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.

when did busy became the new sexy?

There are a handful of situations in your life when you are legitimately extremely busy but it just doesn’t make sense for me to be hyper-stressed and continuously engrossed in things all the damn time. I’m talking about the state when you are not even able to hold an interesting or potentially important conversation or haven’t done anything even remotely playful in weeks.

It’s a sad phenomenon that the majority of the jobs and the (at least) 8 hour workdays don’t reward effectiveness but the mirage of a hardworking employee. Thousands of people get away with looking permanently engulfed in work, or anyways, in something that looks like working and it is spreading far and wide. Somehow it became undeniably cool to sleep only 3 hours a night, not be able to sit down for a normal midday meal and having to reach for the calendar anytime you try to have a night out with friends. Even though we are all aware what stress does to our system and brains.

stressed

It was a normal state for most of my colleagues and myself in my ad agency years and apparently now the high street is ready to embrace the spirit of times.* For €17.95 at Zara you can demonstrate how super busy and therefore important and valuable you are.

It would be a way more beneficial to learn how to work smarter, not harder.** I’m probably in luck thanks to years of learning to be a better project manager, but I still struggle to construct daily schedules that are balanced and work well. Here are some of the thing I try to get better at:

1 – learn to prioritize

Years ago a pretty unsuccessful job interview made me realize that I actually suck in prioritizing long lists of things to do. I always found myself trying to get rid of small, fast and urgent tasks first – or as they landed in my mailbox. This meant that big and important bricks of projects were only doable in the evening, the office becoming silent and empty, not to mention how important, but personal items got always delayed on my lists. I still enjoy working during the night but I try not to hold of scary, difficult or really important things for that time, simply because the pressure from the job not being done messes with my whole day.

I understood finally that the let’s just quickly get my inbox in order first, will get to that workshop program later approach doesn’t work and I need systematic planning instead.

2 – learn yourself

There is not one universal rule system, we all have little quirks that need to be acknowledged to be able to build better schedules. I’m for example aware that I need 8 hours of sleep and it is clear that a switch between fundamentally different tasks is very not easy. Not to mention the crushing realisation that multitasking actually doesn’t exist – no wonder I needed to mute the music I’ve been listening to to speed up the writing a bit.

What I do today, based on what I know about myself thanks to 3 years of working alone and for myself, is building blocks. I try to look at my week as a unit, instead of my days and focus my efforts on similar things on any given day. There are days for meetings and others for writing tasks. I try to separate admin and creative tasks and leave enough warmup space for the latter. I’m aware that I need one day a week when I don’t do anything productive but I also know that research somehow doesn’t count. And the plans have space for yoga, reading, games and language learning.

I still steer from my schedules too easily, which suggests that I should really just quit being online on Skype all the time, but I’m getting way better at catching myself and instead of embracing stress, pulling out and starting over.

3 – focus

Easier said than done of course in a culture where multitasking and being busy is so sexy, though mindfulness and simpler living slowly seeps into the mainstream.
I spent years of fighting back a sort of detachment and learning to stay in the now and here, after I understood how it is hurting my relationships and performance. Still not there, but there are some things that help. I cook lunch even if I’m alone. I spend some time on the sunny afternoon terrace and stay silent. I try not to work when I’m with my family, start the morning with yoga, play games and go to exhibitions whenever I can. And I aim to say no when something is demanding my attention when in the middle of another task or project.

I know you are busy and I understand you are stressed. We all are and I’d rather you’d never be around me when I simply scream out of sheer frustration. But it’s probably time not to flaunt and embrace it but make steps for healthier, more organized and happier approaches.

* I’m aware that there is probably a decent amount of irony in any piece of clothing like this. It still transmits a wrong message.
** James Altucher helped me out here to have a super simple goal in mind, from Choose Yourself.

sugar free mojito

Let’s imagine that you are a bartender. The couple in front of you orders two mojitos, one without sugar. Rum, lime, water, syrup, no syrup, ready. How do you decide who to give the sugar free one?

Will you assume that the woman is watching her weight?

Will you assume she is watching her weight but consider it rude to make such an assumption, and put the one without syrup in front of the guy?

Would you just think that of course, he is a real man, no sugarcoating needed?

Would you ask maybe who wants which?

By the way, I ordered the one without sugar and it landed without question in front of my male company. (What can I say, I like my Mojito and lemonade less sweet.) It is interesting how mental images of gender and certain requirements attached to male and female roles effect simple little decisions like this.

Maybe Spain doesn’t really buy into the willowy slimness as ultimate female attribute of attractiveness. Maybe the male as a macho is such a strong mental connection that no matter how many girlfriends and sisters the waiter saw on diet, it’s evident that the guy will have the less sweet tooth in the end.

Or maybe I’m just overthinking this and he simply really didn’t care.

Mojito-with-lime-wallpaper_3289

birthdays

I believe in making the most out of your birthdays. A wise older friend of mine once told me that this is the day – or in some lucky cases, and i plan this one to be a lucky occasion, the week – when you gather all the energy from family and friends, to keep you going in the next 364 days.

I also came to believe that setting future points of times when you start doing something is totally counter-productive. Whenever I set a laziness deadline and said ok, I give myself one month, I start next week, I will really get on with it after my birthday…well, in reality I only gave myself permission to do nothing. Which is, mind you, is necessary sometimes, but not a good permanent strategy.

So instead, I build tiny bucket lists. I plan the month leading to the 30th January and set objectives. I choose things that would make me happy if they were done by that date. Like this site. Like more writing. Maybe I’m not going to be completely ready but that’s okay: I worked  and made progress, learned new things and set foundations to keep on pursuing my projects further.

I feel especially content with my work this January. I planted seeds for many new activities and made some decisions towards a more balanced, self-confident self and integrity. Maybe I inspire you to do the same next time your birthday draws near and instead of feeling panicky, sad or too late, you take a deep breath and work out what are the things you could achieve by that date. Things that will make you feel proud and happy. Worth celebrating.

Happy Birthday!

happy birthday!