Branding for Startups 101

What every founder needs to know for a successful foundation.

Starting a new business is a Herculean effort. Most founders are rightfully consumed with their product, testing, raising money, and all that super fun startup stuff. There comes a point though when a nagging question creeps up: how do you actually get people to choose your product or service?

This is a common question I hear a lot, and there isn’t really a quick solution. Every industry is different, every company is unique, and every business challenge is new. Getting people to move and act a certain way is tough though. There are massive industries like branding and advertising, and disciplines within each — design, strategy, digital marketing — dedicated to the eternal challenge of inspiring consumers.

Even with such a range of variables to consider, there are definitely some branding fundamentals that create a solid foundation.

Positioning

Without a doubt, the first thing you’ll want to think about is positioning. Positioning is the place a brand occupies in the mind of consumers, and in the market. To settle on a strong position, consider the four “c’s”:

  1. Category: Category means your industry. For example, consumer goods, beauty, food, and beverages, etc.
  2. Competition: Competition is pretty straightforward too. Your competition is any other brand in your category vying for the same consumers — and their precious dollars.
  3. Consumer: This can refer to your target audience in terms of both demographics (age, gender, occupation, etc.) and psychographics (attitudes, aspirations, etc.).
  4. Culture: Ask yourself, what is the community you’re trying to create through your brand?

The objective of the whole positioning process is to identify the opportunities offered in each of the “c’s”, analyze them, and lock in on the unique, unifying opportunity at the intersection of all of them. That opportunity is your brand position.

Value Proposition

Most founders who’ve raised capital or have had any interaction with investors know about value proposition. Great brands know that a strong value proposition is one of the strongest drivers of sustained growth. A unique value proposition (UVP) is a statement that makes it clear to consumers why they should choose your brand above all others. Although most businesses already have one, double-check that yours actually is unique and something you can deliver on. Once you’ve identified your UVP, it’s critical that you communicate it your target audience in a concise, powerful way.

Customer Segmentation

It’s important to know who your audience is and how that audience breaks down. By segmenting your customer base, you can tailor how you speak to each group in a way that resonates with them.

Differentiation

This is probably something we can all identify with! Often, founders suffer from a discrete form of myopia. They know that their product or their solution is so clearly different (and also superior) to all the others out there, and assume that consumers will immediately see this too, and choose their product. False. Founders are not only experts in what they’ve built, but also have tremendous industry expertise. It’s because they are experts that they often cannot appreciate how difficult it is for consumers to distinguish among brands. Brands that can specifically articulate how they are different stick out in consumers’ minds. As a result, they have higher brand recognition, brand value, and unsurprisingly, high revenue too.

Branding a new company is a heady process. The “don’t run before you can walk” cliché definitely applies. Before you start thinking about Google Adwords, SEO, your blog strategy, and the like, think about what makes your brand unique, who your audience is, what inspires them, and where you fit in the market. Getting these fundamental elements right will make your life as a founder much easier, and will make your brand more profitable as you scale.

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Asia Mernissi