good. So depending on the agenda of your startup, it remains a viable option to churn quick, streamlined content. But if you do, utilize it with caution. Always prioritize authenticity over base aesthetics. And remember, unique products deserve to be perceived in the same manner, which is why they require a unique brand identity. Establishing a clear and consistent brand identity from the very beginning can be the right investment to differentiate your unique vision and establish trust and legitimacy– paying off exponentially in the long-term.

After you have built your brand identity, ready-made design platforms can allow you to keep your brand kit organized and create on-brand materials quickly and more effectively. So perhaps the question of if to use it or not isn’t the main focus, but more importantly, how we use it and when.

Maor Ofek is a multidisciplinary branding professional with a wealth of experience in creating, reforming, and launching brands for some of the leading startups in Israel. As a former Head of Marketing, Maor possesses a wealth of knowledge and insight on what it takes to establish a powerful and successful brand. Now, Maor is utilizing his expertise in building his new branding company, Side Street, where he helps early-stage startups stand out in a highly competitive market. Additionally, as an adjunct faculty member at Reichman University, Maor stays abreast of the latest branding trends and tactics.

Header image by Mishaal Zahed.