Start-ups are everywhere, â€śentrepreneurâ€ť is the new cool-guy job, and Ashton Kutcher is doing his Steve Jobs impersonation on movie screens all over America. Even though itâ€™s an exciting time for business and a really exciting time to be a consumer, itâ€™s hard not to have some kind of start-up fatigue.
Branding and brand strategy are essential tools that can help fledgling companies cut through the clutter. We all know that big, established companies have a lot to learn from start-ups in terms of staying nimble, driving innovation, and thinking about things differently. But start-ups can learn a lot from big companies, too.
DEFINE YOUR UNIQUE BRAND VOICE
What kind of brand do you want to be? If you are a tech start-up, the brand values that might come to mind are intuitive, optimistic, straightforward, and maybe a bit cheeky. But you are not alone in identifying with those values â€“ these have become category conventions. They are assumptions, not equities. To live in the hearts & minds of consumers, your brand must stand for something unique. Tuckernuck, an online boutique, feels like a real-world brand because it has identified its college-prepster voice and speaks it unapologetically. Figure out what is unique and true about your company upfront, and all your creative decisions will become a lot easier.
REAL WORLD BRANDING IS VISUAL
Even if you are working in technology, your brand no doubt stands for functional and emotional benefits that live in 360 degrees (not just on someoneâ€™s iPhone). So decide what those values look like in the real world. It helps to think visually. Color, for example, is an essential brand tool. If your company was a store, what would it look like? What makes it look different than the stores around it? What can you own? Warby Parker didnâ€™t just create a smarter way to buy eyeglasses, they created a modern library. Donâ€™t forget to build in these essential visual brand cues.
YOU ARE NOT THE CONSUMER
I imagine that one of the best things about entrepreneurship is being able to invest your energy in products or services that really matter to you. If you wouldnâ€™t personally use the output of your efforts, you probably wouldnâ€™t be there. Thatâ€™s why it is worth reminding all entrepreneurs that you â€“ and people with similar attitudes, behaviors, and means â€“ are not necessarily your target audience. Your target may include you, but it doesnâ€™t have to be limited to you. So you canâ€™t rely only on your personal intuition when developing and branding your product, you must work to define your target, work to get their feedback, and work to listen to them on as many decisions as possible.
Big CPG companies require qualitative and quantitative consumer verification on almost every product decision, from basic product concepts that will never see the light of day to marketing executions. We canâ€™t expect consumers to validate all of our decisions, and we are braver and better companies if we manage to take consumer feedback with a grain of salt. But expecting branding to be entirely intuitive is short-sighted at best. Do people actually want what you are selling, or are you talking to yourself?
ANTES VS. DIFFERENTIATORS
Many startups invest in a lifestyle brand approach, which means they build in non-essential components like shareable editorial content and feel-good charitable partnerships. Buy a sock, send a sock! Itâ€™s important to understand the role of these investments in driving your brand â€“ if they are startup clichĂ©s, they are category antes, not differentiators. Activities you have to do to even get in the game are not activities that are going to set you apart. You may need some new tricks if you want to attract the attention of publicists, and consumers too.
Sarah Birnbaum, Sterling Design Intelligence