Let's set the record straight: brand = gut-feeling. Done. No if's, and's, or but's. The brand is the emotional resonance someone has with an entity. More importantly, the brand manifests itself differently in each person who forms an emotional connection. Your job as the founder of a company or the person responsible for brand management is to ensure that the feelings are not disparate.
Why? Because if an emotional connection is established, a business will recoup more customers, at a greater value, for a longer amount of time. Cult-like brand followers are hard-pressed to leave their brand of choice. Where this becomes an issue is when the mood shifts frequently (i.e. voice and tone misalignment, a rash, "salesy" email, negative customer experiences).
So how do you know if something is off-base for the brand? You define it. Usually in the form of a purpose and brand personality. You see this all the time. McDonald's focuses on happiness, while Jack in the Box focuses on comedy and poking fun at the establishment. It's why McDonald's creates Happy Meals for smiling children while Jack in the Box creates Munchie Meals for stoned college students.
Point is, both of these brands are defined and manifest in visual identity and even in the marketing initiatives they take.
Here are the questions I ask founders to extract a brand:
1. Your company dies twenty years from now, what is on the tombstone?
This practice sets your gaze on the future and how people will remember you and your impact. Pretend you are giving a eulogy for your beloved company.
2. KYC. Know your customer intimately.
Beyond demographics. Walk a day in their shoes. What goals do they have? What keeps them up at night? What is making them seek your help? What's at stake? What do they love? What patterns can you derive from their lifestyle?
What macro movements are having an impact on your industry? Is there one that you can use to propel your positioning?
4. What is missing in your industry?
Take a look at the alternatives your customer has to your company, what is missing? What irritates your customer with these alternatives? How can you be different emotionally? How can you be different tactically and in your offerings?
5. Who are you?
Yes, you, the founder with an amazing story. Whether you believe it or not, your story has an impact on your brand and you need to put it on paper. Where are you from? Where are you now? What does that say about you?
6. What qualifies you?
What puts your company in a position of authority to lead your customer to their goals? What helps you empathize with their current predicament?
7. Brand Attributes
Describe the culture, customers, voice and tone, feeling (post-interaction), and impact of the brand. Simple, one-word answers work best.
8. Establish a brand archetype
I like to use this cheat sheet.
What do you offer?
How has your customer changed after working with you?
Why you do what you do.
These questions go deep. Don't be satisfied with surface-level answers. Dive into them. Think them over. It's ok to take time. Most importantly, be honest and don't be afraid to tell your story, it has more impact than you know. Remember, if you do not establish this foundation, no messaging or visuals will ever feel right.
This is the sixth 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, fourth article, and fifth 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, you know who finds it the most valuable, and you can frame your impact in a market that makes it easy for users to understand your company. This next step is only optional, it isn't crucial to positioning, but it can help if implemented well.
Step six is riding a trend to give your positioning an extra boost. Trends are macro movements that continually grow and shift culture. For example, plant based foods, sustainability, data privacy etc. It's like adding a rocket to your positioning, propelling you along with the strength of the trend.
Now, the reason this is optional is because it's tricky and can easily fall by the wayside.
Imagine you were selling drinking water during the start of the gluten free trend. You could slap a sticker on your bottles that says "gluten-free" to hopefully ride the trend. But you'd be stupid. Why? Because anyone who is truly gluten-free knows that water doesn't have gluten... at all.
On the other hand, if you were a health-conscious brewery and could come up with a gluten-free formula, it'd be smart to jump on the gluten-free wave. Why? Because it's relative to the product, since almost all beer is made with gluten, and aligned with the mission of the company.
Which brings up the last point on this: trends say a lot about your brand. They are often political and carry strong emotional qualities. Before you jump onto a trend, you better know yourself and the beliefs shared between you and your audience. If you betray either of those, every step in positioning your company is forfeited.
Selfish ambitions don't really get you anywhere. They cause you to think narrowly about what's good for you and gives you a good pay out (one person), as opposed to thinking about what could give a good payout to others (multiple people). Not only that, but it makes for lame brands, since it's hard to make other feel something if you have not rooted your company in empathy.
There are blatant examples of this when startup founders go into a venture with the purpose of making a bunch of money so they don't have to work anymore. No one is going to hand their money to you so that YOU don't have to work anymore. It seems silly to reiterate that, but sometimes we all need a reminder. It's rare to find a company with a purpose like this that does anything innovative or builds something others find irreplaceable. However, it's not always as easy to spot such self-centered ambition.
Where selfish ambition gets tricky is when it's veiled in altruism. Here are some example: "I see all these big companies that are selfish with their money and do a bad job handling it, I think I could do a better job."
At first glance, it doesn't seem like that big a deal. There are indeed hundreds of big companies that get caught in scams and aren't very generous with their money. But take a look at the example again but with this question in mind: who is the beneficiary?
There's only two subjects in it, large companies and the founder of this startup, so it must be one of them. Sparing you the trouble, if either of these subjects are the beneficiary, then this purpose sucks. Despite the acknowledged problem of large companies' ill-spending, the solution of trusting one person (albeit, a stranger) to do a better job with it is not much better. It's certainly not something that you could rally a team behind, convince investors to buy-in to, and certainly not customers.
Why? Because it's all about the founder. No one is going to buy into that.
It's not all lost though, with a small tweak this could be improved. Let's try this: "I see all these big companies that are selfish with their money and do a bad job handling it, so I'm going to create a company where every employee gets to dedicate a portion of our profit to a charity of their choice."
Now who's the beneficiary? The employees and the charities they choose to support. Shoot, even the founder becomes a beneficiary because they now have recognition for giving others an opportunity to do good. Despite a purpose dedicated to the service of others, the company still grows because other people have bought in and get something in return.
Point being, if you want to grow your startup, make your purpose about other people, not you.