In my experience mentoring startup founders, I've interacted with many entrepreneurs who have put together fantastic products and services, but have little awareness about the proper branding strategies to give them a boost as they go to market. Many of them assume that they can emulate the strategies of similar products to gain their share of customers.
It’s no secret that there is a link between powerful branding and success in business. However, in an attempt to attach themselves to the success of established corporations, many entrepreneurs employ similar branding techniques as the organizations that have been in the marketplace for decades. More often than not, these entrepreneurs are left confused and frustrated. They wonder why their own campaigns failed while these older brands continue to succeed, even though their products might be more innovative and of superior quality.
Kick-Starting Your Brand
Building a brand is different than maintaining one. Most new businesses don't have the resources to burn through marketing budgets with expensive TV ads and experiential marketing events. So how can new products compete?
Consider Your Customers
Major corporations already have millions of customers and their brands are clearly recognizable. Customers associate established logos and products with certain traits and promises. Newer businesses just don't have the same built-in brand recognition. So, as with many practices that revolve around marketing and product launches, the process begins with the who.
Zach Beatty, Marketing Manager of Blue Fountain Media, explains in a Business Insider interview,
“The first step a new brand should take when developing their marketing strategy is making sure that they have a strong understanding of their target customer. Without this, it's easy to create messaging that is too broad or that doesn't address the customer's actual needs.”
Before spending marketing resources on an entire campaign, market research is vital. Beginning with a specific, targeted customer segment can ensure that a newer product appeals to the demographic that is most likely to pay for it.
Define the Dilemma
While we may know our product’s purpose and the problems it solves, do our customers? Often, the most innovative products solve problems that consumers aren't even aware they have yet. Therefore, they need to ensure that they're clear in presenting both the problem and the solution.
Consider Vapur — a startup founded back in 2011 that offers fold-able, reusable water bottles to customers. Their marketing strategy was twofold: educate the customer about the problem, then sell the new solution. As Vapur co-founder, Jason Carignan, explains in an Inc interview on marketing new products:
“We knew there was a lot of need for a green water bottle because the green movement was taking off, the economy was tanking, and people were looking for a way to get off bottled water. The problem with traditional bottles was that they were as bulky empty as they were full.”
Carignan knew their idea solved a problem, but it wasn't necessarily one consumers were completely aware of. He focused on delineating the problem just before pitching the solution to his customers. With established brands, many customers know the problem already because they have used the product several times to solve that problem in their own lives. If you're bringing a newer innovation to market, consider that a portion of your messaging might need to be directed toward defining the need that your product fills.
Embrace Who You Are (A Few Times)
Older brands have years of branding and marketing under their belts. As such, usually they have a foundation of customer associations to rely on. Ford, for example, evokes certain images and associations of durability and the “All-American” everyman with their logo and products. Newer products and businesses face the challenge of carving out their own space against the many other personalities in their market.
However, this competition can actually be a great benefit to newer brands. Whereas established brands don't have a way of reinventing themselves overnight, newer products have much greater flexibility in their messaging. Newer brands can take many more (calculated) risks in their branding and take a bolder approach to distinguishing themselves. If initial messaging efforts don't stick, these new brands have a much easier time changing their message.
Newer brands also have an easier time defining themselves against the existing marketplace. They are allowed, in effect, to position themselves as fixing the already-known weaknesses of older brands. In certain markets, having a unique selling proposition of “We're not the big guys, who are ____” can be extremely effective.
Balancing a brand's growth is not easy, regardless of the size of your company or the age of your product. The trick is to allow for ample time and experimentation to clarify, differentiate, and refine your brand's unique message. Further, understand that your business will likely look much different in five, ten, or fifteen years, and that your branding will change over time alongside the shifts in your market. However, it's never too early to build the foundation upon which your brand will rest. Make sure that foundation is a strong one.
How have your branding strategies changed over time? Whether big or small, we want to hear them! Tweet them to us @EidsonPartners!