Why Startups Should Focus On Brand Building From Day 1

Originally published on Inc42 by Rohit Taneja.

It’s a proven fact that consumers buy brands, they don’t buy products. You wouldn’t see queues outside an Apple store otherwise before the Iphone launch. It’s the power of the brand that makes it such an aspirational product that Apple fans want to own it before anyone else. There are more learnings in this phenomenon for a startup than you think.

The scenario where current users are so delighted with the product that they become your brand ambassadors? Well yes, only if you focus on brand-building from day 1. And, it’s not a choice anymore. It’s the need of the hour in today’s competitive scenario where every company is vying for a share of mind and share of wallet of the same consumer.

Most of the startups tend to ignore the brand-building, considering it to be a cost function but realise later how critical it is. Before you start assuming it to be same as marketing, let me be clear that it’s different.

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Marketing might convince you to buy from Amazon for the first time but branding will ensure that you buy from Amazon over and over again. It includes every experience for a consumer right from going to the website, selecting a product, making a payment, receiving a confirmation of the order placed, delivery time promised, the actual delivery time taken to receive the product, packaging and of course the final product quality. Branding is strategic while marketing is tactical.

A brand is what people talk about you when you are not in the room. Any good marketer would obviously like to be a fly on the wall to know what transpires in that room. The brand is something that permeates through your culture of the startup, marketing is a means to communicate the same.

Brand Building is a process of identifying –

  1. Who I am?
  2. Why do I exist?

And communicating the same to your target audience which values the reason behind your existence.

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It’s just one-two words that define you. Toyota: Safety, Tata — Trust, Amazon- variety, Zappos — customer service and so on.

Even if you consider an Ola or an Uber, the actual product difference between the two products might be negligent, but it’s the emotions associated with a brand that makes one preferable it over the other. For a startup, the essence of branding is the connection between you and your consumers amd understanding why they love your product over others.

A lot of startups tend to ignore branding in their overall scheme of things and then find a yawning gap in terms of what they think they are and what a consumer perceives them to be. And, brand building is not just about spending money, it’s about identifying those core pillars which will become the building blocks for your success.

If you have not given much thought on your branding yet, here are the five reasons why you should focus on brand- building from today.

Focus

Startup life is a hustle. The daily highs and lows are exponentially magnified. You will meet a lot of industry experts, investors, fellow founders, pseudo-experts who will advise you to tweak your model a bit, change your idea, focus on a different market segment, solve a problem that’s bigger in nature, compare you with a few competitors and obviously sometimes thrash your idea as well.

If you are sure about what your brand stands for and what problem you are trying to solve, it will keep you sane and separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s easier to stay focussed when you know, this is not what you intend to do. As someone said, Choose your battles right. Branding is about absorbing within yourself the battle you have chosen to fight andbchoosing the ammunition accordingly.

For e.g Zomato is about restaurant discovery, Swiggy is about online food delivery , Ketchupp is about the best dishes to order online, Food Panda is ordering online with discounts.

A Guiding Spirit

Branding is a phenomenon of self-realisation. It will equip you to identify your competitors and the consumers better. The inherent questions — who are the early adopters of your product/service, how to reach them, when to reach them and how frequently – get cleared once you identify what you stand for. The further layers that get untangled are how should a website look, the fonts to use, the tone and the tenor of communication, brand associations and tie-ups.

You will no longer have to fret over whether you should sponsor a college fest, distribute pamphlets nearby a metro station, offer discounts or set up a canopy outside a residential colony. You’ll learn to say No if it doesn’t match your brand personality and that’s how it acts as a guiding spirit for the entire team.

When you expand to multiple cities, this brand ethos is going to be the bible for everyone.

Create Brand Advocates

People are loyal to brands, not products. Brand-building will help you keep the customer as the focus of your business as brand perception is what the consumer perceives it to be.

Brand-building will help you position yourself in a manner that will differentiate yourself from others and hold a special place in the heart andbmind of a consumer. It makes sure the customer is your center of attention and helps your brand to create brand advocates that will spread a positive word of mouth about you.

You actually need a tribe of 100 passionate customers who would be very unhappy if your product is discontinued. These 100 customers are the wealth of inputs & feedback for you. The changes then made on the website, logo, look and feel are kept in line with the feedback received from the consumer or how the customer has responded to a change rather than making your own assumptions in a team meeting. No logo can save your startup if the brand experience is poor. No talk about being food tech is good enough if the consumer gets 404 on clicking a search button and the food isn’t tasty.

Consistency

The beauty of McDonalds is making sure that the burger is fresh and has the same taste every time. Dominos thrives on its 30-minute delivery promise. Uber has ensured that you get a cab anytime of the day.

The key to a repeat user is consistency in delivering a brand promise. Brand-building will ensure that you stand by some things come what may.

And, that habit of delivering consumer delight every time will get you repeat users and a positive word of mouth. A consumer might not give you a second chance as he is spoilt for choice.

Reflection Of Your DNA

Whether it’s investors, consumers, or employees, a brand identity is the reflection of your DNA. How you dress up in a startup event , how a call is answered, the response time to a consumer’s mail, how a logo is placed, how you conduct an interview, how you treat your teammates, brand building is a way to communicate who you are and what values you want to identify with.

It helps people to recognise you, reduces the perceived risk of buying your product and vouch for you if they have had a great brand experience. It’s a clear direction to your teammates too on how to win & sets the desired benchmarks.

People generally tend to tell others about the brands they like. So, a great brand experience will definitely need to more referrals, more shares on social media & more customers, leading to more revenue. Your investors might tell you to build a product first before thinking about branding but in my opinion, it’s as important as the initial pitch. In fact, if your startup is clear about what you stand for as a brand, even your investor meetings will go like a breeze. Yes, it’s not easy. But, it’s like a daily exercise that you do to stay fit as a brand in the longer run.

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