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As a marketing consultant that works with early stage startups, one of the questions I am most frequently asked about is how to establish what the brand actually is. I thought I would share the questions that I ask to get the process started. Often these questions lead to discussion between the founders and stories are shared and a lot of things come to the surface. There’s still a great deal of work to be done to actual define and agree what the brand is, but this starts the process.

1) Which member of the team currently best represents and expresses the brand?
All companies will have personalities, but to what extent are these personalities an essential part of the brand? Is there one charismatic ‘leader’ in the company and how much is the brand based on their personality? Would the company be the same if they left? The brand should be separate to indivduals, so this is often an interesting exercise to establish just what aspects of the founders’ personalities have become an essential part of the brand. For example, Mind Candy (Moshi Monsters) is led by the charismatic and every so bouncy Michael Acton-Smith. Would it be the same without him? Famously Apple fired Steve Jobs and look what happened there!

2) What need does you product or service address and how do you expect the consumer to feel after you have solved their problem?
Businesses exist to solve problems for consumers, so what is the problem that you’re solving. But more importantly, how do you expect the consumer to feel when your product has solved that problem? If the problem is functional, like unblocking a drain, then after the problem is solved they may hardly remember the problem and not think about it until it arises again.

However, if the problem connects on a more emotional level (for example, a musical instrument for a child), then they may experience joy or happiness and it lingers longer. Establishing the functional or emotional nature of your brand is vital.

Do what it says on the can

3) How do your customers describe your brand?
Have you asked your customers what they think? Does their understanding of your brand reflect your expectations? Are there consistent areas where there are big difference? Feedback is obviously important, but your customers can really help reflect back to you some of your assumptions about your brand. Listening to the feedback helps you make changes and communicate in a way that really resonates.

4) What companies do you aim to be like?
Most of us have companies and business leaders that we admire. When we set out to start up our own companies, we tend to have a vision for how we would like the company to be. So establishing who those companies and leaders are is a useful exercise to then compare how similar we actually want our own company to be. Whilst you can start off talking about how you’d like to be the next Innocent Drinks you’ll still need to establish what makes you different… You’re the Innocent drinks of cupcakes, or a cross between Innocent drinks and Lucozade…

Innocent drinks engaging with customers

There’s usually one or two things we’d change to improve, or add our own local flavour. By talking about what’s similar, this question also identifies what the company feels is most unique. Of course, if it turns out you’re not unique it’s the perfect moment to try and create some clear blue water.

5) Where will your brand appear and in what format?
Make an inventory of all the places and occassions where a customer might encounter your brand. Will customers mainly encounter your brand through the website? Maybe they’ll mainly see the shop, or the van on the street? Once you understand what the touchpoints are between your brand and your customer, you can start to plan how to communicate most effectively.

6) Is your brand associated with a specific location, culture or nationality?
How credible is the association and what authority do you have? Is the food you make based upon an authentic recipe from your grand mother from South America? Do you create your traditional English furniture in the same way and with the same tools that it was created 100 years ago? Credibility is essential, but it is also a very powerful angle for PR and marketing purposes and could be a key part of your brand.

7) Will customers have ever bought a product like your product before?
Often when products or services are completely new, the customer has no frame of reference. This means it is necessary to first explain what the product does and why the customer needs it. If a customer has already bought something like your product, or you can give them a frame of reference, then you can focus on selling your product. Including a reference to a product or service the customer understands can really increase sales. The challenge is how you include this in the brand, e.g. in the logo, in the name, in the strapline. My favourite example is Dollar Shave Club, a new service, based upon an age old need for razors.

Dollar Shave Club thumbnail

8) What is the one thing that you have done so far with this business that you are most proud of?
It could be setting up the website, getting your first customer, getting a mention on a major website. Fast forward 3 years, what’s the one thing you want to win an award for? The parts of your business that you are most proud of, and the ones that you’re working passionately to be award winning at, are the things that your customers will also find more interesting.

9) How well do you know your target audience?
If you’re developing apps for golfers, it helps if you know how to play golf. Firstly, you need to understand how your target audience thinks, but you also need to be aware of the trends, stories and other products that they encounter. How did you learn about this industry? Yes, you can read a book about how to play golf, but it’s going to be a lot more efficient to create a product that you already know about.
If you speak from personal experience, then you will have an authentic brand with real life stories to share that will capture the interest of your audience. If not then get the best expert you can find to endorse you.

10) How fast is your brand?
You need to establish what the speed of your company is. Some companies can turn things around and respond quickly, but this pace can’t be sustained for too long without requiring more resources. Then there are companies that have more systems and procedures in place and understand that adding a new project will mean something else gets delayed, or someone will end up working late into the night (again). It really helps to establish whether you want to try an agile approach, testing new things and accepting there will be failures. Or do you want to plan for all eventualities and try to stick to it. The speed of your brand will affect how responsive your customers view you to be and the pace of life for your staff. It’s a key dimension for your brand.

These are just the questions to get the conversation going.
Defining a brand takes much more time to gather together the input from the whole company, review the products and listen to the customers.
But getting the brand right is an important early step. It gives your whole company clear guidelines for the personality that they should be communicating to customers. It should inspire your products and your new hires. It should uniquey describe your company. So if someone suggests your brand values are ‘authentic, credible, unique, creative, innovative or dynamic’ then you probably need to dig a bit deeper. Yes, your company may be all those things, but every company thinks it is too! You need to gather insights from your customers and from your team to really establish where the heart of your company lies.

Do you need some help developing your brand or marketing strategy? Please give me a call on 07917 825 377 or email me at tim@timflagg.com