10 things tech startup brands need to do differently in 2022

Thanks to the exciting—NFTs and the metaverse; the good—remote work flexibility; the bad—COVID-19 and all its emerging variants; and the ugly—social injustice and inactions across the world, 2022 is surely not just another new year, and the work for brand leaders is certainly not one to copy and paste from the past.

It is needless to say that these events have greatly affected the behaviour and expectations of people as startups seek meaningful relationships with customers, investors, and to the least talked about yet most important for effective branding—employees. As we reflect on these realities and guide our clients to stand out tall in these unique times, here are some of the key ideas to consider as you strengthen your brand in the new peculiar year that one could figuratively say is already far spent. There is surely still enough time to review our strategies for the year.

(Please remember to carefully consider your brand personality and values to know which of these would work for you, or how best to adapt them).

1. Embrace brand activism

The obvious example is Nike but a growing number of the global brands are leading the example by taking a stand on the issues that matter, from responding to government decisions, like Airbnb’s “We Accept” campaign, to Tommy Hilfiger’s campaigns around diversity and sustainability. The Africa Challenger Brands (2021) featured the stories of how some Nigerian startups brands played active roles during the #EndSARS campaign, even at the risk of witch-hunting by the government. Brand activism is gradually moving from a dreaded thought to a cool thing to do but it is most effective where it is done with true intent, in alignment with core values, and not merely for show. Where there is such a match, an opinionated brand (that sides with a matter for the greater good) deepens its connection with what would most likely be a majority of people who also care about the cause, and this would greatly outweigh people who may oppose the stance and denounce the brand. Customers are increasingly skeptical of the intents of business leaders. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, customer trust has recently hit an all-time low and the pandemic has made it even worse. There is no better time to take bold stances and actions on diversity, inclusion, and social responsibility. “CSR” is not something to abandon for the traditional corporates. We can bring our own approach but in all that we do, we should consider playing a role in societal development, with our voice and resources. The reward in loyalty is huge, especially at a time like this.

2. Invest in virtual communality

Please read that again. “Communality”, not “community”. The latter is a part of the former but the point is to keep a consciousness of bringing people together in an increasingly socially distant reality. While the adoption of Discord, Telegram, as well as roundtable conversation platforms like Clubhouse is an amazing way to build communities and one to continue in 2022, the idea is to have the ideology reflect across the board. A tone of voice that’s reassuring, conversational, and engaging can go a long way to connect with people at a time like this when we all need it the most. Another way to look at this is with content that explores how different people are keeping in touch with other people, from your employees to select customers. Merely watching a true display of community can help to inspire the right emotions among your audience as you ‘indulge’ their appetite for communality at a time when there is less of it.

3. Explore the new wave of innovation

We have all heard about the metaverse and some of us have begun to look at NFTs a little more closely but while there is a growing level of interest at an individual level, many brands appear to mostly unsure how to be a part of this, thereby leaving a golden opportunity to engage with the enthusiasm of their followers. Perhaps the major pushback is the assumption that brands can only be involved with fully formed actions, and cannot, like individuals, explore these latest innovations with a crude sense of ignorance and growing understanding. We believe that brands can explore web3, NFTs, and the future of virtual reality, and walk their audiences through their learnings and efforts. What would you make of a brand sharing its weekly progress in its efforts to learn about and build its own office or studio in the metaverse, or its own Cryptocurrency, like Kodak and many other companies already have? Your perception of them would probably be “future-savvy” in a way that you can relate to. And they would have won your interest and probably, admiration.

4. Go anti-corporate (look & feel)

Minimalism has survived decades and is going nowhere, not anytime soon. However it has increasingly become associated with the “modern neat brand”, and that’s like every technology startup out there now. While keeping some principles of minimalism, many brands are increasingly embracing new anti-art approaches, with apparently messy compositions, overlapped shapes and text, multi-colour gradients, and more to give this fun, “we are not like them” vibe and it’s working as an interesting way to stand out and grab attention from a young audience eager for some fresh air. Nostalgia is another way brands are facing the opposite direction. Either way, decisions around these are to be carefully made, to ensure the core is preserved, and long-term benefits are not sacrificed for short-term gains. Finding a balance is always required. How much of this, how much of that? That’s where it gets tricky but this is worth considering.

5. Seek virality, while on-brand

Still along the lines of going anti-corporate, for brands that can afford to, it is worth giving thought to content types and styles that, per time, have a chance of going viral on the internet. Many brands currently do not go anywhere near the thought at the moment for the noble and impressive desire to stay on-brand and not ‘cheapen’ their brand. The sweet spot is in the intersection, however, as we need to realize that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Bundle Africa launched in 2020 with a unique series of skit-like ads featuring Instagram comedian, @iamspreado while in 2022 so far, Piggyvest has brought the animation sensation of the moment, Israel to create short animations for the brand on Tiktok employing humorous twists to push their value proposition. Hopefully, we can see more brands finding creative ways to go viral without becoming generic, from creating their own unique memes and more.

6. Show behind the scenes

Fast foods have long employed the intentional act of designing their outlets such that you can see the process as your food gets ready, and they have been successful at it. Now that we don’t visit businesses and mostly interact with their digital products, imagine how we feel when we have that view from home. Everybody likes a reality TV show. It’s what makes Big Brother a massive hit. We all want to see behind the curtains and this type of content is sure to engage people now that they are spending more time-consuming media from the comfort of their devices. This is an opportunity to gain more trust with people who won’t visit but can have a peep into your work and feel even closer. An indirect path to this is employee advocacy. When people from within share stories about their work, they indirectly promote the brand in a way people can trust. So what should we do now? Mandate people to tweet about how they are enjoying their work? Surely not. The most effective examples are borne out of true desire and inspiration on the part of the employees. Hence the path to this begins with nurturing a great culture and having an actionable brand everyone feels they are a part of. One more thing is to ensure you have natural storytellers in the mix of your team members, especially outside your marketing team (assuming that’s surely consideration for marketing team members).

7. Explore identity in sound & motion

The scope of brand identity projects typically covers the brand positioning, personality/tone, logo, colours, typography, custom art style, as well as a set of other unique assets, and templates of how they all come together. Although businesses have been able to bring a consistent feel to life with these, the times require more. The most interactive forms of our media—motion and the sounds that come with it—hardly come with a signature of their own, for many brands. Leading brands like Mastercard are investing more in the less-talked-about dimension of sonic identity, and we can all already think about Milo, MTN, Nokia respectively when we hear certain sounds. If someone deletes a file on a Mac next to you, you don’t need to look up. Imagine your fintech product coming with its own unique sounds for certain actions. We should be seeing more of that this year, and in motion too. With a motion identity system, brands have something to guide how their motion graphics and videos come to life. The point is to explore how these engaging dimensions to content can help us bring our identity to life. As the world moves further towards virtual reality, the importance of sound and video increases and becomes more evident, and our visual identity elements will no longer suffice.

8. Review & update your guidelines

We have all had something to do with guidelines, either from the side of advocating that it should be completely adhered to or we are on the party wondering why the brand needs to stay “restricted” within so many borders. Whichever side we are on, we are right to some extent. Guidelines should be religiously followed, but yes brands should breathe and evolve. The perfect balance is to sometimes take the intentional step of reviewing and updating the design system and consequently, the brand guidelines. If there is any good time to do that, 2022 is. You have probably experienced so much change in the past few years that there is surely a lot to discuss and hence opportunities for a refresh. “Rebrands” do not always involve a change of the logo or name. Sometimes it’s a refresh of the visual identity system. In case you have not noticed, MTN recently redesigned its system of colour (a deeper yellow), typography, and composition style, among other things while retaining its logo. Sometimes it’s even way subtler than that but yes, an update is always a great idea.

9. Double-down on cohesion

We have talked about exploring sound, motion, and more, as well as taking the time to update the overall brand system but there is something more important than it all—that we execute and deliver on the ultimate goal of consistency and cohesion. Wherever we are at with the identity system, it’s important that we review how well all the components tie up together and influence every single material or communication. The more connected our touchpoints are, the easier it is for us to make a mark in the minds of people. A potential or current customer visiting our website today, downloading the product tomorrow and surfing through our social media the following week should feel like they are interacting with one same brand. This also applies to newsletters, ads, or even visiting our office. The rewards for cohesion are increasingly important and more rewarding at this time in the evolution of our journey connecting with people.

10. Strategize ahead for major events

The best way to maximize an international day, season, or major event like the World Cup 2022 is to start thinking about it now. We surely have to avoid posing like sponsors where we are not but with some good strategy, we can create content and initiatives that connect with how our target audience will behave around, and in relation to these events. There are some ingenious brand initiatives you see maximizing commemorative days and events, and you can mostly tell it probably took a lot of effort from ideation to execution. In 2022, we will stop trying to “quickly come up with something” all the time but instead be more intentional and think about these things ahead of time. Did we read that together and aloud? Great.

As peculiar as we rightly make 2022 look, these events did not begin yesterday. It has been some sort of progression from 2020, and many brands had begun to embrace some of these ideas, as shown in the Africa Challenger Brands report by our team at FourthCanvas. However, there is no better time to emphasize and embrace these, as the effect of these changes settles more on people now than ever.

While the above are brilliant examples (if we may say so ourselves) of ideas to think around, it is important to emphasize underlying traits and principles that will need to be true of these brands (i.e their teams). You will need, among others, a great combination of 3 key traits, namely—authenticity, proactivity and creativity. It will begin with the readiness to be true to self, be honest about it and willing to share; the ability to think and act ahead of time and with intentionality; and finally the skill to make it great and compelling. This mix may be found internally or sometimes with the involvement of an external brand/design/consulting firm. What matters is to find the right mix. The most important bit lies within—a ready leadership and a committed (and competent) team across the disciplines especially brand and communications.

The challenge for branding success is a greater one today in 2022 than it was pre-2020, but the same can be said of the reward. We are better off getting right up to the task early, to gain the competitive edge that follows if we get it right.

Written by Victor Fatanmi and Bolaji Fawole

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