Startups face numerous barriers to success, especially as the landscape of new companies looking for funding continues to get more crowded and capital markets tighten up. Not only does your startup need to stand out from the competition and focus on market growth, but you also need to simultaneously secure the funding to turn your dream of success into reality. This can trouble even the most savvy and driven entrepreneurs.
How do you tell your brand story in a unique and compelling way that both positions you for market success and convinces investors to fund your vision? The answer is simpler than the question may suggest: invest in your brand from the beginning. While this answer is straightforward, tackling this challenge isn’t always easy. Most entrepreneurs aren’t brand experts and struggle to know where to begin.
Let’s first make one thing clear: your brand isn’t just your name and logo – it encompasses much more than that. Your brand, whether known worldwide or not at all, is a living, breathing entity in the minds of your consumers – it is constantly changing, and impacted by customer service, your culture, partner relationships, your marketing, and more. And it can either add true equitable value to your startup or negatively impact your success for years into the future.
Startups typically don’t have millions to invest in a global brand building campaign, so thinking entrepreneurially is important. It’s not all about spending right away to build your brand. It is about developing a brand-centric framework to answer the important questions you will be asked when you are fundraising. Based on real world experience we have working with companies that are meeting with venture capitalists, you will run into the same questions again and again regarding your vision, your customers, your point of difference, and how you will execute.
There are four key concepts to consider when thinking about your brand.
Articulate a Clear Brand Vision
The investor will ask: “How does your idea get big?”
What they really want to know: “How can you articulate your brand vision?”
Why does this matter? Because you are selling your startup’s potential as an extremely high growth case compared to hundreds of other business pitches investors are hearing every year. What makes your company unique and stand out against the competition? How can you scale meaningfully over the long haul?
To explain this, you need to determine your Vision and Values. Where do you expect to be in 20 years? Your Vision and Values should be inspirational, aspirational, and never change. They are your “North Star,” and will guide your behavior and decisions for years to come.
Identify and Leverage Competitive Opportunities
The investor will ask: “How is your idea defensible?”
What they really want to know: “What differentiates your brand?”
In very rare cases, startups are the first in their industry to offer a product or service. For most companies however, this is not the case.
To know how you stand apart, you first need to identify your competitors, both direct and indirect. Once you analyze where you are relative to others, you need to define that difference through your brand. You can get started by communicating your strategies to the market and obtaining consumer feedback, and then using that information to map growth opportunities.
The investor will ask: “Do you have a product-market fit?”
What they really want to know: “Is your brand relevant to consumers?”
To answer this question, you need to first articulate your primary target audience. Map key demographics and psychographics. What do they care about? Be focused here – you can’t build a strong brand that speaks to everyone.
Once you’ve defined your target audience, map out your benefit ladder, which should include functional benefits (what your product actually delivers), emotional benefits (what customers feel about your brand), and self-expressive benefits (how interacting with your brand makes customers feel about themselves).
Once you know what benefits you will deliver, you should be relentless in evaluating whether you are gaining traction. If not, have you perhaps focused on a benefit consumers don’t care as much about? If so, what does your cohort retention curve look like? Are you able to retain a meaningful percentage of new customers month-over-month? How might you increase your retention rate by fine-tuning your offering? These are all questions that you should ask.
Every Touchpoint Matters
The investor will ask: “How will you execute your vision?”
What they really want to know: “How will you deliver consistently at all touchpoints?”
It’s critical to pay attention to the relevant touchpoints through which a consumer can experience your company, as this is when they make decisions about your brand:
- Brand identity – logo, packaging, business cards
- Advertising – TV, radio, out-of-home, print, direct, grassroots
- Online – website, SEO, SEM, display, native, social, customer reviews
- Sales support – collateral, presentations
- Public relations – media relations, pitches, speaking engagements
- Customer experience – product quality, in-store, e-commerce, customer service
- Internal communications – onboarding process, employee newsletters
This list may seem overwhelming, but to begin, identify the touchpoints that will have the highest impact on your growth. For example, if your company is in the CPG space, what does your packaging and presence in stores look like? Is e-commerce your primary channel? Then how effective is your brand marketing on Amazon?
A plan with specific and measurable objectives, and supporting strategies and tactics will ensure discipline as you pursue growth. Define what you want your growth metrics to look like over the next 3-5 years. Outline your distribution channels and how you plan to successfully infiltrate those to communicate your product and service. How does the cost of marketing through those channels measure against the eventual ROI you will achieve? This will help clarify the opportunities and challenges you face, and knowing those will help you explain how exactly you plan to make progress.
By fully understanding the essence of your brand and how it relates to consumers, being realistic about your market position, and then effectively communicating your brand’s promise and value proposition through EVERY touchpoint, you will be in a stronger position to not only win in the consumer market, but also successfully defend your startup idea to investors and secure funding that will help you cement your future.
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