Startup Branding – Mission Critical?

February 2019

So you finally did it. You have made the decision to create a startup. You may be doing it from inside an existing company or by yourself with a small team that finally thought of something wild and unique that no one has ever thought of before. Maybe. 

A STARTUP FUTURE

If we believe predictions and analysts, we will see a 2019 full of new ideas, new companies and concepts popping up faster than ever before. We will also see large companies focusing on internal startups, development of (new) technology centers, and completely autonomous rogue teams trying to find the next big thing for the corporation they are working for. Or maybe just trying to succeed in fighting off the next big thing. 

And we also know that a lot of these startups will fail. For many reasons. Either way, focusing your efforts on a sound business strategy built on your unique brand will derisk your startup, and may just put you ahead of the curve. 

This article is relevant to both the intrapreneurs, as well as the entrepreneurs focusing their efforts on changing the world, and possibly killing a giant or two in the process.

So, when you have a concept, an idea, and maybe even a business plan, why should you spend time on brand management? And more specifically, how should you spend time on it? 

BRAND – DEBUNKED

Let´s debunk brand quickly –  it is not your advertising, your logo, your design or your product. It also is not your office, or your technology. Brand is your core belief, your identity, the foundation of your efforts, and the fundamental driver of growth, positioning and ultimately, the dimension that will define your space in the market. It simply gives you direction, and it makes future customers understand what you do, how you do it, and why they should be a part of it in the future. It lets them connect emotionally.  

You can have the greatest technology in the world and a kickass business plan, but if nobody understands what you are selling, and what makes you unique, why would they buy your stuff? Or invest in your idea? 

THE HUMAN FACTOR 

Remember – any commercial success depends on human interaction. Humans creating a concept, developing it, selling it, and ultimately buying, using and reviewing it.  There is no “plan” that talks to another “plan” coincidentally creating scalable business. It comes from people. And brand is the strongest factor for any company or concept to influence human decision making. 

Based on our experience of dealing with internal and external startup brand sprints, here is a suggestion of a process and its content: 

DEFINE YOUR SUCCESS

Start like what Jeff Bezoz has implemented at Amazon and write your press release / essay of success. Don´t write it like an engineer, or a marketeer. Write it like a story that tells the essence of your concept, how it succeeded and what it did to your market. 

Make sure you stay away from technical terms, or the technology architecture, or even the structure of the concept. Focus on the things a customer would value. And do it simple. In other words, this represents the humble beginnings of a value proposition, and positioning effort. This little essay should be your guide for what your future could look like – seen from the satisfied customers’ perspective. Put it on the wall, frame it. Show your investors, stakeholders and friends. And from here on out, strive to make it real. 

Does this work for internal startups? For sure. Most of the time, it works even better. 

WHY, WHAT & HOW (and maybe WHO) 

Having done this, we dive into the actual brand strategy. Spend some time with your team, stakeholders or advisors to answer these essential three questions: 

WHY – does this concept exist, why should anyone care, and why is it relevant?

WHAT – are we trying to achieve, what is our ambition, and what will we be doing / offering / solving? 

HOW – are we going to do this, how will we succeed, how will we sell?

These three core questions define your strategic triangle. Add who you will be selling to and why will they buy or use the offering into it and you will have the core of your brand strategy ready. 

Once this is ready, and you still have time left, you should address your desired position, spend a few thoughts on the basic elements of your core narrative and, last but not least, try and define your onliness statement (My company is the only ____ that ____ ! And of course it is pretty cool if you can come up with a catchy name. 

CLIENTS, INVESTORS, INTERNAL STAKEHOLDERS

They all need to understand you. Everything you are doing with this audience is sales. Sales, sales, sales. And you cannot sell anything these days without clarity, simple value propositions and a crystal clear idea of what you are selling. Imagine design without brand guidance, or your investor presentation without a proper storyline and ambition. You are getting the idea. 

LONG & DIFFICULT? NO, SHORT, SIMPLE & EVOLVING

Never plan too long ahead. And never get too cozy with names and strategies. You may have to change your core strategy, you may have to change your name, or even your core concept. 

Some of the worlds’ greatest startups came out of pivots. Slack was just a side product of another startup, UBER wanted to own cars until right before they launched, and Amazon (you should type relentless.com into your browser) had to quickly adapt and pivot based on the exponential growth that was the Internet at the time. 

Our best tip: Don´t marry your strategy. Be unfaithful. Try other things. Listen to the market. But whatever you end up doing, commit fully. 

DRIVE GROWTH, MANAGE BRAND

Going forward you will deal with tech development, design, organizational development, recruitment, profit and losses and everything else that comes with running a business. Make sure you keep two key ambitions set in stone: 

1. Drive growth – everywhere, in all aspects of your startup. Regardless if your growth means more users, more MVPs, more revenue or more people. Or all of the above. 

2. Manage your brand – it is your biggest strategic asset, the one thing that sets you apart, and the core connection between you and your customers. Treat it right, and it will give you success in return. 

Good luck. Now run. Fast. 

 

Want to know more about startup branding?

Get in touch with Robert Leinders-Krog, principal Brand Management & Strategy