Have you ever wondered why companies are willing to pay millions of dollars to “brand” or “re-brand” their organization? Isn’t branding just a logo and a slogan? And what about branding as a startup? Is it even necessary?
When I started my first company, The Fit Image, back in 2003, I immediately realized I was lost in a sea of other fitness companies. My tiny voice was noise in a market filled with clutter, more established brands, and a consumer whose attention span was diminishing quickly. I needed to figure out how to stand out, fast.
As a startup, this became difficult. The last thing I wanted to compete on was being the “best fitness solution” or having the “best advertising.” I didn’t. My product was good, but there were better companies out there. My advertising was quality, but I didn’t have the budget for the best strategies. I was working hard. I had big dreams. But, I was new.
The big question remained: how does a startup stand out? How could I build a brand that would get noticed with a small budget and a tiny voice? What words, tactics, and marketing could I adopt to lift my voice above the crowd?
But, before we get started, let’s get some branding myths out of the way:
- A brand is not a logo.
- A brand is not matching graphic design or advertising
- A brand is not a product
“Branding is the all-encompassing global experience a customer has with your company, your products, or your online personality.”
There are four critical parts to branding:
1. Consistent Personality
It takes a lot to create a consistent company personality. The company’s product must reflect their mission. Their values must be in sync with how they behave on social media. Their design must accurately reflect their online attitude, and their products and communication strategy must draw customers into their vision—you get the picture.
A strong brand creates an echo chamber of deliberate and consistent experiences throughout various touch-points with potential or current customers.
And just like people, your personality doesn’t change often. Unlike clothes (which are more like graphic design style to a startup), which change all the time.
Think about a celebrity you admire. What makes them likable? Is it their body of work? Their sense of fashion? Do they engage with social causes that are important to you? Do they tell it like it is?
Chances are the brands that you favor display traits similar to the ones you listed in the celebrity. When thinking about your company’s values, design, and behavior, keep in mind the qualities that are important to you. The ones that make you relate to and respect others.
But remember, even if you’ve never branded your company, you still have a brand. Because…
“A brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.”
Critical Question: Where is your company’s message inconsistent? Is there a hole in your echo chamber? Since you already have a brand, what is it?
Every company in the world knows what they sell. Some startups may even know how they sell it differently from others. But very few startups know why they do what they do.
For example, StartupCamp looks like this:
- What = Education for Entrepreneurs
- How = Through niche-specific experiential and community-driven coaching courses.
- Why = ? (we will get there)
Your “why” is your purpose, your calling, and the reason you get out of bed in the morning. But defining your “why” can be hard. Let me explain.
An entrepreneur’s “why” is driven from deep inside their limbic brain. It’s this portion of the human mind that is responsible for emotions, trust, loyalty, and gut decisions. Interestingly, this portion of the brain has no capacity for language. For example, if I asked you why you love your spouse, the chances are you would spew out a list of facts and features, but you would never really get to the core. Again, “why do you love your spouse?” Almost out of frustration, you would likely yell back, “Because… I just do”. Your inability to produce an emotional answer is very common. It’s difficult for your limbic brain to put those feelings into words.
On the contrary, the “what” and “how” of your brand’s whyology are driven from the neocortex portion of the brain. This is the section of the human mind responsible for facts, figures, analyzing and data. It’s where you house all of your capacity for language, and it’s the portion of the mind responsible for asking the limbic brain the incredibly important question; “should I care?”.
Shockingly, this is exactly how consumer psychology works too. Most marketers describe what their brand does with a long list of facts, figures, and data (the “what”). Then, they ask if you want to buy, click, read more, watch, etc.
The customer’s neocortex asks their limbic brain, “should I care?” and the common answer is, “no.”
For example, I could go around telling people on social media with beautiful banner ads that read: “StartupCamp has over 1000 members, hundreds of educational articles, and offers an easy guide to launching your own business. Do you want to sign up?”
But that’s not that compelling, is it? To be honest, there are lots of courses and schools that do the same thing, many of which do it pretty well.
So how does a Startup get around this? How do we get people to truly care? How do we tap into the emotional side of potential customers instead of competing on the “what” and “how” of our brand’s story?
We lead with our why.
Over the past few years, consumers have been inundated with thousands of ads, sales pitches, marketing ploys, and visual stimulations. Our neocortex has learned to filter the noise better than ever. The “what” and “how” messages are mere commotion in a sea of sound. And now, more than ever, we are learning that…
People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.
A company’s “why” is what makes customers (and potential customers) actually trust them. In fact, a company’s “why” is what allows people to trust them. A company without a compelling “why” has really only demonstrated that it exists to make money, so how can they be trusted? There’s nothing to hold on to. Your company’s “why” is its soul.
A better message for StartupCamp might sound something like this, “We believe dreams are worth chasing. It’s our mission to provide a transformational coaching program to help people start their own business and create the life they truly love. Are you ready to chase your dream?”
Much better right? I opened up by speaking to your limbic brain. My emotional statement skipped your neocortex all together, and then I fed you the facts and figures second. This is how the best Startups position their brand.
Many of you have seen this incredible process explained by Simon Sinek in the famous TED Talk (a must watch even if you’ve seen it before).
So what is your company’s “why”? Let me give you a few tips and examples on how to develop and present your whyology to the world.
- Your whyology branding statement should have the ability to place the words “I believe” or “we believe” in front of it.
- Your whyology statement should be short. No longer than five words. 2-3 words is best.
- Once you define your “why,” make sure it’s the first thing people know when they land on your website, meet you in person, or read it on your business card.
- Your whyology statement will likely become your tagline.
Examples of whyology from a few of my businesses:
- StartupCamp.com: Dreams are worth chasing.
- Sevenly.org: People matter.
- Spokenly.com: Words change the world.
- ProMerch.com: Sports connect people.
Take a moment to define all three into concise statements.
Note: I have spent 2-5 days defining a whyology branding statement for a company. You may want to brainstorm a list of words and thoughts before attempting to put this together.
- What does my startup do or sell?
- How does my startup do it differently than others in my niche?
- Why am I so passionate about this? (Start with “I believe… or We believe…”)
3. From The Inside Out
Now that you’ve defined your brand traits and determined your “why” statement, you’ll want to make sure that these elements are understood by the entire company, no matter the size. The best way to do so is by creating and fostering an internal culture that aligns with the brand.
“It doesn’t matter if your company culture is friendly or competitive, nurturing or analytical. If your culture and your brand are driven by the same purpose and values, and if you weave them together into a single guiding force for your company, you will win the competitive battle for customers and employees, future-proof your business from failures and downturns, and produce an organization that operates with integrity and authenticity.” – Denise Lee Yohn
When there is a focus and direction within a company, and it is clearly understood at all levels of employment, you end up with a team rowing in unison. If and when things do get off track, it is also much easier to course correct if the end goal is the same for each person. Simply put, it not only keeps your messaging consistent, but it also keeps your business efficient.
Take a look into any successful business and you’ll see an aligned brand/culture. LEGO encourages their employees to play, get creative, dismantle and rearrange workflows and daily routines. Adobe offers sabbatical-type pay and resources for employees to explore something they believe to be innovative. Amazon, the greatest retail disruptor of all time, rewards their employees for disagreeing with their supervisors.
A great internal culture can also work as a brand asset. As we know, customers are growing more interested in what goes on behind the curtain of their favorite brands. So much so that knowing a company treats its employees well will often create a greater sense of loyalty. Show off your culture on social media, or newsletters. Make it something your customers can enjoy, even if they can’t participate in the fun.
4. To Differentiate
But the more common reason companies pay millions of dollars to rebrand themselves is to differentiate. To stand out. Again, it’s similar to humans. Like we did before, think of the most interesting people in your life. Who comes to mind? People that are different, right? They might be funny or loud or maybe they’re just plain weird. But no matter what clothes they wear or the style they have, you love them for their personality (their brand), and that’s it.
But it’s not just about being the loudest or most colorful. You want to be different in a way that is better for your customers. Smarter, faster, friendlier, easier, etc.
If you are introducing a new product or service into an established market, chances are your product/service has something different about it already. Use that difference to inform your brand. For example, if you open up a sandwich shop, and your differentiating factor is that you use only local ingredients, have your brand, in all ways, express the local culture, freshness, and community.
Bottom line, the human mind only notices what’s different.
So the question is, are you creating a consistent and attractive brand personality? Have you defined your whyology branding statement? What are you doing to differentiate your brand from the rest?
This is branding.
Have you intentionally branded your company? What have you seen help you on your journey?
Let me know in the comments below.