Brand Strategy For Startups

Derrick DayeJuly 17, 20235 min

Launching a startup comes with numerous challenges that need to be overcome. For early-stage CEOs, their main concerns typically revolve around product development and securing seed funding for growth. However, many fail to recognize the importance of brand building, often considering it a lesser priority.

In reality, brand building is as crucial to early success as product development and fundraising. Even if you have a groundbreaking, innovative product, without a strong foundation to effectively communicate its value to the market, your business is unlikely to thrive. Developing a robust brand is essential for the initial success of startups.

The Ugly Baby Syndrome.

Startups often struggle to convey the value of their product or service innovations in a way that resonates with investors and potential customers. Initially, founders tend to believe that everyone will instantly understand the significance of their groundbreaking idea. Consequently, their messaging often falls short.

Similar to a newborn learning to walk, stumbling and getting back up repeatedly is part of the process. However, the fast-paced nature of venture capital deals is unforgiving to startup founders who cannot effectively tell a compelling story about why their innovation matters to anyone beyond their immediate circle.

The essence of brand building lies in a relevant and differentiated value proposition. Founders must articulate why their “baby” matters to a specific group of people. It’s important to remember that in the beginning, nobody cares!

What Sets Your Startup Apart?

The marketplace is filled with countless businesses, products, and services, all blending into a sea of sameness. For startups to have a chance at progressing beyond the early stages, their value proposition must be well-defined.

Startup CEOs undeniably invest long hours, days, weeks, and years into their business. However, they often fail to dedicate time to work “on” their business. Brand strategy is the process of working on the business. The first step in building a sustainable brand is gaining clarity and confidence in defining its value in compelling ways.

Founders need to engage in deep introspection to discover and articulate what makes their innovation good and different. In a world where commoditization is on the rise, relevant differentiation becomes the source code for brand building success.

Being good and different means offering value that is highly sought after by a well-defined target customer and is not easily found elsewhere. When you can define this for your business, you will enjoy a competitive advantage in your industry category and be able to command premium pricing.

Brand Strategy Is Not Marketing.

One of the common misconceptions among startup CEOs is that brand building is merely a marketing activity. In reality, brand strategy and marketing are two separate but interconnected endeavors. Brand strategy involves understanding and defining the core essence of the value offered to the market, while marketing focuses on articulating the value and delivering the message through various communication channels.

It makes little sense to create extravagant marketing campaigns without anchoring those plans in a higher guiding strategy that defines what your brand represents in the minds of target customers.

Further, brand strategy requires genuine market insights and creative thinking, whereas marketing requires financial resources. Marketing should always follow a well-defined brand strategy, not the other way around.

Branding Starts With A Memorable Name.

As a startup grows over time, it will acquire loyal customers, build trusted relationships, and develop a reputation that translates into greater financial value. All of this can be achieved more effectively and efficiently by starting with a strong, memorable name that serves as the foundation for your brand’s reputation. A name is the first story ever told about your offering, do not discount the importance of strategically thinking it through.

There Are Three Key Components Of A Strong And Enduring Startup Brand.

A brand is the sum of all experiences a customer has with you. Strong and enduring startup brands understand this, and excel in their approach to bringing these three components to life:

  1. Brand Identity: This encompasses the core essence of your brand and how it resonates with customers. It is represented by symbols, language, and the organization’s culture and/or heritage. Example: Apple’s brand identity is synonymous with innovation, simplicity, and elegance.
  2. Brand Promise: This refers to the benefit your brand brings to customers. It represents “what” the brand provides that is highly valued and not easily found elsewhere. These associations are based on the functional, experiential, and emotional benefits customers derive from your brand.Example: Airbnb promises unique and authentic travel experiences that go beyond traditional accommodations.
  3. Brand Experience: This represents the tangible interaction and transaction customers have with your brand. It reflects “how” your brand delivers on its promise. These associations are formed through real-life engagements with your products, people, and places.Example: Tesla provides a seamless and exhilarating electric vehicle driving experience along with a network of charging stations.

These three components form the foundation of an enduring brand right from the start. They must be intentionally designed and aligned within the minds of your target customers. At The Blake Project, we ensure our startup client’s brands build this foundation and ‘own’ their value in the marketplace with credibility and effectiveness. Further, we prepare them for the journey ahead, by showing them how to be good stewards of their brands.

You Only Have One Chance To Make A Good First Impression.

This statement holds true for everyone, but it carries even more significance for startup brands. Whatever startups are doing, chances are it’s their first time doing it. The first presentation to an investor, customer, or key employee must be simple, clear, and compelling because second chances are rare in the startup world.

Example: When Airbnb pitched their concept to investors for the first time, they focused on the idea of “belonging anywhere” and showcased the potential for regular people to monetize their spare space.

At The Blake Project we are helping clients from around the world, in all stages of development, define or redefine and articulate what makes them competitive at critical moments of change. Please email us to learn how we can help you compete differently.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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One comment

  • Mike Hallaron

    July 19, 2023 at 9:21 am

    Derrick, your point about locating the “Why” in your brand strategy is spot on. Understanding the difference or the big idea, the value prop, the USP, etc. They are all the same thing. This is critical before any marketing begins, even before your naming, visual design and logo work gets underway. Understanding that idea is really important for a startup.

    When asked to define branding now, I often use Bill Schley’s definition. It’s simple and to the point: A brand is an idea attached to a name. If startups do it right, people will remember that one, clear idea you’re bringing to customers. Then marketing can flow from that all-important differentiator.

    Really enjoyed this one, Derrick. Saving it!

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