It’s never too early to start thinking about your brand strategy. Look at the stats: eight out 10 of new businesses fail not because they don’t have great products, but because small and medium-sized business owners held off on “marketing” or “branding” as foreign to their success. “Wait until we get our product right,” they tell themselves. (Insurance firm Embroker reports the fail rate at nine out of ten.)
This high fail rate is unconscionable and unnecessary. Venture Forward, a GoDaddy enterprise, estimates there are over 20 million micro businesses in the U.S. (Something like thirty percent of them started after the 2020 pandemic.) So it’s time to get things right. For starters, stop thinking that your new logo and website is your “brand.”
Small business owners continually feel as if the deck is stacked against them. But consider the fact that today’s legendary brands had humble beginnings only yesterday: Guccio Gucci started as a bellhop. Estée Lauder created perfumes in her dank Paris apartment. Patagonia started as a foundry hammering out mountaineering spikes. Apple started in a garage. Nike started from the trunk of founder Phil Knight’s car. Daniel Ek dropped out of college before he started Spotify. Samsung started out as a convenience store.
Every small business owner has the opportunity to be bigger, smarter and to seize their own advantage.
Working with startups as well as Fortune 100 companies, across categories including Fintech, B2B, fashion, QSR and consumer packaged goods, our advice is based upon solid personal experience.
So let’s go.
First, create the vision of what you want to become. If your vision only reaches to getting through your to-do list by end of day, that’s where you will stay stuck. But if you can write the headline of where you want to be in the year 2030, then you have just imagined your future. Go there.
“How?” is simpler than you think.
We write the story of what we want to become. Tell the story of how you came up with your idea, how it’s different, what it looks like (how people can identify that it’s your product, not someone else’s), how people will use it, how you describe it, what it’s not (to help differentiate it from other products that exist) and here’s the team.
We know for a fact that narratives that include all seven of the elements in the paragraph above tend to get funded and succeed on the street.
And remember — most people don’t even care about your product (borrowing from Maya Angelou) they only care about how you make them feel.
So let’s dig into how to make this work.
Begin at the beginning. Tell us where your idea came from. The United States is probably the only country in the world where people are genuinely encouraged to come up with new ideas and become a millionaire through their own wit and “Yankee ingenuity.” People immigrate to the U.S.A. to become millionaires. So…everyone likes to hear how others came up with their great idea. This is not boring history. They want to hear the pattern that led to success — how did you identify what you wanted to do? What obstacles did you have to overcome (some people think of this as the hero’s journey). If nothing else, they want to know that you’re credible — it’s also a peek inside your thought processes. Smart investors look for that. So do smart customers. Telling your origin story is just a great introduction to your business.
What is your product’s reason for being? What gap are you trying to fill in the marketplace that others have overlooked? So, so, so many companies out there are me-too notions trying to fight for very small spaces. And yet big holes remain.
John and Patrick Collison, the two brothers who founded Stripe looked at the one of the Internet’s biggest friction points — payments. According to reports in TechCrunch, in 2010 hundreds of coders were jumping onto the web to build recipe, fashion or travel sites, completely overlooking the basic truth of how hard it was to pay for anything online. “We were really appalled by how hard it was to charge for things online,” recalls John Collison. The brothers solved the challenge of economic infrastructure for the internet and today they are worth several billion dollars.
Learn how to identify marketplace gaps. Once you find them, fill them.
That’s why you exist.
How do we know it’s you? Identify yourself. This is typically done with a logo and website, but it’s actually so much more. If you’re doing something different, signal that by looking different, too. You have a design palette that includes colors, sounds, smells, taste, touch, typography, photography — as well as a personality that needs showing. Use every one of these iconic sensations to create unique touch points for participants to experience you.
How are you changing the way people live? This doesn’t mean a behavioral scientist experiment — okay, I take that back, it might. But how are you going about this differently? There’s still plenty of room to design things better, simpler and more efficiently. Why are your new routines better than existing ones? You might not build for Mars, but new rituals can help you build for Brooklyn, Stamford, or your neighbor next door.
Create your own cultural language. This is not easy and it usually happens organically. Rely on the clever people inside your organization to build their own pathways and their own vernacular. It happens. If people inside your enterprise are doing it, their good cheer will resonate outward and eventually customers or Users will mimic their actions, thoughts, words.
What’s more: This organic culture building helps evolve meaningful work, which becomes self-sustaining and makes it easier to find new co-workers. Happy people help find happy hires.
Not everyone is going to like you. Some people won’t get you. They will tell others they think that you’re a stupid idea. Or, that they already have someone who’s better.
Accept the fact that you’re not for everyone, but you are for someone. Your first hundred customers are the most important customers in the world. Find out what they like about you, what makes them giggle. What makes them stick. Then, find more people like them.
You also have the option to dig into what’s holding trolls and nonbelievers back: then remove those friction points.
Side bar. In marketing, we always believe that people aren’t using us because they are not aware of us. So, to get more awareness, we push the spend button. This is inefficient and wasteful. We must recognize that we are not for everyone. Fact is, we know that instead of Starbucks some people will go to Dunkin Donuts, Blue Bottle or Spyhouse. As stated above, concentrate on your zealots and leave the others behind.
And don’t forget WOM. “Word of mouth” is the best form of advertising. This means reviews, likes, five stars. But it also literally means people talking about you. Back to Stripe: the Stripe team’s friends invited their friends. “Initially it very much spread through a word of mouth process,” recalled Patrick Collison in a TechZing interview. “That was surprising to us because it’s a payment system not a social network, so it’s not something you’d think would have any virality whatsoever. But it became clear that everything else was so bad and so painful to work with that people actually were selling this to their friends.”
Follow the leader. This person is your visionary. She set out to recreate the world according to her own point of view. So face the cameras. People want to know who to thank.
Develop a media ecosystem that spreads your message across social, digital and traditional media (traditional media includes emails, PR, outdoor postings, direct mail, TV, et al.) and surrounds participants (your Avatar) with your message on a regular basis. Budget and common sense will suggest what is “regular” for your enterprise, your category, and your margins.
But understand these two important metrics: 1) People need to see you in five different places (e.g. YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, outdoor, LinkedIn, Twitter, a friend, etc.) before they become aware of you. And, 2) it takes 100 hours to make a friend. These numbers give you a sense of the range of media you need to appear in, and the length of time it takes to move from a transaction to establishing a solid customer experience and relationship.
The results of this work are manyfold.
As a small business owner, you understand that you want a good return when or if it comes time to sell. You only have one life and if you spend your life building a company with assets, it will be valued at one number — but a “brand” is typically worth 3X-10 times your physical valuation number. So when you cash out, you cash out bigger.
Immediate effects. A recent B2B family business owner informed me last week that they have had a 25% increase in business since their rebranding in 2021. Since their category couldn’t possibly be more nuts and bolts B2B, we were thrilled. Another business owner had a $3 million tech company — after hearing me speak about Primal Branding, he developed his own internal culture and built the company to $11 million. His company ultimately sold for $150 million.
The best time to start thinking about your brand is as early as possible. Start now. Within a few weeks or months you, too, might feel the bulge of success and will need new hires.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Patrick Hanlon, Author of Primal Branding
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Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education
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