When Should Start-ups Think About Branding? Sooner or Later?
It’s a chicken-and-egg question, isn’t it?
When should start-ups think about branding? Sooner or later?
Let’s take a short journey to find the answer, shall we?
When a company first starts out, it might have brand touch points like these:
- A logo.
- Some business cards.
- A company name.
A start-up usually has some basic elements associated with branding but it doesn’t have what I would call a “cohesive brand.”
Branding is more than a few basic touch points
It’s highly likely that start-ups haven’t done any deep thinking and planning about what their brand means. They’ve probably been more focused on the business model and the products and services they sell.
As start-ups build a business, branding becomes a side effect. A brand might emerge as the business grows, but the brand is not included in the essence of the company.
As you’ll soon see, branding sooner rather than later is better for your business (in the start-up phase as well as in the long run).
What are some of the effects of not integrating deep thinking and branding strategies into a company from the beginning?
By not having branding strategies ingrained into the business from the start, poor communication is the result. For instance:
- Customers and prospects are not clear what the company stands for (apart from the products and services that it sells).
- Unclear messaging exists within the company.
- New employees get mixed messages about the company’s brand.
- As employees are added over time, poor communication becomes even more confusing and diluted.
- Employees communicate different messages to suppliers or customers.
Your brand strategy and your business model go hand in hand
Your brand doesn’t lie on top of your business model. Your brand is ingrained into your business model. Your brand is your touchstone and drives your business decisions.
Without that touchstone, you might start making business decisions not aligned with what you had envisioned for your company in the beginning. As you can imagine, that wreaks havoc on your marketing because you don’t have a consistent message and voice.
Focus on your “points of difference”
Building your whole brand strategy is a rather large undertaking. Spend time thinking about making your business unique so you can stand out from the competition. I call the resulting ideas your “points of difference.”
A point of difference could be anything from a piece of your company’s history or a story that’s unique to you to perhaps a service you could trademark.
Avoid cliché points of difference
Sometimes when I’m speaking with a company, I’ll ask, “Tell me what your points of difference are—what makes your company truly unique?”
Example 1: One of the things they might say to me is, “Our people—they are what make our company unique.” Then I might say to them, “Well, 20 of your competitors say the same thing in their marketing message.” Using “our people” as a point of difference is something that’s not a point of difference.
Example 2: Other companies might say, “Our customer service really sets us apart.” This one also fails, because:
- Many companies say that too.
- Very few companies provide amazing customer service.
- If I were to go and test your customer service, I might not find it a unique experience at all.
Example 3: Some companies might say, “The thing that really makes us stand out from the competition is low, low prices,” to which I would say: “Prices are the worst thing to try to use to differentiate yourself. Why? Because all that happens is you turn your product into a commodity and you start competing on price.” Rather than being a premium brand, you end up being a low-price discounter.
How do you find your points of difference?
A brand strategy planning project is going to be a large and overwhelming undertaking. What I’m about to explain is not a soup-to-nuts branding strategy, but it will get you thinking about your points of difference and what your brand stands for.
If you can nail this part down, you will be on a path to figuring out the other pieces of your brand strategy more easily.
Stories are compelling, memorable, transferable and emotional
People throughout history have told stories to one another. Stories help spread the message about your brand. Stories are emotional.
A big piece of branding is the emotional piece of the brand—the emotional benefit that your company gives. If you have not established that piece of branding in your thinking from the start, you can’t make an emotional connection to your audience.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Collect stories
Start thinking and collecting stories about why you started your business. What was that spark or that idea that started your business? What were some influences? Sharing what started your business is very difficult for somebody to copy and wrap it into their company story.
Step 2: Write 20 words
After you’ve collected several stories, write them down even if just in headlines and bullet points about your story.
Then write down 20 words that reflect common themes you see throughout your stories like “energy,” “vibrancy,” “determination,” “innovation” and “problem solving.”
This list will help you tap into the emotional adjectives and words that will resonate with people. These words/themes are going to become a part of your brand essence.
After you’ve made this list of 20 words, there might be some duplicates. That’s because you’re writing down whatever pops into your head. This step is all about creating a volume of words, so don’t worry about duplicate words.
Step 3: Pick five words
Now sift through your list. Pick five words that resonate with you and you feel strongly about. These words should reflect your brand. Keep these five words; they are going to become building blocks for your brand.
The sooner you discover your brand, the better off you’ll be
Working on your points of difference will set you apart from your competition, now and later on.
Brands, like business models and everything else in business, evolve over time. But thinking about branding in the beginning and getting yourself in the mind-set for a brand is a critical step for the long-term success of your business.