All of the research, hard work, time, talent and money invested in starting a new business should never be taken lightly. It’s too bad many start-ups fall short when it comes to branding their businesses for consumption.
The bankruptcy courts are full of great ideas that were undermined by ineffective branding and promotion. Build it and they will come? No, they won’t. Not unless you make them really want to. Or, better yet, need to.
Unfortunately, cash-strapped start-ups tend to view an investment in brand building as an “expense” or “luxury.” They decide to put it off until they become profitable, when in reality, it’s a prerequisite to profitability. So, instead of hiring a professional, they “home-spin” it. And it usually misses the mark.
Another problem is that many businesses mistake their logo for their brand. A logo merely symbolizes the brand. A great brand transcends the products or services behind it to reflect a greater sense of purpose while connecting emotionally with the audience to create a unique frame of mind.
In short, your brand is your promise. And you need to own it.
Many businesses also make the understandable mistake of talking about themselves and their product features when they should really be talking about their audience and how they can benefit from what they have to offer. While this might seem elementary to some, entrepreneurs are often too close to their products to realize the emotional connection they need to make with their audience. They may fall short of the high-level vantage point that enables them to uncover who they really are and what their greater purpose is. That “brand’s-eye view” of their business can gain them a clearer understanding of the competitive landscape and provide a platform on which to differentiate themselves and demonstrate what makes them better. And, it can help them define their target market and reveal the emotional buttons they need to push.
There’s a wealth of evidence that shows how a great brand builds customer loyalty and brings non-tangible value to a business. So, making sure it sends the right message to the right audience is vital. And, understanding that the broader audience reaches beyond prospects — to potential investors, local media and even career-seekers — helps build brand equity.
Furthermore, enabling the brand promise to resonate throughout an entire organization requires a calculated effort. It needs to be adopted by company staff, reflected through all communications and creatively and strategically executed. Everyone must live it and breathe it.
Every great idea deserves a great start. Like the old Head & Shoulders ads stated, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” So, it’s essential that start-ups take their best shot and brand it right from the beginning.
As the year closes, ask yourself how your current challenges and objectives align with your overall vision. Have you lost your way, or are you sticking to your Brand Promise? Is it still meaningful to your customers and prospects? Have you allowed yourself the room to evolve with their needs, or have you boxed yourself in?
If your business is like ours, you don’t have a bottomless marketing budget to build awareness of a name that lacks clarity. We have to be more calculated and deliberate.
Business naming is the hardest part of what we do. Aside from the creative challenges, there are three major hurdles we have to leap. For every name we present, there are, literally, dozens of candidates that never make the cut. The client never sees any of those.
If your brand cannot adapt to change, you could end up burning cycles recovering what you lost instead of spending your time building on what you have. As Ben Franklin once put it, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Even if you’re selling widgets, there’s something more that you offer that distinguishes your business in a positive way. It’s what your customers truly gain from you that they can’t get from anyone else. It’s this frame of mind that defines your business more than anything.
Greatness cannot be achieved within a vacuum. It takes vision, perseverance and a team of experts to make it happen. It requires an understanding of what your audience wants, even if it’s something that doesn’t quite exist. You aim high, learn from your failures and never say, “It can’t be done.”
Building a great brand is never once-and-done. It’s more than a name, logo and graphics. It’s a frame of mind — an experience — with a narrative that stays relevant and makes its audience part of the story.
It’s important to look like you belong in your market. But, it’s more important to promote your own uniqueness. Remember, your brand and identity is about differentiation. It’s not about being like the others.
In the end, we got exactly where we needed to be and could only have arrived there through a long and sometimes daunting process of introspection, exploration and affirmation.
If any of these scenarios seem familiar, perhaps it’s time to consider retooling your brand.