Startups should invest in building brands, not just products.

Startups should invest in building brands, not just products.

You might have a cutting-edge product or service, but in order to survive and thrive, you need to build a brand that lasts. By investing a small amount of your capital and 2-3 weeks of your time in constructing an authentic brand identity, or ‘brand core’, you can be assured that something far bigger and better will be waiting for you at the end.

So what does ‘brand building’ actually mean? ‘Brands’ only became important after the Industrial Revolution, where brands were applied to foreign products to help people become familiar with them, and prove that they were just as trustworthy as local goods. So think of brand building like this…

If your brand is the overall perception that others have of you, then the building part is growing and strengthening that impression over time.

While product, people, sales and funding make up a typical startup strategy plan, people often forget about the human emotions, motivations and needs that ultimately drive revenue at the end of the day. Weaving stories and passions, culture, curiousity and creativity into your own startup strategy is what great brand builders have adopted to create and grow iconic brands like Google and Nike.

These are the core elements that will also help your company leave permanent, physical impressions and win over venture capitalists and consumers. Here’s how you can action them into your strategy.

Show that you really care.

Startups tend to obsess over the technical functions and product benefits so that they forget just how powerful a good story can be. The passion that entrepreneurs have for creating a solution to a problem is the match that ignites the fire in investors, and most importantly, your customers.

The challenge, however, is taking the time to ask yourself the right questions and then developing that story into something powerful – a marketing tool that inspires, connects and, ultimately, unlocks sales and funding. What would you say to someone who asks; “Why should I care?” Think hard about the passion that brought this whole thing to life and share it.

Collaborate for the culture.

Once you’ve defined your story or ‘core’, you need to build and grow outwards. This is only made possible through investing in culture. Culture is what gets you through the dark times during those initial fundraising battles. It’s the values that attract top talent which help you attract the right investors. It’s also what keeps you strong and in control when those very investors try to change things up and make their mark. Most importantly, it’s locking in the values that you share with your customers. But this time, culture is not about you. Nor is it your own values or activities that you personally like doing. Culture is about digging deeper inside your company as a whole to arrive at the answers to these questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you actually stand for?
  3. What real value do you bring to consumers lives?
  4. What’s going to make them believe you?
  5. What is going to drive you to serious greatness?

Answer those 5 questions and there you have it; your mission, values and vision. Even if your startup may just be a one-man band, create a culture manual. As you expand and your team grows, so too will your culture. But documenting those values and showing how they are engrained in every aspect of your company is the key to cultivating a strong, robust brand that lasts.

Stay curious, always.

Everyone with a new baby thinks that he or she is the most beautiful, unique creature to ever grace the planet, but to others, they’re all the same. Avoid this problem by investing the time and effort in a consistent review of the marketplace beyond your dearly loved pitch deck.

Dive deep into the stories, passions, promises, values, UVPs, partnerships, actions and words used by competitors across all channels. Compliment this with an accurate SWOT analysis to help think about your own situation, you can then evaluate your competitive positioning and question the value you’re currently offering. This may spark questions around things that need to be reduced, created, raised or eliminated, and while difficult, these discussions are always vital when swimming in the sea of sameness.

Let creativity flow.

Care, collaboration and curiousity are all well and good, but if you don’t invest in bringing it all to life, that impression you worked so hard to leave on others just won’t stick. How can you create permanent, unforgettable moments that give venture capitalists the goosebumps? What connections can you form with the public using visual story telling? Publish your own anecdotes, film short videos, and create strong visuals to really illustrate your story. And most importantly, find your champions. These are the people who share your passion and want to share it with others. Even better, find those who want to weave their own experiences into your narrative and pass it on. Why? There is nothing stronger than social proof, and then you’ll have all the evidence you need to answer the question “why should I care”?

Invest now to get something far bigger and better later on.

When brand building works like it should, the sum is much greater than the parts.

Products come and go, but brands can rally people. There will always be new products and services coming out with better functions and benefits, but a strong, authentic brand that helps build on the value you deliver is something much harder for others to beat, and most importantly, something much easier to sell off in the future.