There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building a brand, but there are certain mistakes every startup should avoid. Check out these tips (as seen on Business News Daily) from President Anthony Pappas and Strategy Director Jeremy Gilman.
1. Defining their brand too narrowly — Sometimes startups think that launching their companies on a crowdsource platform and enlisting a talented designer to make them a cool logo is an adequate way to establish their brand. But the goal of a brand is much broader: it is the promise you make to customers about what they can expect in all interactions with your people, products, services and company. When startups have a narrow view of what a brand is, it is impossible to build a genuine experience that their customers want to be a part of.
2. Trying to be everything to everyone — A startup shouldn’t try to appeal to ‘the general public.’ Instead, they should have a strong point of view that captivates the early adopters and influencers of their target audience. For example, Toms Shoes was really successful at building an army of brand advocates early on. They were able to do so because they created an experience that socially conscious Gen X consumers, and consequently their friends, wanted to be a part of.
3. Changing their brand to mimic the success of others — Startups should find inspiration from other companies and use their success as a model to grow. However, one of the worst things they can do is adapt to trends that have no relevance to their brand. The success of others should not be viewed as a brand blueprint, because what works for one company won’t necessarily work for another.
4. Letting what they’re doing in the moment define their brand — A startup’s brand should be something that will live with them forever and it doesn’t change over time. Their mission, or the means by which they deliver on their promise, can evolve but their vision should never stray. An example of a company that does this really well is Virgin. Virgin stands for, ‘value for money, quality, innovation, fun and a sense of competitive challenge.’ No matter what sector, whether it’s travel, mobile, lifestyle or entertainment, they create the same brand experience for their customers, and it’s been that way since they began as a small record company in 1970.
5. Branding on the surface — Brands need to be built from the inside out. Startups have to make the commitment to their brand in such a deep way that it permeates their entire organization and it should feel natural. If it feels forced or contrived, they’re doing it wrong. Southwest is a great example. Their brand is dedicated to ‘the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit,’ and you can expect that from them through your entire travel experience, from booking to landing.
6. Lacking a clear vision of what they aspire to be — A question all startups should ask themselves is, ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’ Aspirations drive decisions organizationally and help define brand architecture. If a startup can’t envision where they want to go, they can’t make smart decisions to get there.
7. Breaking their brand promise — If companies don’t deliver on their brand promise, their customers can and will hold them accountable. Case in point, the recent Path data-gate. In their mission statement, Path promises that the social network ‘should be private by default. Forever. You should always be in control of your information and experience.’ However, earlier this year they were ousted for collecting contact information from their users’ iPhones without consent. So when Path’s chief executive justified the behavior as an ‘industry best practice,’ social networks erupted with outrage. After the fact, the startup apologized for the mistake and corrected the error, but the entire ordeal could have been prevented had the company kept their brand promise.
8. Looking to their industry to help brand their company — It’s important that startups look at what their competitors are doing, but only so they can differentiate themselves. One of the worst things that a startup can do is play it safe or be generic. They should never try to fit into a mold based on what everyone else is doing. Instead, startups should be bold to get the attention of consumers and then deliver on their brand promise. Consumers value individuality and having a point of view will help startups elevate their brand.
9. Forgetting to engage their customers —We’ve worked with established and new companies alike that think they ‘get social’ because they have a Facebook and/or Twitter presence. However, in order to be truly engaging, startups have to create a personality for their brand, start conversations with their customers, and do things that are interesting to their target audience. Consumers want their favorite brands to be a natural extension of their personal interests. When they don’t see the ‘me’ in brands, they will not relate.
10. Neglecting to invest in brand development — It’s unrealistic to think that startups have a ton of money to spend on advertising and marketing. But developing a brand story and pushing it out are two different things. Startups should view the former as a priority because it extends beyond just marketing: it goes into sales, employee adoption, decision-making and more.