startup branding

How to Brand Your Startup

A Startup business faces many difficult challenges getting off the ground. For many early stage CEO’s assessing their priorities, product development and the seed money to grow are their primary concerns. Few if any are thinking much about brand building–mainly because they believe it to be sophisticated marketing they simply can’t afford.

For startup CEOs, brand building ought to be as important to early success as product development and raising money. You can have the most innovative, groundbreaking product ever conceived, but if you can’t create a strong foundation for communicating that value to the marketplace, chances are the business won’t go far. Developing a strong brand is critical to the early success of startups.

The strength of a strong brand strategy, particularly in startup mode, is that it helps you focus. People tell us time and again that their brand strategy helps make their product feel real. It provides substance, turns an idea into something that can be discussed objectively and almost in the third person. It enables you to put enough distance between yourself and what you’re selling to make better decisions that are informed by what customers want and need, rather than what you think or hope they want or need.

The Ugly Baby Syndrome.

Many startups have a difficult and awkward task of communicating the value of their product/service innovations in ways that matter to investors and potential customers. At the beginning founders have a tendency to believe that everyone will “get the big idea” of their next big thing. As a result, they usually message their value badly at the beginning.

Like any newborn, learning to walk the talk requires falling down and getting up again and again. But the marketplace is not very forgiving to the stumbles of startup founders not able to tell a compelling story of why their innovation matters to anyone beyond their mother.

The heart and soul of brand building embodies a relevant and differentiated value proposition. Founders must be able to articulate why their baby matters to some people! Remember, at the beginning nobody cares!

What makes your startup good and different?

Every year new businesses, products and services are born into a vast sea of ubiquitous sameness. For startups to have a chance of making it past the infant stage, their value must be well-defined.

No one will deny the fact that startup CEOs work long days, weeks and years in their business. Few CEOs will work “on” their business. Brand strategy is the process of working on the business. Having the clarity and the confidence to define value in compelling ways is the first step in building a sustainable brand.

Founders need to take a long, hard introspective look at how they will discover and articulate why their innovation is good and different. In a world of increased commoditization, relevant differentiation is the source code to brand building success.

“Those entrepreneurs who eventually grow up to dominate their market represent a compelling “idea of value” in the minds of customers that is simply not available from the alternatives in the category.” – Thomson Dawson

Good and different means the value the business brings to the world must be highly valued by a well defined target customer and not in abundant supply elsewhere. When you can define what that is for your business, you will enjoy competitive advantage in the industry category in which you are operating and command premium pricing as well.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Brand strategy is not marketing.

One of the big misconceptions startup CEOs have about brand building is that it is a marketing activity. In fact, these are two separate (yet related) activities. Brand strategy is about knowing the DNA of the value offered to the marketplace, marketing is the process of delivering the message through various communication channels.

It makes no sense whatsoever creating grandiose marketing schemes without those plans being anchored and informed by a higher guiding strategy about what the brand will represent in the mind of a target customer. This should be good news to startup CEOs since marketing is an expensive proposition most startups can ill afford.

Brand strategy requires real market insight and creative thinking, while marketing requires cash. Marketing should always follow brand strategy.

Branding begins with a good name.

Over time the startup business will grow up. It will acquire loyal customers, it will have created trusted relationships and enjoy a reputation that will translate into greater financial value.  All of this will happen more effectively and efficiently if you start with a good name to build your good reputation on.

Nothing is more valuable to a startup business than a good name. Start by creating one that will serve the growth and expansion of your value over the long haul.

The three components of a strong and enduring startup brand.

There are many definitions about what a brand is. Regardless of how the idea of a brand is defined, a startup brand requires three well-designed components:

  1. Brand Identity:The essence of what your brand represents to customers. It is “who” the brand is. This is represented by symbols, language, and the culture or heritage of the organization.
  2. Brand Promise:The benefit your brand brings to customers. This is “what” the brand provides that is highly valued and not in abundant supply. These associations are based in the functional, rational and emotional benefits customers receive from the brand.
  3. Brand Experience:The tangible experience customers have in their interaction and transaction with the brand. This is “how” the brand delivers on its promise. These associations are based in real life engagement with products, people and places.One might consider this to be the three legs of the stool in building an enduring brand right from the beginning. All three of these components must be designed. They do not come into form on their own. The process of design is the critical discipline in making all three components come together in harmonious alignment within the mind of the target customer. The awesome thing about design, if applied correctly and consistently, it will enable your startup brand to emulate its values to the marketplace with more credibility and effectiveness.

Developing your brand strategy

When developing branding for your startup, keep in mind that your startup’s brand strategy should reflect the key fact of your positioning statement and aligns with your business activities.

Positioning is an essential part of launching your product and company in the market. Positioning creates an image of your company’s product in the mind of your target customer. The term “positioning” should be viewed both as a verb and a noun.

As a verb, it can be defined as deploying a set of tools and processes used to influence and control the market’s perception of your product or company in relation to any competing alternatives. As a noun, it can be defined as an attribute or condition associated with your product.

Positioning is not what your company physically does to a product — it is what your company does to a target customer’s mind. It provides an effective answer to the question, “What do you do?” Keep in mind that the question has to be answered from the customer’s point of view and clearly state what the product does for the customer.

The three mantras of brand positioning are:

  1. Differentiation
  2. Desirability, and
  3. Design

Customers develop opinions about companies and products. And the positioning of each in the mind of the customer always occurs in relation to the competition or the customer’s other alternatives.

It can take time for a startup to develop its brand. Consistency is key. For example, if part of your brand strategy is environmental friendliness but you use wasteful manufacturing processes, the credibility of your brand will suffer, and your company might not be able to recover from the bad press.

Your brand is a powerful tool that can help drive your startup’s reputation and foster customer loyalty—but only if all your stakeholders can believe in it. In the end, the purpose of your brand strategy is to develop a sense of preference within your target customer segment.

You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Everyone has heard that statement before. But for startup brands the statement holds even more significance. Whatever startup brands are doing, chances are they’re doing it for the first time. The first presentation to an investor, customer or important employee must be simple, clear and compelling – there are no second chances.

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