You’re 99% sure that whatever it is that you’re going to build will change the world forever. And the next days, weeks, months you start building on your steps to world domination.
Then all of a sudden, it hits you: how will the world know about your “thing” when it is ready to launch and go out there? What is the name of this “thing”? Okay, the naming might be something that you’ve already come up with after hours of brainstorming and checking that domains are available, but what about a logo? What will be your unique message to the world? Do you have a unique message to share with the world?
Having a logo, and maybe even a website are already some real steps to building your brand, but these alone don’t add up to having a brand.
Any damn fool can put on a deal, but it takes a genius, faith, and perseverance to create a brand.
Your brand is everything. Your brand is how you present yourself every day to your existing and potential new customers, it’s what you have to offer, it’s who you are!
Branding is not something that just comes out of nowhere. However, it’s something you should think about and plan way before you’re even ready to start thinking about launching. Branding is an integral part of your overall marketing strategy.
Before we dive into building your brand, let’s first talk a bit about what “brands” and “branding” really mean.
What is a brand?
A lot of different and smart people will say a lot of different things about what a brand is. According to the American Marketing Association Dictionary, a brand is:
a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller, good or service as distinct from those of other sellers
According to Dharmesh Shah a brand is:
A Brand is what people say about you after you have left the room.
To us, a brand is a unique story that your customers recall when they think of you. Your brand associates your product with their personal stories; it has a particular personality, it promises what you’re solving, and it positions you relative towards your competitors. Your brand can be represented the way you tell your story through written word and symbols.
What adjectives come to mind when you think of the following companies?: Apple, Facebook, Best Buy, Innocent. Perhaps you thought of words like innovative, friendly, best choice, and healthy. Whatever words you came up with, think about why they came to mind. THAT’s a brand.
As you can imagine, your brand story is (re)written every time your customer interacts with your product or service. It’s being told by:
- Your name
- Your pitch
- Your employees
- Your website
- Your email signature
- Your business cards
- etc. etc.
As you can see a brand is not just your company’s logo, your website, or the product you’re offering. A brand is much more than that. A brand is not the tangible product or service you provide. A brand is intangible; it’s your personality. It’s your story, your image. A brand is how people view you and what value they believe they will get from you.
So what is branding? And why does my startup need a brand?
Okay so now we defined what a brand is, what then is branding? Branding is the process of shaping the perceptions of your customers. Branding is a combination of the actions you perform to your existing and potential customer so that they view you and your product or service in a certain way.
Remember the words you came up with when we mentioned Apple, Facebook, Best Buy and Innocent? Those words came up to you because of a specific reason. Maybe it was an advertisement you saw, something you bought from them or maybe a positive experience you’ve had with those companies. As you can see, branding includes factors you can control, but also factors you can’t control. For example, what is someone from your company has a bad day? And he or she needs to deal with customer support? It might be that your customer has a bad experience as a result of that.
And that’s why branding is such an important part of your entire marketing strategy. You can spend lots of time and money in advertising, in content marketing and all the other things it is you do, trying to create your story, but in the end your brand is what your customers and the public, in general, decide what it is. Your brand is perceived value and worth. This, of course, doesn’t mean you should let nature run its course and accept your brand as it is. It just means you need to start thinking about your brand from the moment you start building and working on your idea.
You need to think about the message you want to send out in the world, so that when you’re ready to launch the world will understand you and your product or service better.
When you start working on your brand be sure that you can live up to the expectations you’re setting for yourself and your customers. If you brand yourself as a company who will go to great lengths to deliver customer support (like, for example, Zappos does greatly), and in the end you ignore your customers on a regular basis, then this is not in line with the message you want the world to know. And once a negative view about you and your services is out there it’s always tough to change.
Time to start building your Minimum Viable Brand (MVB)
Over the last couple of years, the principles of the Lean Startup developed by Eric Ries and others have helped entrepreneurs to increase their level of success. The Lean Startup does this by focusing on agility, validated learning, and iteration (Build, Measure Learn).
Three of the core principles of the Lean Startup are:
- Validated learning: a startup doesn’t exist to make something or serve their customers. A startup exists so that the people in the startup can learn how to build their idea into a sustainable business.
- Innovation accounting: as a founder you need to focus on how to measure your progress, how you can set up your milestones and how to prioritize your work so you can eliminate the amount of waste.
- Build – Measure – Learn: a feedback loop, that helps you validate which business activities in the marketplace are the right activities.
Just as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) helps you to test your hypothesis about your product, the Minimum Viable Brand (MVB) can help you to test your hypothesis about your brand. Your product is only a small part of your market proposition. It’s impossible for your customers to have a product experience without interacting with your brand first.
If you strip down your product to its core, to only the problem it’s solving, what do you have left? How can people relate to it? How can they become passionate about it? These are questions that you as a founder can need to ask yourself.
Denise Lee Yohn defines a great framework to help you get started. She talks about the six what’s:
- what we stand for – our brand essence
- what we believe in – our defining values
- what people we seek to engage – our target audience(s)
- what distinguishes us – our key differentiators
- what we offer – our overall experience
- what we say and show – our logo, look, and lines (messaging)
Can you think of these items for your startup? What do you stand for? What do you believe in? etc. Time to start writing them down and testing them. Startup Branding can look like a complex science. But just like with your product, some ideas are just not worth pursuing. If you start, test and iterate from early on, you will be sure to start building a great brand that people can relate to. Building a new brand is not easy, but it needs to be done for your startup to be more successful. So start working on it!