A common problem that many startups face is getting carried away with the idea of a product or tool they’re creating before they’ve created the brand. Let’s face it, a lot of work has gone into getting to the stage where you’re ready to create something new. You have the idea, you may have the name and you’ve done some upfront analysis on your audience, even possibly spoken to potential customers to gather their feedback.
So now it’s the exciting part right? Now you can build out the functionality and dive into what the product will offer, what its features are, etc. But this is where many go wrong. Without a doubt, these are important steps to take, but at this stage, without a brand to root your idea to, you’re lacking the foundations that will keep everything on track.
As author and entrepreneur, Kristopher Jones, said, “A business’s branding is more important than you might think. On the outside, your brand may seem like it consists only of elements such as logos and colors, but your brand is actually the entire identity of your business. Your brand gives you personality.”
And he’s right. But your brand gives you so much more than that too. In a world where we’re flooded with companies, big and small, established and new, most vying for attention from the same, or similar, audiences, your brand is the one thing that grounds you. It gives you your purpose and steers the business in the right direction. And along the line, when you come to diving into product features and offerings, it’s your brand that will help to keep you aligned to what you’re trying to achieve.
And this is particularly important for startups, even more so when the excitement of creating a product can overshadow the initial work that needs to be done to define the brand.
So first things first. Look beyond just the name or the look and feel of your business, and towards your proposition. We like to break it down into the four Ps: position, personality, promise and pitch.
Brand positioning is the process of positioning your brand in the mind of your customers; ultimately what you want them to say about you. More than a tagline or a fancy logo, this is the strategy that will set your business apart from the rest. So, what is your brand’s position? What is it trying to communicate? How are you different from your competitors? What makes you stand out from the crowd? Think about how you want the outside world to perceive your brand through three to four qualities that your brand embodies, and build each one out in a couple of points to really get under the skin of why that quality represents your brand.
A brand promise is a short simple statement that tells your customers what they can expect to receive every single time they interact with your brand and therefore your digital product. It needs to be simple, credible, unique, memorable and inspiring. Most importantly, make sure that your company can deliver on that promise. If you choose a promise that you can’t keep, it can be detrimental to your reputation. On the other hand, the more you can deliver on that promise, the stronger your brand value will be in the mind of both your customers and your employees.
Think of your brand as if it were a person; a person with a set of human characteristics which you then attribute to that brand. Or another way of thinking about it is how you’d describe the brand if it was a person. Is it elegant, young, reserved? Is it playful, energetic, innovative?
Take Apple and Microsoft, for example. Ultimately, their operating systems (OS) are both trying to solve similar problems, yet both brands have very clear personality traits. These can be clearly seen in what they create, how they look, what features they offer. Without this, neither brand’s OS would be able to distinguish itself from the other, or have a clear path to follow in terms of what they’re trying to achieve. This is why it’s imperative to have something to hold you to account to ensure what you’re creating is aligned with your brand.
So, choose three to four adjectives and drill down into each to explain why each characteristic represents your brand, so someone starting in your company for example, knows exactly what you’re like and what to expect.
A brand's personality should be consistent across all channels and should shine through in brand messaging, images, and overarching marketing campaigns. Define this early and make sure you stick to it.
This is your elevator pitch. The brief (20 to 30 second) explanation to spark interest in what your business does. It should be interesting, memorable and succinct. It also needs to explain what makes you – or your business, product or idea – unique.
Once you have this work done, you can create your brand’s visual identity which means you can hit the ground running when it comes to building out the digital product. You can rest assured that any time spent in design will already have brand guidelines to work with, and you know any features or actions you create, will have had to run through the brand test first: do they fit, are they laddering up to our position and are they helping us deliver on our brand promise.
Take Clinchd as a working example of this. Clinchd is a startup, creating a sales pipeline tool. If Clinchd started looking at features, it could so easily have gotten lost in the myriad of different features a tool like this can offer. Instead, we helped Clinchd define the brand through understanding what drove the idea, speaking to its potential audience and creating its proposition and visual identity. This keeps the brand focused on what they’re looking to achieve so that anything created ensures alignment across any digital product Clinchd creates.
At this stage, the clarity you have over the direction your brand is going in will not only help you, but will demonstrate to potential customers and investors that you’ve had a clear focus from the outset. So before you fall down the product rabbit hole, ask yourself if you know who and what your brand is. If you don't, you know where to start.