Branding for Startups – Can trust become competitive advantage against big brands?

When I wrote about the advantages of building your startup with a brand focus from the beginning I got the question: isn’t a brand something that requires years and a long-term approach to build? It does, to stay alive and relevant for a long time. But we shouldn’t give into the belief that a brand, an image is a constant, an unshakable quality that will never evolve. 

It can be downright challenging for big brands to stay relevant and recognize the time to let go of a heritage that is meaningful no longer. Though some luxury and heritage brands will always stay on demand – as Burberry became chic again only after they cut off the franchises, returned to domestic production and focused on the traditional product line and quality – others will thrive to disrupt themselves to stay exciting and fresh for younger customers.

if brands would disappear

And only exciting is not enough. A maturer, more demanding kind of consumer generation is growing up, already requiring to be able to trust the brands they buy from. They look at businesses as responsible members of the society and decisions are increasingly made based on the transparency of said businesses. 

Not to mention it is easier to maintain trust then gaining it back again. Do you trust big corporations? Is it easy to believe that they are up to no mischief? In our era privacy finally becomes a real concern for the average customer – and is definitely already super important for your early adopter – so as sustainable solutions, local products and the actions and beliefs of CEOs. 

Thanks to almost unlimited information we are quick to boycott Firefox – otherwise a big favorite for their development principals and privacy policy – because of a comment denouncing gay marriage. In effect similarly, Abercombie&Fitch suffered 17% drop in sales since they declared how they are only for the cool AND slim kids out there.

This perceived access to all information works in favour of startups. First, conscientiously building on transparency to communicate our genuine good intentions is also easier when you are just starting out. Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles is a good example: I salute their aim to eliminate the use of down plucked from geese still alive or force-fed for foie gras. However, if you are building a clothing company right now, you can choose your supplier with this requirement in mind and look better from the start.

You also don’t need to turn around a whole organisation and convince a board of directors either. Imagine how much work it was for Auchan to make their complete sustainability report available for every customer!

consumer trust

Secondly, many projects would never be able to spring to life without this trust. Running a successful Kickstarter campaign based on a promise wouldn’t be possible without people willing to try out new things and early adopters couldn’t inspire mainstream usage either.

In terms of communication, the biggest challenge for established brands comes exactly from this: clean slate brands, startups often embody contemporary customer values better. The values our users seek are our owns and communicating them honestly trumps any clever strategy. It’s easier to be sustainable, ethical and accessible from the beginning, than changing already existing perceptions and building up a new image. 

Yes, if you want to build a strong brand, you are in for the long haul. But whatever you do, will contribute to how consumers perceive you as a company and as a brand, even if marketing is nowhere on your mind. Better to be mindful about it, and use all the advantage you happen to got. 

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