It’s quite common, in entrepreneurial and startup circles, for the uttering of the word ‘brand’ or even ‘marketing’ to be met with grimaces and rolling eyes. So much so that this startup age has given birth to a new title: chief growth officer. It, for many traditional marketers, probably feels like semantics, or even a title better suited to a wart specialist than someone with a remit extending far beyond hacking short-term growth targets.
Here are some of the points I’ve made to the naysayers we’ve met along our startup journey. The reasons why, in my experience, it is wise to spend a little time and money early on to get your brand right.
Defining a brand means commitment and focus
A brand is a lot more than a logo. The process that sits behind it is a valuable exercise in opportunity definition, and importantly, focus.
Why do you exist? Who are you for? Who aren’t you for? What problem do you solve for your audience? What tone of voice will resonate with them most and help you stand out from the category?
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
Likewise, what visual identity will make you distinctive. This should all be defined with hard data, consumer research and careful consideration of broader category and cultural trends.
A well-defined brand not only helps set the direction for you, but it also holds you to it.
So when someone suggests you extend your shared workspaces business by buying an SEO marketing platform, you might say no. Reminding them that WeWork’s purpose is to ‘create spaces where people work to make a life, not just a living’, and their proposal doesn’t fit that mission.
Be the memorable fish in the big pond
There aren’t really any untapped or niche markets anymore. No offence, but if you’ve spotted an opportunity to revolutionise a category, so have thousands of other people. Even if they are on the other side of the pond.
Take neobanks. McKinsey estimates there are 5,000 startups worldwide offering new and traditional financial services, up from 2,000 just three years ago. In the first nine months of 2019, venture capitalists poured $2.9 billion into neobanks.
Today, saying ‘we don’t really have any competition’ is an outright lie, in any category, even space travel. So having a distinct, well-defined brand will ensure you’re not only noticed, but remembered.
If you’re one of 50 new neobanks launching in your market, you better make sure what you stand for, how you talk, what you say and the channels in which you ‘show up’ are vastly different to the other 49 newbies.
It’s worth considering more than available URLs when you set up your brand.
It’s about whether people can remember your name, sure, but also, does the brand that brings it to life actually demonstrate how you’re different?
Global from day one
I’ve spoken to many founders who thought they’d have the time to give their brand more thought further down the line. But in practice, this moment rarely appears. Not least in the ‘global from day one’ era, where you’re expected to serve multiple markets and potentially millions of customers from the start, or very soon after.
But beyond not finding a specific moment to do this, it is also much harder to bake a brand purpose and strategy into your startup later. So it is worth considering your ‘why’ and how to articulate it distinctively and consistently in the context of all the markets you hope to enter. In short, future-proofing your business from the start.
Of course, for those of you who are already on the journey, it is never too late. But perhaps your time is now, not later.
Return on marketing investment
Regardless of whether you opt for titles including ‘marketing’ or ‘growth’, your startup is going to have to engage in marketing to grow.
Whether that’s getting yourself media coverage at launch or targeting your audience with some thumb-stopping content on socials, a strong brand means stronger credibility with all your audiences. From journalists through to your customers. All of which equates to more coverage, better click-throughs, higher conversions.
Don’t underestimate the power of credibility through a consistent and powerful brand.
There is also extensive analysis on the superior effectiveness of the more emotionally led advertising, beyond the rational performance marketing made popular in recent years.
Research by Les Binet and Peter Field finds that the ideal spend is 60% brand building and 40% activation (or what people sometimes call ‘bottom of funnel’). That’s a whole topic in itself, but safe to say, you can’t embark on this marketing mix until you’re clear on what your brand is (and isn’t).
So, next time someone raises their eyebrows when you discuss investing some time and money on getting your startup’s brand straight, hopefully, you’ll help them see the light.