Software, logos and melanin: How race plays a role in brand recognition

I am a woman.

I am a black woman.

I am a black woman building a business.

I am a black woman building a business that extends beyond women who share the same range of melanin in my skin.

Race should be the last thing on my mind as I build my business. I should be worried about my pricing model, finding customizable barter software, applying to incubators and accelerators among a million and one other things.

I did my research before I started my business. Not just for the sake of building a MVP (Most Viable Product) but for the purpose of knowing how many others like me are living and breathing struggles of a start-up. According to a study, the number businesses owned by African-American women grew 322 percent since 1997, making African-American women the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States. That was comforting.

But the one thing that exists beyond my comfort zone, is the uncertainty of how my business will be perceived in the market. As I observe many black-owned businesses, I often see people who assume that the business is solely dedicated for black people. I wonder how much business black entrepreneurs lose due to this (sometimes ignorant) mentality of prospective customers.

While building the branding elements for my business, I proudly shared the design of my landing page with a family member one day. I think it was a Saturday. Their reaction? “Nice page. I forgot you were pro-black.”


I love my race. I love being black. But under no circumstances am I anti-anybody else. I took a second look at my page. Did I really project an image that screamed, “blacks only – this is a BLACK business FOR black people, BY black people?”

It made me paranoid. Nervous even. How could I find a visual balance that represents ALL of the women I wanted to come to the site?

Google to the rescue. I ran across an article entitled, “5 Black-Owned Companies You’ve Never Heard of That Make $500 Million or More a Year.” Out of the five companies, only one did not show a plethora of races in its visuals.

I want to be clear. Anyone who comes to my barter website, will know who I am. I will never conceal who I am and what I represent for the sake of building a customer-base. At the same time, I know that I must be strategic in my visual branding to attract all women who can benefit from my services. I must be consciously aware of the stereotypes that surround black-owned businesses (bad customer service, overpriced products, etc.). I must be relatable and approachable in my personal brand to build a network of bold, ambitious female entrepreneurs who must buy into my authenticity well before they buy into my product.

Race is a delicate subject. So delicate, that I deliberated if I should even write about it in the context of business. It’s scary, and unfortunately it’s a real reality to consider as I and many others who look like me, start a business that is geared for different demographics who may mistake our businesses for something that is exclusive only to African-Americans.

I can’t control how people feel about me or my business, but I can dictate how well I am able to deliver a great product and experience that appeals to women of all colors who are ready to extend the lifeblood of their business beyond their first three years (women-owned businesses are projected to survive three years after being launched). I must be strategic. I must be genuine. I must be me.

After all,

I am a woman.

I am a black woman.

I am a black woman building a business.

I am a black woman building a business that will connect female entrepreneurs from around the country to exchange services that will help remove critical business barriers that typically plague the first three years of business.

I just wanted to clear the air. Carry on.

How does race play a role in building or maintaining your brand image?

Whitney L. Barkley is the founder of Barter Babes, LLC, an online platform that helps female entrepreneurs connect to exchange services. She is consciously examining the biases that surround her and turning them into stories that give her a peace of mind. Follow Whitney on Twitter @TheWriteGirl_

2 thoughts on “Software, logos and melanin: How race plays a role in brand recognition

  1. You bring up such a crucial issue. I literally struggled with the thought of exclusion vs. exclusivity when I came up with the idea of Startup Noire. But the same reasons you stated above statistically is exactly why I decided I am catering to black entrepreneurs. Now, would I exclude anyone? Absolutely not. It’s just like a historically black college. We’re not the only ones who go. My mind was put at ease when I came to the same conclusion as you: I’m pro-black, but not anti-anyone else. Stand firm in your offering, your target audience, and your truths. The opinion of one family member (possibly well meaning) shouldn’t sway your biz one way or the other. Signed, a fellow black woman building a business.

    1. Briana, thank you so much for your comment. You said it best, “I’m pro-black, but not anti-anyone else.” It took me a while to understand that because growing up (and going to an HBCU) you are always taught to behave in a different way when interacting with other races. I decided to bite the bullet, continue to be myself but always be inclusive and respectful of all people regardless of who they are. My business’ purpose is to help all women. Naturally, I realize that some women will gravitate towards my business than others but that is fine. I am focused on creating the best product possible and helping as many women as I can. Thank you again for sharing your experience — it’s always comforting that someone else has faced the same challenges.

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