For some time now, global trackers have shown signs of declining consumer trust in social institutions, including those which provide them products and services. However, the most iconic brands have dogged this so far, mainly because they have been able to build a relationship of sorts with their customer base, one that evokes love, trust, and respect. Thus, turning your startup into a brand appears to be a good investment, even if it takes years to do so.
However, the question is how to achieve this seemingly difficult task? I built an ed-tech startup from scratch, which is today a successful brand in countries like Russia and Brazil. From experience, I can say that it may appear difficult but isn’t outside the realm of possibilities as some so-called experts may have told you. Let me take you through the six-step journey I took to turn my startup into a brand. Trust me; it’s easily replicable.
1) Identify who you want to target.
At the start of the process, you should have a fairly detailed idea of who your target customer is and which part of the industry you will target. The needs and expectations of your target customer form the basis of several things you will do to build a brand identity. If, for example, you own a toy brand that targets kids of a certain age, your messaging will have to be appealing to that age group. That’s a very simplistic example, but it gives you an idea of how your customer’s identity has a bearing on your brand identity.
“The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations,” Roy H. Williams, founder of Wizards of Ads, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, says.
2) Create your visual markers
A brand is not a commodity. It is an intangible concept that helps people identify a company or its products. Thus, visual markers become very important in the process of branding. In fact, visual markers are so important that they are to be produced even before you launch your first marketing campaign. Visual markers include your company’s logo, profile colors, fonts, designs and everything else representing your brand. These markers should be prominently placed in marketing material so that the target customers make visual contact with them.
Remember what Paul Rand, the legendary American art director and professor emeritus of graphic design at Yale, once said: “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand”.
3) Determine your messaging
Your startup will have to develop a unique message to become a brand. This message should be based on what resonates with your target customer base. It should tell your brand’s story and give it a unique voice among competitors. It should tell the customers who you are, what you offer, what you stand for and why people should care about you. The brand’s tagline and the social causes it associates with form the core of the messaging.
The personality of the brand develops around this messaging. Therefore, it must be carefully curated and strike a chord with the customer base, both emotionally and intellectually.
Over a period of time, a convincing message can do more for your startup’s brand identity than any ad, sales pitch or marketing campaign can deliver.
4) Outline your brand’s Unique Selling Propositions
To be considered a serious player in the market, you need to stand out and convey why you are different from others. You must offer a unique value proposition to your customers.
By creating a unique selling proposition, you will be giving your target customers a reason to buy your product or service and come back for it over and over again. It helps create a loyal customer base and is critical in the process of developing a brand identity.
You must remember that USPs can’t be drawn from thin air. For your customer to register them, they should be based on their needs and demands.
5) Invest in outreach
Reaching out to your target customers is an important part of the brand-building effort. A brand develops when it manages to occupy mind space, and constant communication with your base can help you achieve just that. You can use social media or targeted campaigns to reach out to the demography you want to appeal to. The outreach methods and the content used for it will depend on the profile of your customer, including his age, likes and dislikes. This makes data collection and analysis a critical part of the outreach effort, one that is often ignored. Directionless outreach will not yield desired effects.
“Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image,” David Ogilvy, advertising tycoon who founded Ogilvy & Mather and is known as the “Father of Advertising”, had said in the context of customer outreach.
Outreach will ensure that you get the mind space necessary for creating a brand identity.
6) Remain coherent and consistent
Consistency is the key to the success of your branding effort.
Every identity is based on recognizable traits. For your startup to develop an identity, it will have to display recognisable traits consistently over a long period of time so that those traits become associated with it. Inconsistency can confuse your customer base.
Your visual identifiers like logos and fonts, your website design, the tone and tenor of your social media posts, the arrangement of your marketing emails – everything has to be consistent so that the customer starts associating the style with you.
The messaging should be consistent at every customer touchpoint.
“Overall, because branding is about creating and sustaining trust it means delivering on promises. The best and most successful brands are completely coherent. Every aspect of what they do and what they are reinforces everything else,” Wally Olins, the legendary British corporate identity and branding tsar, had once said.
7) Track outcomes
While you do everything listed in the six points above, you must not forget to keep track of the outcomes. It can be done in multiple ways, including analyzing business growth and, most importantly, through regular interaction with the target audience. A periodic evaluation will help you decide what is working for you and what isn’t. Based on the results, you can revise your strategy and introduce new elements.
Remember what Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”