A startup business faces many difficult challenges getting off the ground. For many early stage CEO’s assessing their priorities, product development and the seed money to grow are their primary concerns. Few if any are thinking much about brand building–mainly because they believe it to be sophisticated marketing they simply can’t afford.

For startup CEOs, brand building needs to be as important to early success as product development and raising money. You can have the most innovative, groundbreaking product ever conceived, but if you can’t create a strong foundation for communicating that value to the marketplace, chances are the business won’t go far. Developing a strong brand is critical to the early success of startups.

The Ugly Baby Syndrome

Many startups have a difficult and awkward task of communicating the value of their product/service innovations in ways that matter to investors and potential customers. At the beginning (especially when seeking investment capital) founders have a tendency to believe that everyone will “get the big idea” of their next big thing. As a result, they usually message their value badly at the beginning.

Like any newborn, learning to walk the talk requires falling down and getting up again and again. But the break neck pace of the VC deal making machine is not very forgiving to the stumbles of startup founders not able to tell a compelling story of why their innovation matters to anyone beyond their Mother.

The heart and soul of brand building embodies a relevant and differentiated value proposition. Founders must be able to articulate why their baby matters to some people! Remember, at the beginning nobody cares!

What makes your startup good and different?

The marketplace is a slush pile. Every year new businesses, products and services are born into a vast sea of ubiquitous sameness. For startups to have a chance of making it past the infant stage, their value must be well defined.

No one will deny the fact that startup CEOs work long days, weeks and years in their business. Few CEOs will work “on” their business. Brand strategy is the process of working on the business. Having the clarity and the confidence to define value in compelling ways is the first step in building a sustainable brand.

Founders need to take a long, hard introspective look at how they will discover and articulate why their innovation is good and different. In a world of increased commoditization, relevant differentiation is the source code to brand building success.

Good and different means the value the business brings to the world must be highly valued by a well defined target customer and not in abundant supply elsewhere. When you can define what that is for your business, you will enjoy competitive advantage in the industry category in which you are operating and command premium pricing as well.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Brand strategy is not marketing.

One of the big misconceptions startup CEOs have about brand building is that it is a marketing activity. In fact, these are two separate (yet related) activities. Brand strategy is about knowing the DNA of the value offered to the marketplace, marketing is the process of delivering the message through various communication channels.

It makes no sense whatsoever creating grandiose marketing schemes without those plans being anchored and informed by a higher guiding strategy about what the brand will represent in the mind of a target customer. This should be good news to startup CEOs since marketing is an expensive proposition most startups can ill afford.

Brand strategy requires real market insight and creative thinking, while marketing requires cash. Marketing should always follow brand strategy.

Branding begins with a good name.

Over time the startup business will grow up. It will acquire loyal customers, it will have created trusted relationships and enjoy a reputation that will translate into greater financial value.  All of this will happen more effectively and efficiently if you start with a good name to build your good reputation on.

Nothing is more valuable to a startup business than a good name. Start by creating one that will serve the growth and expansion of your value over the long haul.

The three components of a strong and enduring startup brand.

There are many definitions about what a brand is. Regardless of how the idea of a brand is defined, a startup brand requires three well-designed components:

Brand Identity:

The essence of what your brand represents to customers. It is “who” the brand is. This is represented by symbols, language, and the culture or heritage of the organization.

Brand Promise:

The benefit your brand brings to customers. This is “what” the brand provides that is highly valued and not in abundant supply. These associations are based in the functional, rational and emotional benefits customers receive from the brand.

Brand Experience:

The tangible experience customers have in their interaction and transaction with the brand. This is “how” the brand delivers on its promise. These associations are based in real life engagement with products, people and places.

One might consider this to be the three legs of the stool in building an enduring brand right from the beginning. All three of these components must be designed. They do not come into form on their own. The process of design is the critical discipline in making all three components come together in harmonious alignment within the mind of the target customer. The awesome thing about design, if applied correctly and consistently, it will enable your startup brand to emulate its values to the marketplace with more credibility and effectiveness.

You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Everyone has heard that statement before. But for startup brands the statement holds even more significance. Whatever startup brands are doing, chances are they’re doing it for the first time. The first presentation to an investor, customer or important employee must be simple, clear and compelling–there are no second chances.



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