A brand is not just for established, global businesses – every business has one but very few know what it really is or how it might be shaped and developed.
Global businesses spend vast budgets on developing their brand, working with brand consultants, sociologists, psychologists, behavioural economists and designers, amongst others. However, as a startup such an expenditure may not yet be an option, so what does this mean for the importance of brand to a startup?
What is brand?
The meaning of the term 'brand' has developed throughout its history. Initially brand was used for identification, e.g. that soap is made by Company X and therefore will be the same as the Company X soap I bought previously. It then added differentiation, e.g. that soap is by Company X and not by Company Y, whose soap I didn't like. So far, so simple. In relatively recent years the term 'brand' has come to be associated increasingly with reputation, e.g. I've heard that Company X products get you fantastically clean and the smell is great, all my friends tell me so. Getting right up-to-date, the final addition to how brand works is relationships, e.g. I love the fact that Company X guarantee paying a fair price to all workers involved in producing their soap, it's a social purpose that I can really get behind.
'Brand' has come to mean so much more than an identifying mark or logo, it has become central to the relationship shaped with your audience and so is a vital factor in every business. Therefore, any attempt to understand your business brand, no matter how simply, can only be a good thing. The clearer a business understands and communicates its value to people, the more appealing its offering. If the audience doesn’t understand why or how a brand has a value to them then it should not be a surprise when they show little interest in it. This value might be social rather than financial, such as a shared purpose or a common goal.
All businesses, large or small, established or startup, global or local, have similar challenges: they are part of their wider environment and have plenty of competitors, and so for the success of their business it is essential they develop an understanding of their brand. Therefore, should a business not yet feel they have the budget for brand consultants, we suggest that they can begin to realise their brand themselves in a very simplified way following a few key pointers.
Before you even consider communicating or marketing anything you must look internally to identify the core values that your brand embodies. Remember, your brand is not a logo or marketing strategy.
Shaping a brand is done by firstly pulling everything in, essentially researching. Consider what it is that you do, how do you do it, what do your audience, partners, suppliers, employees, etc think of you, what is your market, what is your current wider environment. You might do this through:
– Market audit
– Competitor audit
Only by getting a clearer idea of where you are at now can you truly start to develop your brand.
Once you have done your research you can then begin to clarify your brand in very simple terms. In doing this you start to make clear some very important things about your brand
– What is your purpose (why does the company exist)?
– What is your proposition (what is it that the company does)?
– What is your personality (how do people experience you)?
– What are your core values (what defines you)?
– What makes you different (how do you stand out from the competition)?
Most importantly of all, why is any of this of value (or worth) to your audience?
Once you have clarified your brand you can begin to communicate it. Your communication should always reflect your brand, whether that be in the form of:
– Content (imagery and written)
Evolve and co-create
Finally, your brand is always evolving. Much like your startup will develop and how you do things will change and improve, so too should your brand. You will need to continually review and research your brand, and the wider environment of your business, if you want your brand to remain relevant and authentic.
Remember, your brand is about relationships, and so a relationship is shaped from input by all parties not just one. Your audience will want to be involved in shaping your brand, and if you want a genuine, trusting relationship then you must be prepared to let go of your brand. You should not try to create your 'perfect' brand and then sell things to your audience through it.
Of course, these simple pointers omit a great number of factors that should ideally be considered, but it should help startups begin to get a simple understanding of their own business and brand. Working with knowledgeable brand consultants will always be beneficial, but making a start yourself is better than doing nothing.
A strong brand for your startup is not a luxury, it is a requirement for a successful business. Better understanding your business and brand mean that you can better explain it’s relevance and value to people, including clients, customers, employees and partners. The clearer a business understands and communicates the value it brings, the more likely it is to appeal to its audience, and therefore be a more successful business.