Branding is a bit like Marmite; marketers either love it or hate it. There is a myriad of books on the subject, diplomas in it and a fair few companies devoted to it, so as an entrepreneur what do we do when it comes to branding?
What is branding?
There are some that go starry-eyed when it comes to branding: ‘we are the next Facebook, Google, LinkedIn (delete as applicable) and we will build a brand to that effect’. Really? Got a few million pounds down the sofa then? I am trying not to be too sarcastic here, but in start-up land, we know that branding costs, big time. Whatever elements we are talking about – from designing the logo, doing research into the name, working through the attributes, doing the focus group work – branding is part of the business we are building. We need a product/service out there; we need customers, advocates and funding to fuel it all. We need to get the word out, you get the picture? We don’t have deep enough pockets to work out what shade of grey the logo should be.
Your brand’s identity
A current movie favourite is ‘Cars’ (a popular children’s animation for those of you who do not know what I am referring to). Lighting McQueen (main character – stick with me this is serious – honest), is a racing car which is the newcomer on the tour car racing scene and starts his race preparation with the following mantra ‘I am speed’ to focus his mind so he can win the Piston Cup. Similarly, if you are an entrepreneur, you are the brand. I don’t suggest you walk around reciting ‘I am the brand’ (unless you are being led away by the men in white coats) but you are. Anyone you interact with from customers, prospects, suppliers, employees, journalists, analysts, VCs, etc., will instantly equate the brand of the company with you and how you conduct yourself.
Reflect your core values
Everything you do, or what anyone working with you does, will reflect the brand. If you solve problems fast, save people money, do what you say you will listen to your customers, etc., all of this will be translated in their minds as what your company represents. When I work with any start-up, the last thing on my mind is building the brand. First, I want to know what they do differently and make sure that every form of communication and interaction with the outside world is consistent – tone, messages, look and feel of the website, fact sheets, logo, etc. This is a pain and can be tricky but does not cost a fortune to do and is, in essence, how you build your brand.
Ultimately if you wish your company to mean/represent one thing and the feedback you get from the outside world is different, you have what is termed ‘brand dissonance’. In plain terms, listen up and change what needs to be changed! The devil is in the detail here, but it’s a question of making sure everything you are working on is consistent and comes across in the way you want. The next issue is to get those around you to do likewise; another challenge for another day.
In essence, your brand represents both who you are as an individual and what your company is as an enterprise. To start with, there is no difference between the two, but as your business grows this will come to mean different things, which in turn presents other issues. But irrespective of what you think about branding, it is ultimately a measure of your success; do things well, and its valuation will grow and with it, the fortunes of your start-up. May the brand be with you!