In the complex and overcrowded startup ecosystem, competition is fierce, and arguably there are no truly original ideas.
Building a powerful brand is vital to differentiate you from your competitors, but there’s more to branding than having a memorable logo and design.
Every sprouting startup should be thinking about the message they want to send to their audience from the very beginning. Your business idea may be extraordinary, but how will you stand out among your many competitors?
Whether you realize it or not, you’re already branding yourself from the very moment you start talking about your idea to your friends.
Assuming you’re already at the point where you have a solid product, how do you go about communicating your unique value proposition to your customers? Branding is your personality, a unique story that fits into a central theme and mission. Your brand is how your customers, competitors, and partners see you, so it’s vital to start off on the right foot.
Answer these four questions during the first baby steps, and you’ll be on your way to bringing a competitive brand to the marketplace:
To establish a strong brand, you need to define your purpose and clarify the reason for doing what you do. Think about the emotion you want to evoke with your brand.
A crucial first step is choosing a brand name that identifies the service or product you’re providing. Before making any decisions, gather enough feedback on whether your idea is memorable, easy to pronounce, and passes on the goals of your business.
When choosing your brand name, make sure the domain name is available. If your domain name is not the same as your brand name, forget it! Google the name and see what else comes up on search; you want to appear on the top.
Don’t forget social media pages and make sure your brand name is not in use by someone else already. Compare the name with your competitors and see if it stands out or sounds too boring.
Be clear about your mission and ask yourself:
- Why am I building this business?
- What is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires me to carry on?
- How does this product fit into people’s everyday lives?
Think about the problems you solve and the story behind your idea and how you came up with your startup idea at first place. What encouraged you?
Now define your startup goals, keep them simple and focused, make them specific, and don’t have too many. Goals will define your direction, communicate your values to your audience, and help you visualize what you want to be and how you want others to see you as a brand.
Fastest growing company? Next big thing? Most innovative? Forget the buzzwords. You haven’t received a $19 billion offer for your brand new, disruptive company just yet, and nobody cares about your ego.
What people do care about is what differentiates a new product from all the noise. If your target customer were to describe what you do to their friends, what would they be saying about you? Translating a clear message that you want your audience to naturally pass on through word of mouth is the goal. What makes them talk about you, not your competitors?
For instance, Apple branding strategy focuses on the emotions; it’s about lifestyle, innovation, dreams, and liberty through technology. Furthermore, Apple differs from others as they emphasize simplicity and aim to remove the complexity from daily life while using technology. More importantly Apple understands that customer experience is most important and has managed to grow a large community around the brand that share their values.
Do your best to get into your customer’s head and develop answers to their questions. When you understand your target market, only then can you know how to address the problem and solve it better than anyone else.
Once you have defined your goal and what kinds of moves will get you there, start giving a shape to your brand by crafting a tone of voice through content to deliver the message to your customers. Think about the personality of your company—if it was a person, what would it be like? Fun? Serious? Authoritative? Friendly? Reliable? Lively or laid back? Formal or chatty?
Consistency is key: staying true to your visual and experiential identity throughout your website’s user experience, social media posts, blog content, and press is how you can start to build a relationship with your audience.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How is my message coming across?
- Is it formal or informal?
- Am I trying to achieve a corporate attitude or speak to my audience as a friendly small business?
- What do I want my clients to feel?
- Am I giving too much information, or too little?
A company’s first employees are its greatest value. As difficult it is to find the right talent, remember that those you recruit will also be your biggest promoters. Every single word they say about your company reflects who you are and should understand this better than anyone else.
Creating an ideal working environment for your team through offering support is ideal. Give your team members the opportunity to develop within the company and always listen to ideas and take in their feedback about clients. Above all, you should be fostering a culture that allows your employees to believe in the brand as much as you do.
Besides determining whether you will break it or make it, your employees have the potential to be your biggest brand promoters. Through their online and offline social interactions alone, your message is being spread across their networks. Finding employees who are recognized as "thought leaders" can work as a massive boost toward engaging external audiences. Who are your employees in their day-to-day life and what do their networks look like? How are they using social media?
Zappos is a prime example of a company cultivating a strong culture of loyal brand advocates. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com, says:
We believe that your company’s culture and your company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up. Your culture is your brand.
When you have figured out what the roots of your brand are, only then should you be approaching a designer to grow it into something tactile. Even if you’re not a web-based company, your website is your most crucial first impression to your audience.
There’s no such thing as a second chance for a first impression, and it’s your first baby steps that will allow you to hit the nail on the head.
[Image: Flickr user Lauren Manning]