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.
No, you're not going to remodel the kitchen in your startup. This is an analogy. You see, when you renovate your house to increase its value, there are two areas most recommended: the kitchen and the bathroom. Doing this adds the greatest increase to a home's value.
Is it out of the question to think that design could be the equivalent to increasing a startup? Not unlikely. I was at a pitch competition last month and all of the judges made comments on the design of the winning team's slides. How well they flowed, the ease of reading information, and the personality they added. There were other participants that had ideas just as good as theirs, but good design made them win.
Furthermore, in comparison to other things startups might do to increase their value, design isn't that expensive. A solo freelancer can make a run-down, scrappy startup look like it is worth millions for under $30,000. If it results in the recoup of millions in fundraising, that sounds like a drop in the bucket.
Here's the thing: if you're looking to tremendously increase the value of your startup, you might want to consider design as a starting point.
A common worry of most startups is that they've let too much time go without focusing on their brand that it would be too late to make positive change.
This is the same feeling I had this morning. My back was super stiff so I slept in. Waking up to think, "damn, my daily routine might as well be ruined. I shouldn't exercise, I shouldn't write the MF Punch, I shouldn't pray, I shouldn't journal."
And then I thought, "so because I didn't get to these important habits of mine at the start of my day, that means they shouldn't manifest at all?"
What's the point?
Don't let your brand be clock blocked. If you expect your startup to be around at the end of the day, end of the week, end of year, whatever, you can make a change for the better right now.