Early Stage Branding – Ignore At Your Own Peril Part 2

Early Stage BrandingIn part two of our series on the importance of early stage branding, we take a look at strategy, promotion and expertise.

by Hayley Raynes

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

            Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Okay, so in part one we convinced you that you need to brand and brand early, but that’s just part of the deal. You also need strategy. Branding does not mean throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. You need an in-depth, long-term promotion plan built upon a solid knowledge of your business, your industry, your competition, the marketplace and selling mediums, and, of course, your customers. You need to craft a targeted message that speaks to your potential customers in a voice that they will welcome, understand, trust and hopefully become loyal to. Oh, and you have to strategically position this message so that these individuals—your future customers and champions—will see it at their most receptive moments, embrace it and take it upon themselves to share your awesomeness with the world via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, personal blog, text, and…drumroll please…face-to-face interaction with other like-minded human beings!

Then you need to track the success and failure of your promotion strategy and revise, revise, revise.

No small task, this is, young Padawan.

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”

            Mark Twain

Branding, strategy and promotion are the secrets to success, not only because they whack a path through that crazy overgrown jungle we refer to as the open market, but because this kind of deep business analysis helps you to truly know your company’s strengths and weaknesses in addition to knowing your audience. It allows you to create measurable goals, and when started early, it maximizes what is likely to be a pretty puny budget—which is crucial, because competition is fierce, and you can count on the big boys and girls in your industry to be throwing the kind of money into their branding and marketing campaigns that would make God cry.

Good promotion also helps you to attract the best talent in your industry, positioning you for future growth and continued relevance. It establishes credibility both inside and outside of your industry and creates opportunities for partnerships that can provide the capital and influence you need to develop the next phase of your business. But if you promote incorrectly, you simply won’t get anywhere at all.

And don’t think that just because you are still in the funding stages you can put this stuff off. VC’s want to know that you have a clear “go to market” strategy, because, let’s be realistic, investors might look upward on Sundays, but Monday through Saturday, they bow to mammon. If you can’t prove to them that you can make them money, the risk goes up—and in the world of post-2008 finance, risk is no bueno. A clear promotion strategy goes a long way in calming the skittish investor—a most dangerous creature.

With a startup’s limited resources, knowing where and how to promote is key to stretching those ad dollars, and there is no boilerplate method—every industry has its own pathways to success. What works for retail may not work for B2B, while marketing an app is different from marketing a restaurant. You have to seriously consider your audience. This includes age demos, regional marketing trends, political leanings, religious affiliations, shopping habits, extracurricular activities, tastes in art, music and culture, historical influences, Internet surfing habits, etc., etc., and then this compilation must be used to sculpt a single human persona—a detailed, insightful representation of an honest-to-goodness individual—someone who is unique and special—but also representative of an entire group. And you have to do it with the least amount of bias possible.

 “Excellence is not a skill. It’s an attitude.”

            Ralph Marston

If you dig geeking out on research, then have at it, but let’s be honest, don’t you have better things to do—like, um, I don’t know, perfecting your product? Why would you want to get caught up in this seriously time-consuming business, when you could simply surround yourself with experts to do it for you?

We work with a lot of startups and are confronted again and again with the same situation—they know their technology and they know their financial goals, and because of this, they think they know the best path to market. But unpack this attitude and the logic just isn’t there. Knowing one aspect of business development is not knowing all. Think about it, Peyton Manning is debatably one of the greatest football players on the field today, but just because he can throw a football, and be the successful face of a football company’s branding campaign, does that also mean he could make a football without sewing his fingers together in one of the big industrial machines? Of course, he could learn, and one day even excel as a maker of footballs, but why would he? That would take time, money and effort—resources he’d probably rather use to get better at football. Because his is an attitude of excellence.

Peyton Manning knows that to be truly great at playing football, he needs to focus on playing football. The same goes for any enterprise. If you are a tech developer, you need to work on your tech—there’s always room for improvement. If your aim is to offer the best service or product available, then that’s where your focus needs to be. Marketers and brand strategists, if they’re worth their salt, are experts, too. They’ve spent years researching, hypothesizing, experimenting and theorizing. They’ve stood at many positions on the field and have had plenty of successes and an equal amount of failures, and this cumulative experience has helped them to develop the kind of hard-won insight and know-how that you—as a fledgling business developer—simply don’t have time for.

The point here? If you’re serious about being a brand worth talking about, you need to surround yourself with excellence, hire experts to do the things you don’t know how to do, and then listen to their advice and resist the compulsion to stick your finger in every pot. There’s a crush of competition at every stage of the game. Strategic thinking, planning and promoting is how you get to the end zone.