Unlike their big brand counterparts, CEOs of startups and emerging companies often times don’t really know what to expect from the process of defining their brand value to their stakeholders and customers. For many, the undertaking may seem more like entering into a deep, dark forest – a big leap of faith risking valuable capital to boot.

Many ask themselves, “what if we get this wrong?”

With so much risk facing small growing brands, and no forgiveness in the marketplace if they don’t get it right, I’m convinced many entrepreneur executives have that thought cross their mind. Unlike PR, promotions and advertising, brand strategy begins as an introspective process. Defining brand value for small companies and their brands is mostly intuitive and it takes guts.

Recently, having just completed the process of changing their name and creating a new identity, a CEO of a growing B2B company, confessed to me, “ You know, at the beginning of this whole process, we didn’t have a clue where this would lead us, or have any confidence what we were contemplating was even the right thing to do. Changing our business name was a big deal­ — we only had one shot to get it right!

The currency of our modern social age is attention. CEOs of startups and emerging companies don’t have the financial luxury of buying attention, they have to earn it. Like your money, your customer’s attention is limited too.

The whole process of defining your unique value to customers in ways customers care about may seem rather mystical, abstract and difficult to quantify. Big brands and the companies that own them, can hedge their bets through reliance on expensive research and market data. Small brands have to rely more on guts and intuition, and a deep empathy for their customers rather than deep pockets for advertising.

We’ve all seen many examples in our business folklore where guts and intuition won over the prevailing market wisdom and data hands down. If you’re the CEO of an emerging young company, here are some suggestions that may provide you with more clarity and confidence in the strategic and creative decisions you’ll be making when you enter into the process of defining your brand’s value.

Be more of who you already are rather than more of what you are not.

Usually the driver of defining brand value is change. There is a current business circumstance that is undesirable and needs changing. Of course, this doesn’t occur in a vacuum, there are competitive forces in the marketplace that shape the context of change. Shaped by competitive forces, it can be tempting to think your organization needs to become more of what it isn’t. It’s far more powerful to be more of what has made your company and brand successful thus far. Being more of what makes you highly valued and difficult to substitute is what differentiation is all about. Brands that endure are highly focused on why they matter to people. As you think about change, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Defining brand value is a collaborative process. Innovation and creativity come from diverse sources and usually not from where you‘d normally look.

David Packard (of HP fame) was noted to say “marketing is too important and activity to be left to the marketing department”.  At the inflection point of inventing, defining, refreshing and expressing, the perceived value of your brand, you need to look everywhere and to everyone who has a stake in your success. When you’re tweaking the whole, all the parts have to be considered. Begin with customers first.

Defining brand value is not decoration but behavior.

You can create the “coolest branding” (logos, slogans and packaging) but those things don’t do anything, only people do things. Living your brand value every day in every action your company takes to create value is behavior. You can’t mandate or rule how your people behave in the marketplace; your people must, of their own choosing, be in resonance and shared values of your business purpose. Who hangs with you is more important than your cool logo.

Execute flawlessly with the resources available.

For small growing brands, money to execute on communicating their value is also an issue. If you have a gigantic marketing budget based on mass media delivery, it’s easy to get your message out and make the right impression. Money makes everything easy.

Whatever marketing tactics you choose to spend money on, execute flawlessly. Spend what it takes to do it right! If you don’t have the money to do something right, do something else where you can afford to put your best foot forward. Start with your presence and use of social media. There is a broadcast network willing to air whatever you put on for free…it’s called Youtube, Vimeo, Slideshare…you get the idea.



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