Leaders of startups: now is the ideal time to articulate your business's brand strategy.
Yes, now, amid the million other things on your to-do list.
Given how many priorities you’re navigating, you may be tempted to skip or delay brand strategy. But it is precisely because you have so many demands, expectations, ideas, and questions that you need a brand strategy, and fast. Brand strategy is the ultimate leadership tool because it facilitates focus: your focus as the leader and your team’s focus.
There is no chicken versus egg in this matter. The answer to the question of which comes first, your brand strategy or the money and momentum to inform your brand strategy, is always the former. The sooner you have a brand strategy, the sooner you’ll have both your North Star and your rudder. With the overwhelmingly numerous possibilities for your business right now, your brand strategy shines the spotlight on the ones worth your while so that you can ace those.
Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good
A pattern I’ve noticed while working with leaders of startups is that they are tempted to forego crafting a brand strategy because they don’t want to do it if they can’t do it “right.” Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The right way to develop a brand strategy right now may be doing it in a quick-and-dirty way, to be revisited later. And don’t cop out with the false idea that this is for big companies with big budgets. If you are big enough to have a marketing person on your team – whether in-house or on contract – you’re ready for a brand strategy.
The Virtuous Cycle
Defining a brand strategy right away kick-starts a virtuous cycle that affords advantages throughout the life of your business. It starts when you identify your precise brand promise; support that brand promise with reasons to believe, or concrete examples of your strengths; and message that brand promise in your unique voice. Once you’ve done this, you kick-start this cycle:
- Everything your business does delivers on your brand promise, and you do so with increasing effectiveness.
- You gain clarity about the target customer you serve, understanding with more and more nuance the problem you are helping them solve and the ways you can and do make their lives better.
- This allows you to innovate your solution to be evermore effective.
- Your precious few dollars are used with laser focus, generating awareness of and interest in your offering by your target customer.
- Now you’re solving a real problem for real people, and you are messaging your solution and your audience with precision. You are earning happy, loyal customers during this time when you need demonstrable success.
- Because these customers are happy and loyal, they spread the word to their peers, who expand your happy, loyal customer base.
And it all started when you defined your brand promise with precision, nuance, and honesty — when you created a brand strategy.
5 Steps to a Brand Strategy
As you prepare your young startup for a brand strategy, it’s critical that you clearly understand and articulate key aspects of your business:
- Describe your target customer. Who do you disproportionately serve? Who do you have the most right to serve?
- Name your frame of reference. What is the exact problem that your target customer is seeking to solve, and what is their current workaround for that problem? This is your frame of reference, or your competition, and you need to know this, so you know what you’re differentiating from.
- Articulate your brand promise with corresponding reasons to believe. What is the promise, the benefit, that you bring that is so compelling to your target customer? Why should they believe that you will deliver that promise? And what is their end reward? In other words, how are they better off because they experienced your offering?
- Describe your personality and tonality. If your business were a person, what would the person’s traits be? Customers like to do business with people — so pretend your company is human. Startups have an advantage here, because company personality is usually quite pronounced at this stage.
- Sum it all up in a sentence or two. If you lead a real estate company, your sentences mght be: “For first-time home buyers, Acme is the realtor that makes purchasing a home an enjoyable experience. That’s because Acme specializes in working with first-time home buyers and offers a money-back guarantee, so you can begin this next phase on happy footing.” (Use this example as a template for your business by replacing the underlined sections with your answers to #1-4 above.)
You’re Still the Captain
Your brand strategy will help you focus. It will identify your North Star and act as your rudder as you are prioritizing activities, and it will define your essence so that others can express your brand. But you’re still the captain — you still need to use the filter of the brand strategy to make tough decisions. Don’t bother creating a brand strategy if you are not going to let it be your guiding light. Use it publicly — demonstrate to your team that it is helping you with your decisions, even the big hairy ones. Your team will see you doing this, and it will embolden them to let it guide them as well.
Now Is the Time to Develop a Brand Strategy
Startups stand to benefit from a brand strategy at least as much as established businesses. What’s more, as startup, you enjoy a particularly fertile vantage point from which to define your brand. The spirit is fresh, the personality is immediate, and you are living the promise with your early customers. You can especially effectively reflect your business’s roots — why you’re working so hard doing what you’re doing precisely how you’re doing it — while you’re still growing them.
So, do create a brand strategy now. It doesn’t need to be high-fidelity — it needs to be true to you, unique to your strengths, and resonant with your customers.
Being the leader of a startup is challenging enough. Give yourself this essential tool to make everything you do more focused, more intentional, and more enduring.