start up

Standing out in a crowded brandscape

Entrepreneurs and startups need to push their brands hard.

It’s encouraging that more and more new businesses and startups are entering the commercial arena. Growth of new companies means growth of new brands, making it more difficult to be seen, heard and noticed.

Startups are notorious lax in paying attention to their brands. This is understandable – they have a mountain of details and issues that demand their attention. While items such as sales, product development, finance and customer service are pressing, the brand is left to take care of itself.

There is an argument, and one which I have often made, that if you get all the other things right, you will get the brand right. The brand is the business. However in an increasingly crowded brandscape, effort is needed ensure a fair share of voice.

This does not necessarily mean throwing money or effort at promotion. It means being aware of the need for differentiation, and taking appropriate action.

Put your brand under the magnifying glass

The good news is, you probably have the differentiators already. The trick is to ask the right questions.

  1. What is it about your product or service that makes it special? You don’t need to go looking for the big deals – it’s often the little things that make a difference. What things make you that little bit different from everyone else.
  2. What is it that makes your business special? Think about the way you do things – what’s special in your approach. What about your story? Why are you doing what you do, what was your journey – every business has its own special narrative – what’s yours?
  3. What about your people – what makes them special, different, quirky – what’s the background?
  4. What about the real benefit you offer? How does that differ from your competitors?

Within those four questions probably lie some real differentiators you can use to stand out from the crowd. Sometimes you can be too close to the business to see them – so ask somebody else, friends, advisers, customers.

Feelings matter

Don’t be afraid that the key differences may look like ‘soft’ items rather than hard facts. The most important influences on brand choice are often emotional rather that pragmatic. It’s what people feel about your brand rather than what they know.

Once you’ve spotted the differentiators, write them down. Start to plan how you can emphasise and underline them.

Traditionally, the advice was to apply the ‘marketing mix’ to find points of differentiation (remember the four ‘P’s – Product, Price, Place and Promotion?). Great guidance, if you have clear points of difference. The problem is that many startups or small businesses are operating on marginal distinctions.

Be bold – dare to be different

This is where you need to be bold in your approach. Don’t be afraid to stand out. Be prepared to do what is necessary – but do it differently.

 

Here are a few key thoughts that may stimulate ways you may differentiate your brand offer:

  • Think five senses – visual, tactile, sound, smell, taste
  • Privacy and security – key themes for today
  • Change your category
  • Technology – keep an eye on new ways to do what you do
  • Look for niches – they can be different, quirky and profitable
  • Create a new product or service – it’s only a name
  • Customer service – don’t just be excellent, be different
  • Be personal
  • Environmentally relevant and sustainable
  • Don’t be afraid to be exclusive
  • Use colour
  • Use showmanship if you’re in a ‘me-too’ category
  • User experience – make it different – fun, exciting, challenging?
  • Specialise – you don’t have to sell to everyone
  • Vision – use your dream or philosophy – purpose and passions
  • Heritage – where you come from – geographically or historically
  • Your people – they’re special
  • Break your industry or sector rules

 

 

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New brands and brand values – start as you mean to go on.

I was talking about brands and brand values to a group on one of my training sessions and one girl said, “Yes, I understand all that you say about brand values, but it’s all in the context of established brands. What about somebody just starting out with a new brand with no history and no customers even?”

Good question, as most literature seems to assume an existing brand. But for a new brand it is an exciting proposition as you have a blank slate.  Let’s just consider the simplest proposition: in an unsophisticated world, Jim makes shoes. They are good shoes and people hear good things about them. Pretty soon people are beating a path to buy ‘Jim’s Shoes’. A brand is born. But where does Jim go from here? Soon he will not be able to keep up with demand and he will be faced with choices: does he take on assistants to increase capacity, or perhaps put up prices to control demand while maximising profits?  These choices will depend upon his values… his brands values. Dictating this will be questions about why people are buying his shoes… is it quality, style, cost, convenience?  What we are saying is that his brand and its values are intimately tied up with his business.

For the rest of us we go into business with more of a plan and a vision, so we are not purely reactive to events. But I believe it is crucial to put the brand at the centre of the business in the early stages. That way the brand grows organically with the business and should always reflect the corporate values… and if the brand stewards listen to their public, those of their customers too.