Cinema has done a phenomenal job of showing us drama. Think about it, if everything in a movie went according to plan and the characters acted rationally, there'd be no tension and therefore no movie. It'd just be a walk through of good decision making and civic discussion about what to do next. It'd follow a logical progression.
What sucks is that creatives often infuse that drama into their creative process in the form of a pitch or a big reveal.
This isn't good. Pitches put both parties in a bad position and create an ultimatum from the event. How do we fix that?
We scaffold. More importantly, we build an ugly scaffold.
A scaffold? Yes, like the one's you see on the sides of skyscrapers. These structures follow the building from the ground up and work alongside the deliverable until it is ready to show. They are hideous, but they allow everyone to safely navigate from the ground-level to the top.
What does scaffolding look like for building a brand identity?
A good designer can educate and guide folks along the process (and it better be a process) from nothing to something. Instead of a giant presentation where clients give a giant "yes" or a giant "no," scaffolding allows for small tweaks along the way and a unified effort.
Build an ugly scaffold.
You could have the coolest product in the world, but if you don't show up to help out the community of people you want to serve, you're going to lose them.
I'll give you an example using Webflow, my favorite web design tool.
They continuously post new videos on how to use their software, they host local meetups to help others improve their designs, and they even went as far as hosting a "No Code Conference," to empower designers on the web.
That is showing up everyday to serve. How can you do the same thing to help your group of rebels?
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.