"Well, I'm my target market, so I should design a brand for myself."
I hear this a lot, especially from startup founders who think they have an amazing product that is going to solve world hunger and end war forever (I'm kidding, but you get the idea). However, despite the product being so amazing, they can't get sales, have a hard time pitching, and are constantly pivoting to the point of exhaustion. What's more, they all have shitty brands.
Why is that? Because going into business to build something for yourself is a surefire way to have an aimless brand, one that you cannot objectively validate. It's doomed from the start. Think about it, if you fully embody the exact persona of someone who could use your product, then they don't need you. They are able to solve this problem themselves. Good luck making them feel something other than contempt for you imposing yourself on their day-to-day.
I get it, you want to enjoy the work you do and have a brand that you can appreciate being a part of. You cannot find that focusing on yourself.
The key is to find overlap, a common thread between what your customers value and what you value. There is a reason they are listed in that order, as you, being an entrepreneur, can build a kickass business and brand whether you feel personally attached to it or not. You'll crush it because solving problems for other people is what you're best at, that is your job.
If you happen to have a passion for the brand and can align with it personally, all the better. But, you have to focus on a customer first or you have no business. Not only in the products you create, but the way you make them feel. That's where the branding magic is born.
FYI, I stole this concept and story from Sprint by Jake Knapp, enjoy!
I don't drink coffee, but I'd imagine the most people wouldn't if they had to drink coffee without using coffee filters. You see, before the filter coffee was brewed the same way you'd steep a bag of tea. The result was a lot of over-brewed, grit filled, coffee. Gross.
Filters had been attempted before, but to no avail. They were made of cloth.
It wasn't until a woman named Melitta Bentz saw blotting paper on her son's desk that the idea for our modern filters came to her. Blotting paper was used to clean up excess ink , it was porous enough to let liquid pass, but not enough to let the gritty grounds come through. Sure enough, after using it in place of cloth, she was astounded. The flavor was great and clean up was a snap.
What does this have to do with branding?
Sometimes the obvious solution to your brand isn't where you'd expect. You won't find it looking at competitors or digging within the muck of your day-to-day, it's somewhere else. Perhaps it's a different industry, or in a game you used to play, your favorite movie, a song. Instead of trying to create the perfect brand, find it and repurpose it.
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.