Startups are the best. Even when they have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to branding, which is most often the case.
Because just for a minute, it doesn’t even matter. They’re such darlings. Everyone wants to see them thrive. Well, maybe not their competition. The competition is hoping they’ll just go away. But the rest of us are rooting for them. So, for just a minute, their branding doesn’t even really matter.
But, it does matter. And it’s going to matter a lot more. Really fast. As markets develop, and especially if a brand tastes success and wants to stay around, it will be hard to establish a lasting connection without branding that matters.
That means having meaning.
Most markets are cluttered. Everything is accelerating exponentially. It seems harder to create a breakout product and own a space, right?
Right. But it can be done. How? Easy. First, have a great product. Second, tell a great story. Done.
Typically, but not always, agencies exist because clients are great at developing the product and less great at telling the story. As we’ve seen, telling the right story is critical—it can help your brand carve out room and own a space.
So focus on making your product great. Don’t be like the startups that fall into an arrogant trap of thinking they can do all of their own branding and creative. Relatively few companies can. No Fortune 500 companies that I know of do so.
As a client, you can and should be part of the story. But you should be more product than the story—and all too often these days, brands are all about story—a story to sell a cheap product no one wants.
Either way, whatever you end up selling, leverage agency expertise. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can do all the creative work on your own and have it not suck in some way.
Even if you’re a savvy brand manager or vice president. Even if you are a product marketing expert. Even if you are a creative. Even if you are you. Even you can’t do it alone.
Well, you can. It’s just not a smart choice. And it is likely to be unsuccessful. There are probably more people capable of writing a best-selling autobiography than of branding their own product.
But, hey, go ahead and have some fun.
Strategy = Plan
Prepare! Your branding is something you should take a few seconds to think about and prioritize.
Invest in identity first and digital second. Don’t forget or ignore social. A good video can trump everything. That’s all I can tell you.
And that might be wrong. I don’t know you or your brand, so I can’t tell you the absolute right thing to do or prioritize. I can only tell you that you need to prioritize your brand development strategy. Sit down for a day, hour, week, whatever, and write down your plan to build your brand. It can evolve. You can change it if you have a good reason. But have a plan in your pocket.
ReadWrite has a great outline of 7 Ways To Keep Your Startup Marketing Lean. It is a great stack of tactics and thoughts for any business to consider.
Your strong business strategy, amazing product, and powerful buzzword presentations will never be enough if you fail to address your branding, switch directions too frequently, or fail to reveal your true brand identity.
It’s hard for people to connect with your story if they can’t understand it. If you can do everything Debbie Millman speaks about on Creative Cloud’s Makers and Markers: Why Today’s Design-Led Brands Thrive, then you’re all good.
If not, an agency will help you figure it out and help you make appropriate adjustments to market changes.
Prioritize Your Branding
Because of budget limitations, investing in brand development is frequently delayed. Understandable. Startups are under intense financial pressures, burn rates need to be tightly controlled, and product development is definitely a smart focus.
The sooner you can solve your brand strategy—and develop tools like a brand story, essence, positioning, copy direction, style guidelines, and maybe even a manifesto—the better prepared you will be for seizing market share, scaling success, and defending your market position.
And, perhaps more important, the sooner you develop your brand, the sooner the true voice of your brand starts to shine through and connect.
So, Mighty Innovator, be forewarned. You have a rope to walk. Find your balance early. Ignore brand work for too long and your product might get gobbled by a bigger company with a bigger brand budget. You may have a better product, but if more people hear about your competitor’s product than about yours, you won’t have success.
Get your story together. And get the word out. Now. Or as soon to now as absolutely possible.
Don’t Ask for Free Work
If you like to meet with different agencies under the auspices of having them pitch a project, only to take notes on all the ideas pitched so you can hire freelancers, cheaper shops, or an internal team to execute, they’ll know what you’re doing. It’s happened to all agencies.
Word will get out. And you might just get what you deserve in the end: a bad agency.
I Can’t Go Without Mentioning
If you’re running a startup of any kind, you need to check out Mitchell Harper.
This is a sample chapter from So You’re a Client.
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