Have you ever wondered why companies are willing to pay millions of dollars to “brand” or “re-brand” their organization? Does branding seem like a fuzzy word to you? 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 who's attention span was diminishing quickly. I needed to figure out how to stand out, to be found, and fast.
As a startup, this became difficult. The last thing I wanted to compete on is 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 brand myself to 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, lets 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 three critical parts to branding:
1. Consistent Personality
It takes a lot to create a consistent, or change a consistent startup personality. The startup’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 customer into their vision--you get the picture.
A strong brand is when a startup can create 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), they change all the time.
But remember, even if you’ve never branded your startup 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 you startup message inconsistent? Is there a hole in your echo chamber? Since you already have a brand, what is it?
Every startup 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 a 12 month experiential and community driven coaching course.
- 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 and 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, it’s become clear that with consumers inundated with thousands of ads, sales pitches, marketing ploys, and visual stimulation, 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.
So 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 startups "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 companies:
- 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 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. 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. When you 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 just plain weird. And no matter what clothes they wear or the style they have, you love them for their personality (their brand), and that's it.
Bottom line, the human mind only notices what’s different.
So the question is, are you creating a consistent 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 startup? What have you seen help you on your journey? Let me know in the comments below.