Most startups think they have to wait until they have a lot of money to build a brand. Truth is, you don't have a choice. The brand is how people feel about your company and whether you have a lot of money or not, they will still have an emotional opinion of your startup. So, it's better to be aware of how branding helps startups at varying stages.
Ensures your startup is unified toward one goal. In mind, in actions, and in voice.
Ensures you aren’t pegged as a copycat and that you know how you're different from your competitors.
Ensures you talk to somebodyinstead of trying to reach everybody.
Ensures your startup appears trustworthy to investors and customers. You can't get that from Fiverr.
Ensures you get emotional buy-in to your startup and get more investment. This means more 0's in those investor checks and greater connection with customers.
Streamlined Marketing and Design
Ensures you don’t reinvent the wheel when creating content about your startup. You can then focus on expanding to new markets and creating great content.
Ensures those marketing efforts are trusted and get a higher return that grows with time. As opposed to relying on discounts and cutting margins to increase sales.
Ensures you coherently and cohesively expand your team. Specifically, it ensures you hire people whose values align with the company and augment the brand rather than detract from it.
Ensures you can leverage brand equity to command a higher exit price. There is a reason Apple is worth trillions and Samsung is not (hint: it's the brand).
Ensures their isn’t a massive overhaul of the company post-exit.
Ensures you left your mark and made an impact beyond financial gain.
Branding exists at every stage of a startup's life. The question is, will it help you or hurt you?
This is the fifth article in a small series of punches surrounding April Dunford's Obviously Awesome! and how good positioning relates to good branding. Please read the first article, second article, third article, and fourth article before jumping into this one.
You know what the alternatives are, you know the special things that make your startup unique, you've established what makes that valuable, and you know who finds it the most valuable. Now, what frame of reference can you give to customers that will help them understand who you are?
This is accomplished through establishing a market category. For example, an automobile is a specific market, motorcycles are another. If you say your startup is going to be an automobile, it is assumed that it will be some kind of four-wheeled transportation. If a motorcycle, it is assumed it will be two-wheeled.
Same thing applies to software. If you are building out a creative software, it's assumed it will be capable of creating artwork digitally. Or if you were creating a video conferencing platform, it'd be assumed you could do something like connect with others via teleconference.
Why does this matter? Because it's important to make sure you don't allow for false assumptions. A famous mash of market category explanation is "it's like Uber, but for (blank)." What does that mean? It means that whatever you're building is going to have something to do with transportation, the shared economic model, and probably be app based, right?
When you repeat those assumptions to startup founders, you frequently get a response similar to, "well, kinda."
Ouch. Bad move. Now you've got a bigger problem. Now you have to combat assumptions and pay close attention to fix them.
At its core, market categories and choosing to associate your company with one is done to make your marketing easier. This happens because, when done right, those assumptions allow you to cut straight to the differentiating pieces of your startup rather than trying to explain what it is.
What does this have to do with branding?
I'd guess the biggest impact this has on branding is the ability to see what assumptions are already in place about the emotional value of the category. The companies in each market category have stigmas, jargon, and they tend to adopt similar brand personalities. You have the opportunity to break those assumptions and create a unique personality.
One company that comes to mind is Liquid Death, who blew past expectation when they took a death-metal inspired, brewery-like approach to selling water. They entered a crowded market with few companies straying from a fresh, clean, and renewing vibe. We know what it is, water, and because of the market category we are able to ascertain what separates it from the rest of the herd.
You would not prescribe a cancer patient to use a band-aid as appropriate treatment.
Likewise, it'd be stupid to prescribe a logo to fix a broken brand.
You have to be willing to undergo massive overhaul to make massive change. Dive deep into the fundamental flaws of your startup. Things like being aimless, having no defined culture, no spirit, a lack of confidence or purpose. Once those are fixed, everything else becomes easier.
Don't think a band-aid will cure cancer.