Why do so many sustainable brands fail? They ignore these three keys.
According to the Small Business Administration, more than 620,000 new businesses open annually in the United States. Globally, 1.35 million startups open each year in the technology industry alone. In this highly competitive environment, only 10% of startups survive their first five years. Feeling pressure to create a successful business and appear as professional as possible, many early-stage companies face difficult choices about where to invest their limited resources, especially when it comes to the loosely defined area of “branding.”
It can be easy for a new business to spend thousands on logo design, a web business cards, t-shirts, brochures, giveaways, etc., but do any of these activities grow the business? Does branding even matter for a startup?
Yes, but not exactly in the way you’d think. Below, we explore five areas of branding startups should focus on.
#1 Start-Up Branding Focus: The Customer Experience
One of the simplest definitions of a “brand” is the experience that you provide to your customers. And delivering a positive experience is critical when you’re a fledgling business trying to compete against much more established companies. So, when you consider the foundational experience your business will deliver to your customers, be sure to factor in what they value most highly.
A few questions to help you identify these foundational needs are below:
- What are the most critical phases of your interaction with a customer? How will you know if you got them right?
- How can customers contact you, and how quickly can you respond?
- How should customer complaints be addressed?
- Who in your organization is ultimately responsible for customer satisfaction?
- How can you go “above and beyond” for your customers?
REI is a great example of a brand that runs on excellent customer service. It offers omni-channel customer support – connecting with customers on a multitude of platforms so that individuals can receive the support they need via their preferred channel. They have also built a reputation for customer satisfaction because they stand by their products even years after purchase.
#2 Start-Up Branding Focus: Defining Your Value Proposition
When you’re introducing yourself to an unfamiliar market, you need to quickly show how you’ll benefit your audience in order to capture their attention. Defining this value proposition will require you to be very specific about these benefits in order to help people make a purchase decision. Questions that can help you define your value proposition include:
- What is the primary measurable benefit we can deliver to our audience (saving time, money, etc.)?
- What pain points are we addressing in a customer’s daily routine?
- What do we make possible for customers that they couldn’t do without us?
#3 Start-up Branding Focus: Differentiation
Very few startups have the privilege of offering something completely unique to the world, and that’s okay. It just means that your business will need to show your potential customers how you’re different from your competitors in a way that makes that customer choose you.
When you think about branding your small business, you have the opportunity to consider all the nuances that make your product or service special and find creative ways to share those differences with the market. Below are several areas to consider when deciding how you will focus on differentiating your start-up’s brand:
- Cost/Price: are you delivering at the lowest possible price, at a luxury level, or somewhere in between?
- Quality: how much better is your product or service than the competition? How can you prove it?
- Service: What lengths do you go to to help your customers that others can’t or won’t?
When branding your small business, be bold. Embrace colors that depart from the industry standard. Take time to design a logo that reflects not only what you do but who you are. When you’re competing against hundreds or even thousands of other startup in your industry, your visual branding is how you literally stand out in a crowd.
T-Mobile has done a great job using branding to shine in a loud wireless market. Its color – hot pink – is bold and unique among its competitors, and the company’s advertising takes a similarly strong approach by challenging larger wireless carriers.
#4 Start-Up Branding Focus: Focusing Your Marketing Activities
When building a start-up, you’re going to face a lot of questions about where you want to go and how you want your organization to look and feel. The most successful companies have thought of the answers to these questions in advance in order to avoid endless discussions about the organization’s direction. Answering the questions below can help you stay on the right path:
- Who is your target audience? What are their demographic and psychographic characteristics?
- Based on the above, where should your brand be present to catch your audience’s attention?
- What tone should you use to communicate with your target audience?
- What should you NOT do, based on your audience’s expectations?
#5 Start-Up Branding Focus: Setting the Guardrails for Your Marketing
Even the largest businesses can’t afford to reach everyone, so it’s especially important to think about where you need to be present and what you need to say to that audience. One of the most important parts of branding your startup is focusing and preserving your limited resources by zeroing in on marketing strategies that work within the resources you have.
To better focus your marketing efforts, think about the following questions:
- What is your marketing budget? How will you spread it out over the first month, six months, or year of your business?
- How do you intend to capture your audience? Will you be offering a discount on your product, generating leads by giving away a free white paper or case study, hosting a contest to increase publicity, etc.?
- Is your start-up doing something newsworthy? Is free publicity from a press release or media outreach a viable option?
- What kind of presence do you want to build on social media?
- What kind of ROI can you expect from your chosen marketing strategies?
Many household brands found big results when they simplified their approaches and focused instead on doing one thing great. Yeti has a similar brand story; starting with great coolers and expanding only as growth allowed them to continue delivering exceptional products.
Ultimately, hats and water bottles are fun to think about, but real branding has a much bigger impact. If you’re ready to think about the practical side of branding your start-up – the big picture questions about who you are and why you matter – contact Young Marketing Consulting. We love to talk branding with small businesses!
A brand is an attempt to make the intangible real.
A brand is a simple concept with an almost infinite number of potential executions. And that’s why developing a brand strategy can become so difficult. Let’s take a look at an example.
Recently, we sat down with a firm that needed help with their brand architecture and strategy. They were a small group housed within a larger business unit that was part of an even larger company, and their job was to sell services that would be a potential client’s initial introduction to the company as a whole. The only problem? Their group was branded under a completely different name than their business unit, which was in turn branded separately from the parent company. Because of a convoluted brand strategy, customers had no idea who they were initially doing business with or why people from other companies were suddenly calling them. The company was having trouble increasing its customer value, because it was pursuing a failed brand strategy.
Clarity and Consistency are the most important brand hallmarks.
Developing a brand strategy requires clear vision, careful planning and detailed execution to avoid situations like our example above. And to get there, you’ll need to start with a brand strategy session. These exercises can seem mysterious, but we’re here to help you build your brand by answering your most common brand strategy questions.
1. How Long Does it Take to Create My Brand Strategy?
A brand can be developed in a few minutes, or a period of years. The real answer to how long it takes to develop your brand strategy is lies with how many stakeholders your brand will touch, and how quickly you can communicate your changes to them. Depending on the size of your business, you may need a number of brand strategy sessions over a significant period of time to address issues and decisions. Brand strategy exercises typically begin with a broader overview of your business and its functions in order to understand exactly how much of an effect any brand changes will be.
Consider Apple Computer, the world’s most valuable brand as of this writing. Apple is the standard for millions of technology consumers, and it employs thousands of workers all around the world. If Apple makes a change to its brand strategy, the impact will be massive. And so, the company spends significant amounts of time surveying its customers to understand their experience with its brand as it plots its product roadmaps.
2. To Whom Am I Selling?
This question typically arises when discussing how to identify your target customer, and many hours of meetings and calls have been spent on this particular subject. The answer lies in buyer personas. Buyer personas are research-based characterizations of your target customer that help you guide your brand strategy. Most brands have several buyer personas, and they are typically determined based on primary research of both current customers and prospective customers that uncovers different psychological need states and practical use cases for purchasing from the brand.
When crafting your buyer personas, consider customer demographics and lifestyles, buying behavior, motivations, and any other criteria that will help you make strategic brand decisions. Ultimately, creating these personas will help your business in having a deep understanding of you customer.
Use a template to create your buyer personas here
3. How Does My Brand Decide What to Say?
One of the most difficult aspects of brand strategy is distilling your company’s value proposition into key messages – brief statements that reflect the core of your business. These key messages provide guidance for everything your company does, from advertising executions to how your employees interact with your consumers, but creating them can take significant effort.
Young Marketing Consulting will typically approach a brand strategy session by asking a number of questions such as those below to help surface an organization’s core values:
- What values do you want to portray to your audience?
- What traits are important to your customers?
- Why do people purchase your brand?
- How should all of your employees perform?
The output of these questions is a rough draft of how you’ll talk about your brand. As discussed above, brand strategy will need to be vetted with a number of stakeholders, and they’ll often have input down to the amount of punctuation in your value proposition, but continually distilling what values you brand holds dear and revising your language will tell you exactly what to say to your market.
4. What Do We Do if We Don’t Agree About Our Brand?
It’s not uncommon for different stakeholder constituencies to disagree on various aspects of brand strategy. The key to solving these issues is to make decisions based on research that demonstrates what your audience wants, not what the room thinks your audience wants. Using both primary and secondary market research techniques will allow you to have the deepest understanding of your target audience. Conduct interviews, use surveys, and consider setting up focus groups with current and potential customers. Integrate your results with existing data such as government census information, market research reports, and any other material that has already been collected by another organization. Gathering this kind of secondary data is often quick and inexpensive, and can help solve business questions about things like market size, revenue potential, and other financial factors.
5. How Will We Know if Our Brand is “Right”?
At its core, marketing is always a leap of faith. You won’t really know if your brand strategy is going to work until you put it out in the market.
The key to evaluating whether you’ve got the right brand is to listen to your customers and market – they’ll vote with their eyeballs, feet, and wallet. If your messages aren’t resonating, you’ll see that reflected in your business metrics and will know it’s time for a change. Monitor metrics like web traffic, lead conversions, sales, and social media conversations to see if you’re gaining traction. And don’t fret if your sales aren’t flourishing immediately after you craft a branding strategy – it can take years to see market share increase. The best way to know if your brand is “right” is to listen to your customers once your brand strategy has been implemented and make small tweaks based on their feedback.
Need help with branding or anything marketing-related? Feel free to contact Young Marketing Consulting.
Branding matters. Your brand defines how you conduct business and differentiate yourself from competitors. Once a company has solidified these areas and established brand awareness in its market, its focus will often turn (as it should) to consistent application of these principals.
But every market evolves as new competitors and technologies arise, and brand qualities that might resonate with an audience today can shift quickly. Just ask McDonald’s, which after decades of selling cheap burgers and fries struggled to pivot when consumer tastes shifted to healthier fast food options and upscale burger experiences.
So how will your organization know when it’s time to rebrand? In Young Marketing Consulting’s experience, there are three signs.
Three Signs it’s Time to Rebrand:
1. Your current branding is visually outdated
This sign that it’s time to rebrand is an easy one – here’s an example. We recently found ourselves in a room with a client discussing the visuals they were choosing for the next iteration of their website. Their senior leadership had great affection for the design style that the company had been using since its inception, but its competitors had gone through several iterations of visual design and their websites looked much more modern and cutting edge when placed side-by-side.
Whether the organization liked it or not, it was going to have to keep up with the proverbial visual joneses and our advice was to modernize its execution. In a Google-driven world where a visitor will judge you instantly based on the appearance of your website, your brand’s initial impression is more important than ever.
Brand logos go out of style just like fashion does. Fonts, colors, and execution that once seemed modern can soon look about as cutting edge as a pair of bell-bottoms, which will quickly turn away potential customers.
In many ways, visual refreshes of your brand are the easiest to process. As the chart at right shows, you may not need to make significant changes. Logos like McDonald’s and Apple haven’t always looked like they do now; they’ve continually evolved to communicate the same visual message, but with a contemporary and fresh look.
Looking for examples of the latest “modern” designs? Check out How Design’s Logo Design Award Winners.
2. Your business is changing
The second sign that it’s time to rebrand is if your business is changing. This could occur for any number of reasons, with the most common being:
- A merger or acquisition (a la FedEx’s acquisition, and subsequent rebranding, of Kinko’s)
- A shift in operational focus (PPG, once known as the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, is refocusing on its paint business)
- A divestiture or split (for example, Hewlett-Packard recently split in two companies so that its separate businesses could better focus on their respective markets)
- And desire to re-establish market position (see Yahoo!’s 30 brands in 30 days campaign)
In each of the cases above, the operations and capabilities of the business changed significantly, which required a communications to the market in order to inform customers. This is a fairly straightforward rebranding trigger, although its execution is often quite difficult due to internal conversations and disagreements about exactly where to focus. in many cases, an outside facilitator can best mediate these discussions to help a company work toward its new brand in non-biased fashion.
Two notes to consider when your business changes:
Brand Consistency: the larger your organization, the more difficult brand consistency can be to maintain and the more individuals will need to be involved in delivering that consistency. It’s important that you spend the time to iron out consistency issues internally before you decide on or announce any changes to your brand. Otherwise, you run the risk of appearing ill-prepared.
Rebranding Won’t Fix Business Issues: If your business is struggling, as Yahoo!’s has been for some time, a rebranding won’t fix the issues affecting your sales. It might generate a bit more attention for your company, and you may see a sales lift as a result, but those gains will not be sustainable unless you’re able to correct the core issues limiting your growth.
3. Your audience is changing
The third, and most difficult, way that you’ll know if it’s time to rebrand is if your audience is changing. Audience changes come in two flavors: your business might be targeting a new audience, or your current audience’s tastes might be changing and forcing you to adapt.
The first scenario is usually growth related: you have a product or service that you feel would benefit a different audience, and you want to start a conversation with them. The second audience scenario is growth related, but usually negative: you’re seeing declining sales or having a hard time finding new customers, and the pressure forces you to reexamine your audience’s needs.
In both cases, audience-driven rebrandings are best positioned to succeed when accompanied by strong market research to understand exactly what your audience wants. Young Marketing Consulting has done a number of these studies, and while sometimes an organization’s initial hypotheses about its market proves correct, other times what our clients have thought would resonate in a market simply doesn’t add value in that audience’s eyes.
The worst thing to do in these rebranding situations is to assume you know your audience’s needs better than they do. If for example you’re dealing with a struggling product, your research might find that it takes too much time or effort to go through a rebranding in the first place and it would be better to kill off the product entirely.
If any of these signs are relevant to your business and you are going to rebrand, remember that it takes careful planning and execution. If you need additional help with your branding strategy, feel free to contact Young Marketing Consulting.
“Your brand is your promise”
Branding is likely the oldest form of marketing in the world. The practice of using a mark to indicate ownership or craftsmanship has been in use for thousands of years, with the word itself coming from the Old Norse verb “to burn” and likely originating from the practice of branding livestock. But what began as a signifier of cattle ownership and craftsmanship has evolved into something much different in the modern era, and it’s fair to wonder, how, exactly, a brand can help your business.
If you ask people to define a brand today, the first thing that many of them point to would be aesthetics: colors, fonts, a logo design. These are the kind of details that companies spend many thousands of hours and dollars pouring over in the hope that their choices will drive increased sales in some indirect fashion. And because of branding’s indirect link to results, the practice is often dismissed by smaller businesses who have a more immediate focus on marketing activities that drive measurable results. But a brand is much, much more than its aesthetics. And today, we’ll examine three ways in which branding can help your small business.
1. Branding distinguishes you from your competitors.
Brand aesthetics catch the eye. Brand experience drives loyalty.
Good branding is much more than just a memorable logo, it’s how you do business and differentiate yourself from competitors. Branding encompasses the characteristics and values of your organization, helping you to distinguish your offering in the marketplace with a brand identity. If your brand identity reflects your target audience’s values and needs, it will make consumers will feel connected to the brand. In fact, 64% of people say that shared values are the primary reason they have a relationship with a brand. However, if your brand identity isn’t clearly defined and expressed, don’t expect to have strong, long-lasting relationships with your customers or clients.
Because your brand educates your target audience how you’re different (and why it matters), communicating your brand identity is one of the best ways to grow your business. As the below example from Mad Men shows, you’re most likely not offering a unique product so you need to set yourself apart from competitors.
Now, in reality the example above flies in the face of modern branding practice, because it’s a rather cynical take that doesn’t differentiate the business in any real way. But by focusing on what you do differently than a crowded market, you’ll be regularly stressing how much better you are to consumers looking for an improved experience. And when customers identify with your brand message and have a good experience, they will start to promote your products and services. That’s the kind of word-of-mouth marketing that can be crucial for small businesses looking to grow.
2. Branding tells you how to price your products and services
The second, often-overlooked reason why small business branding matters is that your brand identity helps determine price. Apple, for example, is a brand that has made its brand synonymous with innovative products of the highest quality. Apple also delivers a product and service consistency that creates trustworthy relationships with customers. Both of these factors allow the brand to set high prices in order to communicate to consumers that they are receiving the best product available.
But of course, the question is what do you do if you’re not Apple? Let’s say you’re running a quick service salad bar concept restaurant that promises to make healthy eating affordable. Your pricing should follow suit, and be set as low as you profitably can.
Set your brand pricing on a scale that ranges from affordability and accessibility (on the low end) to quality and luxury (on the high end).
3. Branding helps you make internal decisions
The third and final reason why branding matters for small businesses is that the brand identity you create will help your company make internal decisions. Your brand conveys both an identity and a purpose, and by doing so it tells your managers and staff how to act in various situations. For example, if your brand focuses on customer service and you have an employee providing a poor customer experience, you’ll know instantly that that employee is not aligned with your brand and will be able to take corrective steps. If you’re facing a strategic decision about where to invest in resources, a quick check of your brand identity will tell you what areas cannot be touched because they could compromise your ability to deliver on your brand promise.
In many ways, it’s actually easier for small businesses to have good branding because they aren’t trying to convey a message and mode of operation across thousands of employees. So go ahead, get out there and try a brand on for size. And if you’re curious about exactly how to build a brand identity, why not contact Young Marketing Consulting?