Anything You Want – why understanding how branding works matters for startups

Why do you run your own business? My not so risky assumption is that because you want to shape things your own way. Understanding the processes behind forming strong longterm marketing strategies will enable you to do just this: shape your business into anything you imagine it to be.

When I talk to people about my new projects and working on methods to make branding accessible for startups, the reaction is almost always along the lines of great, we have just started to think about it, the product is out there, we have some funding, now it’s time to work on our brand. This is of course lovely news for me, but also highlights how we tend to regard marketing and branding only as a package, a neatly painted picture to sell and not the real thing.

While this thinking is not necessarily harmful it’s definitely oldschool. It’s common knowledge how interesting things are happening in the world today. Tools and trends are changing so fast, that you can pretty easily catch up with people having decades of experience in advertising and have a working knowledge that you can use to your advantage from the very beginning of your business. There are functioning channels to gather information right from the source, sidestepping edited news and PR, so internet users are less and less willing to be fooled by glossy images and press conferences. Why would they, since they can talk to companies directly any time they wish, right? Consequently, they are constructing their opinion based on their own experiences and what you actually do, instead of what you say.

All this means that we can’t regard branding and marketing only as the wrapping on our product or services. It’s not enough to get your colours right, the headline catchy, the design flat. (or whatever the next visual trend is going to be) You have to look for consistency  all through your organisation, every element of your toolbox have to transmit the same feel and message. This is not a super revolutionary idea, after all you’d hear about the 4 or 7 Ps of marketing during the first class of Introduction to Marketing 1.0.1. Somehow our model of marketing is still narrowed down to promotion – all activity we consider as marketing communication – which is only a single one of all those Ps.

Now, why does this matter? Well, for one, it will definitely improve your pitch if you never again include the statement and we are not even doing any marketing yet. (common reactions being why the hell not? and what does that even mean?)  You also have to realise that every little product decision, the way you prioritize features, talk to customers or ship the product counts. As soon as you understand this and learn to regard little pieces as part of the bigger picture your brand  is going to look like, you will be able to use the available tools to colour that picture however you want.

At first, this probably sounds overwhelming rather then a reassuring. So many elements to pay attention to, so many decisions to make. Good news is that being able to think in context, you will also have clear next steps and a logical order to follow. If you are able to set a goal* and then reverse-engineer it, the majority of the decisions become clearer and easier. Do you know who your exact target group is? You know how to find them and which feedback worth listening to while others need to be ignored. What expertise and credibility do you want to built? If you have the answer, you have the topics for your content marketing ready. Did you find that one unique selling point, one important message? Great, design briefings are going to be way more effective and easy.
On the other hand, if you are not aware of what is that you actually want to express, the possible choices seem endless, priorities are blurred and you end up doing and saying way too many unrelated things. You are unable to differentiate yourself which is a pretty reliable way to kill your business.

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Ideally your startup does something you care for**. Good branding is first of all about articulating this goal and making other people care about it too. But it also serves as a compass for your true north,  a way to apply conscientiousness in your business decisions. Do yourself a favour and spend some time on thinking about yours.


*Nothing too rigid mind you, the goals are there to help you keep an eye on the horizon, not to limit or aggravate you.

**Don’t cheat! If you are in your business because, well, it is a good way to make money, don’t start inventing a baroque justification. Rather, find something within your company you are really, truly enthusiastic for and build on it. It can be the great tech or passion to serve your customers well. Also, quite often the best insights come from your first users. Start a conversion with them and find out why do they care. Positive feedback helps you to feel good about your product and find the angle you need to become it’s biggest advocate.

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