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Brand Strategy For Startups

Startup Brands: 7 Keys For Brand Strategy Success

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Brand Strategy For Startups

When startups and emerging companies are at a point in their evolution when a strategic approach to brand development becomes a critical business imperative, often times the whole process will begin and end with a shiny new logo and website. It’s understandable that CEOs and their marketing teams will place much importance on the visual components of brand development. As important as these elements are to defining and expressing the brand, they’re not the foundation of what defines a successful brand strategy and development initiative.

If you’re at the beginning stages of thinking about your brand’s development in a sophisticated manner, and you’d like your efforts to be perceived as more than the emperor’s new clothes, allow me to offer seven ideas on how you can insure your brand development initiatives will set the tone for your bigger, better future.

Brand strategy is a top down process.

Executive “buy-in” to a branding program is nowhere near enough — executive management must lead the entire branding initiative. This is not only true for startup brands, but established global brands as well. Brand building is about the quality of your presence in the marketplace. Without the whole effort being led by the top executives, the process will die in the organization and in the marketplace. Rarely are such endeavors delegated to lower level managers who would have full authority to make critical business driven decisions. It’s also not a democratic process. If you have a steering committee structure with lots of opinions to cater to, chances are the whole effort will get watered down, take twice as long to complete, and be half as effective.

Brand development begins with a clear definition of purpose.

Every company is in business to make a profit. Brand building is about defining the purpose the brand exists beyond moneymaking. An enduring brand stands for something more important and transcends product development and the transactional nature of sales and marketing. Why your brand matters to people is reflected in the stated purpose the brand exists in the first place.

Brand development is about the art of sacrifice.

The value your brand represents must be positioned in the minds of a target audience with exact precision. I have worked with clients who are afraid to miss any opportunity to sell something. Brands live in the mind, and the mind has limited capacity to remember a long list of anything. Enduring brands represent a singular, simple idea that is motivating and unquestionably relevant to the target customer. If your brand does not stand for one thing, it will not mean anything to anyone. 

Brand building is about organizational behavior not copywriting.

Saying its so won’t make it so. The whole organization must be informed and aligned to the guiding principles of why the brand matters. How organizations deliver on their promise to customers is more than making snappy taglines, flashy brochures and ad campaigns. Employees must embrace the mission and values as if it were there own and behave inside and outside the organization accordingly. Brand development is about integrating the “true north” ideal of the brand’s purpose into its every day behavior in the marketplace.

Brand development is not logo making.

So many early-stage CEOs get caught up in the excitement of logo making. If your brand development initiative starts and stops with a new logo, you have missed the whole point. Logos are important, but they are not the whole of the brand. Behind the symbols that represent the brand’s value must be mission, values and brand voice. Logo making is way down stream in the brand strategy value chain.

Brand development initiatives should never be completed in-house.

I know this may sound self-serving coming from a brand consultant, but doctors don’t operate on themselves and you should never elect to conduct a brand development initiative in house for the same reason. Many early stage companies believe they are saving money, but it’s a penny-wise and pound-foolish decision to tackle a brand development initiative inhouse. Brand strategy is a highly specialized discipline — far different from advertising or other forms of marketing communication. If saving money is the reason you think you can tackle this alone, think of it this way — what price would you pay to ensure a successful outcome for growing future brand value?

Brand development initiatives must be measured for success.

It’s not enough to create and implement a brand development program and then hope for the best. Brand development is an on-going process not an event. How your brand is delivering against the success criteria you’ve established at the beginning of the process is critical to long-term success. This requires you gain insights from the marketplace all along the way. Is your brand delivering on the five key equity measures and drivers of brand insistence — awareness, value, accessibility, relevant differentiation and emotional connection?

The Blake Project, a leading brand consultancy, offers this unique brand strategy workshop for startups and emerging companies.

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