Almost all the entrepreneurs and founders I’ve had the pleasure of working with are brilliant in their own unique way. They see a problem or gap in the market, and they create a compelling product, technology, or service for an unmet need; and then with passion, vision, courage, and conviction they set out to build a company to solve those needs. They’re part of a fearless and inspiring bunch. By the time they come to us, they’ve usually got a solid idea about the problem they want to solve or the product they want to build. Most have thought through the mechanics of how they might build their product, and every single one of them brings an infectious amount of optimism and urgency to their venture.
Most of the time, what’s missing is a lack of knowledge about how to articulate and share the value of what they’ve built or are planning to build. There’s often a focus on the wrong tools needed and a general lack of knowledge around what is involved in building a brand. Many think a logo is the most important element they need, while others have fallen in love with using a forgettable, disconnected, or difficult name for their product or service. The most successful entrepreneurs I know are the ones who are fanatical about what they know and are equally honest and open about what they don’t know. Understanding the power and dimensions of brand is often at the top of the “don’t know” list. So for those building a startup, here’s a simple framework that we follow when building a brand.
Brand is not a logo, a tagline, or an advertising campaign. It’s a multidimensional platform that can be your greatest differentiator and competitive edge, if built correctly. It represents both a rational and emotional connection to your various stakeholders and the consumer that ultimately decides to purchase and engage with you. It’s important to understand and deploy the power of a fully developed brand.
Clearly define what business you’re in.
It’s the first question, the one to start with, and the one to answer with careful thought. And it’s not always the first answer you give. “What business are you in?” should lead you to understand the broader value you’re going to offer the world. It is the fundamental question that should inform others about why you exist, while helping mold your vision and purpose. When we ask this simple question to the founders of startups and senior executives of large and established multinational corporations, they realize that when they answer it correctly and imaginatively they unlock new value and potential for their brand.
Build a rock-solid brand platform.
Think of your brand platform as the foundation that directs and informs every aspect of your business. A platform that’s crystal clear and unshakable should include a clear vision statement that outlines, in simple terms, an aspirational view of the impact you’re planning to make on the world. It should include a purpose statement that informs how you plan to deliver on the vision. What most businesses skip is a set of operating principles or values that guide behaviors and decisions. With these foundational elements in place, you should clearly outline the personality traits of the brand to inform the development of your products, identity, and communications. Take each of these elements, and ladder everything back to the purpose and you’ll keep everything about your brand cohesive and connected.
Design an identity that you’d be proud to wear on a T-shirt.
Working from the brand platform, informed and inspired by your larger purpose, you’re now equipped to name your brand deliberately. Working from the brand principles and personality traits, you have the inspiration points and guardrails to direct the development of a brand identity that should break through and stand out in your category. Your identity and the design language that surrounds your brand is a worthwhile investment given the importance of design in most categories of business today. It’s important to understand the added value and quality cues that design can add to your competitive edge.
Tell a compelling story.
Developing and sharing a compelling brand narrative is like crafting and telling a really good story. You want other people to hear it and want to share it. To start, prepare an outline that’s informed by your purpose and your business strategy. The characters in your story and how you tell it should be guided by your principles and personality traits.
When it comes to crafting the stories, find a consistent voice for your brand and test it out to make sure it resonates. When it comes to sharing your story, think like an editor of a magazine, and program out the chapters or the various aspects of the story with an editorial calendar to ensure you manage the delivery and the timing in a coordinated manner. They say people don’t read today, which I don’t agree with, so make sure you’ve got something interesting, relevant, and memorable to say.
[Image: Flickr user The World According To Marty]