21 Tips for Branding Your Start-up… Because your brand is much more than a logo!
How to use branding as a source of competitive advantage, in the early stages of launching your start-up.
So, here you are: you have your new business idea, you have done some market research and have validated the concept and want to start to reach out to potential customers.
As an entrepreneur launching a new business, you probably ask yourself: how can I be different from a business branding perspective? How can I make my business stick in the mind of potential customers so they continue to engage with me?
As we know, branding is about “The set of stories that circulate about the associated set of offerings and the company that does the offering” (Chris Coleridge, Director, MSc Technology Entrepreneurship, School of Management, UCL). In other words, they are a social construction in the minds of the receivers not a designed construction from the marketers. Or like Walter Landor would say: “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind”.
In this blog, I will look at some practical tips to help you work on your start-up brand value. Chris Coleridge says “if you hold a strong brand value, this can be correlated to your pricing power and give you a competitive advantage”.
During a New Entrepreneurs Foundation workshop, Chris mentioned that there are 4 levels to consider when talking about branding. As a new start-up, if you can start selling on these 4 levels, you can certainly create a competitive advantage for yourself. Let’s look at these levels in more details:
1/ Reputation: How does your brand imply quality?
Practically, how can you increase your brand’s reputation and create reassurance in the eyes of your (potential) customers? In a crowded market place, this is where you should apply some serious thinking.
Let’s look at some practical tips. I am not saying you should do all of the below, but maybe some of them:
- Try to get a celebrity to endorse you or invest in you – this trend seems to be coming back in force : www.theregister.co.uk/2016/02/11/celebrities_fronting_startups_again_tell_us_it_aint_so/
- Write content to project authority. This can be in the form of blogs or articles. You can decide to write personal blogs: for example like Will Reynolds @DoubleYouAre or chrisguillebeau.com or www.thesocialenterpriserevolution.com . Alternatively you can decide to blog for your business such as www.blog.airbnb.com, www.mindvalleyinsights.com or www.groovehq.com/blog
- Use social media activities to create a consistent narrative around your business. By doing this you will actually build an engaged audience and not just standard customers.
- Develop a MVP: i.e. a Minimum Viable Product that addresses a real problem. To do this you can either create a landing page, or use an app, such as InVision, to create a free app and get started
- Start selecting partners of high reputation with whom you can create affiliations
- Enter pitching competitions: these can be a good platform to start getting recognition ( you can find information on various pitching event on MeetUp for example: www.meetup.com/topics/startup-pitching/gb/17/london/)
- Engage with your personal network, meet people for a coffee, start talking about your new start-up and don’t forget to offer something back
- Make yourself memorable: this means making sure to follow up/through on your conversations
- Build a High Status Advisory Board: these Advisors can network for you and through their presence create a strong support group
- Don’t neglect good design to support your reputation: a good design will help you to create an identity. I found a great post from Joe Toscano on this topic: www.blog.invisionapp.com/design-for-global-meaning
- Join a trade body within your sector
To conclude: the reputation level is a fundamental level of any brand. As a potential customer, if you see a brand name it is better than no brand name. Chris Coleridge confirms that various researches have shown that people react more to the idea of a brand. So don’t wait, get this reputation up and running!
2/ Experience: How can you create more value for your customers? How will your customers feel when using your product/service? What will they value about the end-to-end experience?
This is about creating value with all your customers touch points at every moment of their journey with your product or service.
For example here you could look at:
- Having a clear promise of what you will do and make sure you this against your customers interactions
- Giving extraordinary support to your first customer, you want to delight them
- Creating/ joining a community, organising events to create “ real world” moments for your product or services
- Creating partnerships to create different value
- Using feed-back to generate more engagement with your customers; make them part of your journey
As a rule, you need to remember that most brands do work on their reputation and experience so this is where you too should spend more time.
3/ Relationships: How can you create future loyalty?
The relationship level of a brand is where you make, or imply, a promise about the future. Customers will pay more if they have sense that you will create value for them again and again. It’s about considering a short term versus a long term partnership with your customers. How do your customers feel about your company in general? For example, a new digital bank in London called Tandem has been organising events to engage with its future customers and create a closer relationship well before going live.
4/ Symbolic: How do you create identity for your brand?
This level is where you try to align your company values and attitudes to your customers. In order to get this alignment you will need to know your customers well. Some of the actions you could take include:
- Use an Ambassador or a celebrity to talk about your start-up (Take a look at how a new start-up, Dream Learners, has done this by engaging with Professor Robert Winston
- Internally, have a strong CRM system: this will help you capture your customer data and interact with them accordingly; you will be able to develop personalised interactions and communication
- Organise events with your potential customers to get to know them better
- Include some “social” elements in your offering: great examples of this include Gandy’s flip flop, TOMS and Stand4socks.
- Have a “novelty” element. For example, Zappos shoes have a 365 days return policy!
Let’s quickly look at some of the tools you can use for building:
- Communities: there are various places where you can join a community. Some of the bigger communities have sub-sections and sub-communities like Reddit, LinkedIn, Flipboard and Quora. There are also other websites which have specialised communities like mumsnet for mums, Hacker News for startups, Product Hunt for product designers, and Designer News for designers. A lot of these communities are really good at allowing you to join in and start posting quickly.
- Content: we mentioned how writing content can start increasing your brand value.
There a lot of internet channels that are content-specific for you to use. Some of them require you to create content for them or require a specific type of content.
Youtube is the best example of this. It’s the second most searched site in the world but you have to produce video content to post on it. Other sites are all about images such as Instagram or Imgur. Slideshare is great for sharing slideshows. Medium, if you don’t know it, is a good place to repost blog content to get attention, but remember you don’t own your blog on Medium. You can find more information on the various tools and how to build a brand on the Digital Business Academy website.
Over to you!
I hope this blog has been useful and feel free to let me know your tips on how you have increased your brand power and as a result have gained a competitive advantage. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Véronique Rapetti, Programme Director – Learning & Partnerships, New Entrepreneurs Foundation