4 Startup Branding Trends That Are Finding Success

Audiences are trending towards interactivity, personalization, and abstract design. Keep this in mind when branding your business.


5 min read

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The 2010s were defined by tech-based startups, think Uber and Airbnb, that shook up major industries like transportation and hospitality. While their products were revolutionary, at the end of the day it was their cutting-edge branding that really took these businesses to the next level. As we enter 2020, it’s important to strive towards branding that’s just as compelling and striking as the brands that dominated the last decade.

Also, younger generations, like later millennials and Generation Z’s, are gaining more buying power, so their tastes will determine the direction of branding trends. Here are four emerging trends that startups should keep track of when creating a noteworthy brand.

Related: Branding Strategies That Create Customers Who Spend 300% More

1. Interactive experiences encourage audiences to engage with your content

As traditional direct advertising continues to lose its luster with modern audiences, customers are seeking new, tech-based experiences. These technologies, like virtual and augmented reality, allow audiences to interact with their favorite brands in brand new ways. Brands that find ways to reinvent themselves in digital spaces are seen as forward-thinking and intriguing by millennials and Gen Zers. Content like BuzzFeed’s interactive quizzes has taken over social media, allowing audiences to personalize themselves through the brands they interact with online.

This past year, IKEA expanded upon the capabilities of its augmented reality app, allowing users to place multiple pieces of virtual IKEA furniture into their rooms, essentially “trying before they buy.” The ability for customers to easily visualize furniture in their own rooms helps them engage with IKEA on a more personal level, making their content and branding more accessible to consumers than ever before. By using immersive technologies like VR and AR, brands can position themselves as extensions of their consumers’ perceptions of the world.

2. Abstract visuals captivate audiences

Trendy branding is less about the services brands offer and more about evoking strong emotions, core values, and lofty ideas. Modern brand imagery has reflected this shift by becoming more abstract and dreamier than ever before. By utilizing more daring, eclectic, and post-modern imagery, trendy startups promote the more ethereal aspects of their brand in a time when these intangibles are more important than ever.

Skillshare, an online learning platform focused on the creative arts, has frequently used abstract imagery in its blog to promote its brand as a hub of outside-the-box creativity. The striking imagery showcases the creativity of Skillshare’s community, establishing its brand as a digital space in which forward-thinking imaginativeness is encouraged. 

3. Animations cut through the static

Modern audiences are also moving beyond static imagery, which is evident through the massive popularity of GIFs on social media. However, GIFs are used so frequently now that they’ve become background noise, leaving their original purpose of getting the audience to slow down and engage with the content unfulfilled. To remedy this, successful brands have incorporated movement and animation into other aspects of their online presence in order to capture the attention of customers. By having charming animations littered throughout the UI of their digital space, brands can make interacting with them a more pleasant and uplifting experience for their customers.

Related: Create Incredible Branding Initiatives Without Hiring Design Help

Mailchimp is a digital marketing platform that uses quirky animations throughout its website to make its digital space inviting and non-intimidating. Rather than bombarding its users with statistics and figures, Mailchimp’s simple, dreamlike animations put customers at ease, encouraging them to check out the site and its features.

4. Eye-catching brand naming intrigues audiences

For startups, incredible products or innovative new services aren’t enough to stand out. Your business must establish a brand that’s compelling and electric, and the first step towards achieving this connection with audiences is through your brand’s name. A name can easily make or break your brand in the eyes of your audience, so deciding on a name that draws positive attention and sticks in your customer’s minds is essential to the branding process.

As modern brands are changing to become more personal, jarring, and disruptive, brand names are following suit. As more and more domains and naming trademarks have been filed, emerging startups have doubled down on striking, out-of-the-box names. Many names, like Discord (a social platform designed for gaming) and Slack (an instant messaging service made for the workplace) are powerful and unconventional despite their simplicity. Others, like the mattress company Purple, use offbeat names in combination with humorous and peculiar branding to gain enormous amounts of attention in industries with traditionally “boring” branding. Some brands even go as far as to use ironic names (like Elon Musk’s The Boring Company), combining wordplay with a name that would have previously been seen as counterintuitive in order to stick out from the competition.

If you’re drafting a name that’s considered unorthodox, make sure to do extensive audience testing to make sure your eccentric name is attracting customers instead of alienating them. 

Related: Why Personal Branding Is a Secret Weapon

Audiences are seeking brands that align with their values

The main commonality between these four branding trends is the idea that startup brands should no longer revolve around their products or services, but on the intangibles — their mission statements, their personalities, and their entrepreneurial spirits. 

As social media dramatically lowers the communication gap between customers and brands, audiences are looking towards brands that are more personable and human. They view them almost as “friends,” and like with any other friend, they hope these brands have ideologies that align with their own. Startup brands won’t make it far if their values or personalities fundamentally clash with those of millennial and Gen Z audiences. To avoid this, craft a brand that is socially conscious, effortlessly cool, and has a strong, unmistakable mission statement.

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