Startups: Why it's never too early to start Branding

June 16, 2017

 

I often get asked by VC's and entrepreneurs when the right time is to start working on branding for their companies.  I always have the same answer:  Why haven't you started already?

 

There's generally a misconception in Tech that working on branding is a luxury.  It's usually the type of thing that you start doing when you've raised your series B, have a strong product pipeline, a run rate of $20-30M a year and have 3-4 years experience under your belt and budget to spend on branding.  That's bullshit.  

 

I'm not going to go down the rathole of what branding is and why it's so freakin important.  If you're curious I have an entire post you can check out here.  The short version is this:

 

1.  Strong brands provide pricing power (ie higher pricing vs competition)

2.  Lower customer churn

3.  Lower advertising costs (due to higher brand recall / retention and trust)

4.  Strong brands inspire employees (and help them stay) and potential new hires.  

 

So why should you start working on your brand now?

 

1.  Singular Direction and Purpose.  When you've built your Brand Bible (see my post here for what it is and what it includes) you'll have a clear definition of your Vision, Mission, Brand Story, Messaging, Target Audience and Reason for Being.  This serves as a living, breathing document helps guide the rest of the company on what types of activities they should and should not be doing.  

 

2. Makes many decisions easier.  Product meetings become a lot easier when you have a very clear Vision and Mission.  Adding or removing a certain feature is much simpler when you have a clear brand mission, audience and messaging.  When in doubt you can refer to the Brand Bible and ask "is this new product feature on brand?" or "is this new process for customer service true to our brand values?" A well thought out Brand Bible makes decision-making much simpler across every part of your company.  

 

3.  Easier Hiring:  The evidence is there: Millennials want to work for company's with a strong sense of purpose and a strong brand.  Since you'll start to hire pretty much immediately, you're ability to articulate what you and your brand stand for is (or is not) going to motivate and inspire potential hires.  You want great people ASAP right?  Tell them a great story.  

 

4.  It takes time.   Even in the age of mobile, social media and online video, building a brand simply takes time.  Money can accelerate that for certain but building your brand values, figuring out media strategies, developing compelling content and simply getting all that to gel takes time.  This is even more true if your product is complex and requires you to educate users and the market.  Take content for example, from the time you start to create great content (whether blog, video, infographics or whatever) it can take up to 4-6 months for your material to really start popping up in search results based on the tags and keywords you want to be associated with.  

 

5.  If you don't, your competitors will.  The Tech graveyard is littered with folks who thought "I'll just work on the product a little bit longer; it's not quite ready yet."  Or "Oh that's just something I can't really afford yet."  Have you ever heard of Slack?  Probably yes.  Have you ever heard of Hall?  Probably not.  Hall was an enterprise messaging app that was actually out before Slack.  They had a pretty reasonable product, good features and solid funding.  But they were never quite ready to start marketing.  They always wanted to tweak and improve the product just a little bit more.  In the end the guys from Slack came in and out-executed them and out-marketed them.  Can "first movers" win?  Yes they can.  But "fast followers" can win as well by learning from your mistakes, building a better product or simply convincing customers through better branding that they have a better offering.  Sadly, it doesn't even have to be completely true.  Being a first mover doesn't guarantee success.  

 

Building a company and a great products customers love is one of the hardest things you can do.  Don't let this be the testament of all your work:

 

So what can you do?

 

The good news is you can start today.  The next piece of good news is that you don't need to raise $20M from Accel or Kleiner to do it.  Here are 5 simple steps you can take to start getting serious about your brand:

 

1.  Develop your Brand Bible.  This just requires time and some effort from you and your co-founders but if done well it will help a ton. Here's a post that explains what's included and the benefits.

 

2. Develop a strong logo and visual identity.  Again, you don't need tons of money to do this.  You can get a good designer to develop a strong logo on 99designs. or visual.ly for $400 so invest the time and do it properly.

 

3. Apply your logo relentlessly and consistently across everything you do!  Your website, mobile app, business cards, content marketing, emails.  I mean everything. Apply it the same way, using the same proportions and be dogmatic about it.  

 

4. Establish your Vision, Mission and Brand values early (you'll have done this as part of your Brand Bible) and repeat these at each All Hands.  The more you repeat it the more your employees will get it and it will become part of your culture.  That way it becomes obvious what's on brand and what's not.  

 

5.  Develop a compelling story.  People don't buy products or features they buy benefits.  When they buy your product they're buying a story about "why" you do what you do and how this makes them a better person.  Help them do this by developing a really compelling narrative about 'why' you're doing what you're doing and how it benefits them.

 

Branding isn't a sprint.  It's a marathon.  It requires pace, endurance, patience, focus and consistency.  So start early and stay focused.  

 

Hope that helps and happy branding.  As always, feel free to like, share, or comment and don't forget to subscribe to our mailing list.  If you have any particular requests for a post or video please let me know and happy branding!

 

 

 

Patrick 'Mad' Mork

Chief Storyteller

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