Do you build a brand for a start-up as for any business?
“We’ve got a great name. We’ve got a great team. We’ve got a great logo. Now we just need an idea. Let’s pivot. ”
Beyond the caricature, this quote borrowed from Jared in Silicon Valley illustrates one thing: the reality of a high-growth business has little to do with that of an established business. A start-up / scale-up often creates its own market rather than battling in an established market.
What it sells or to whom it sells it can change radically depending on the evolution of its business model. Its rate of growth matters more than the evolution of its profitability… and yet like any company, it has every interest in taking care of its brand in order to streamline and accelerate its development.
So, should you think of your brand in the same way as an established company or not? Three-step response.
The fundamentals remain the same
As Jeff Bezos said: “the brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room“. Building a brand therefore means seeking to homogenize and strengthen the reputation of a product / service or of a company. It was true 2000 years ago, and that is not about to change. To achieve this, three fundamental criteria:
- Consistency: make sure that everything the company does and says goes in the same direction
- Difference: ensure that you stand out in substance as well as in form from your competitors
- Relevance: responding to a strong need of the people to whom we are addressing
And when we do it wrong, the price is the same for everyone (see the 7 ways to plant your brand platform).
But the stakes are different.
# 1 The issue of clarity of the value proposition
In an established market, the strength of a good value proposition is to succeed in bringing a significant plus to a relatively commonplace offer, which is therefore easy for the customer to understand. But when looking to transform a behavior, or even develop a new use, understanding the value proposition must be the cornerstone of the brand.
And yet how many start-ups, or even scale-ups, lazily tell themselves like the “And yet it is for lack of going to the Godwin point of the value proposition: this point where any company is the Amazon of something, not really knowing how to tell what new she has to offer (a good article from Bloomberg on the subject).
# 2 The issue of positioning when it turns
For an established company, we build a brand starting from a positioning (what we sell, to whom we sell it and at what price). But in the case of a start-up, this mix is by nature bound to evolve. We test, we explore, we screw up, we start again … and few business creators among those I have met, who claim to have found the martingale on the first try.
In the beginning Netflix mailed DVDs, Amazon sold books and Instagram was called Burbn and was geotagging. False starts or evolutions, the list of start-ups that have been able to pivot is long. So how do you build a brand when you are potentially required to radically change target, pricing or even business model along the way? How to Build a Clear Narrative When What You Do Keeps Changing?
# 3 The challenge of talent management when you leave the garage
The destiny of a fast-growing company is to have to hire a lot and quickly, in a context where the best talents are in great demand. Up to 10-15 employees, most succeed in maintaining a strong corporate culture because the founders can directly evangelize those who join them. But beyond that, many start-up managers and above all historical employees complain about the wait-and-see attitude of those who join them, of a “lost mindWith a dull enthusiasm.
There is often a form of misunderstanding between the “historic canal” and those who join them later. Some have lived through the glorious hours of the creation of the myth, others are there to make it grow. Some are Swiss Army knives who have been able to juggle with the precariousness of the beginnings, others are experts who arrive with more specialized skills.
A misunderstanding which is often due to the absence of a clear account of the company. Because what is obvious, even visceral, for those who have been there from the start, is not necessarily so for others. To realize the extent of the problem, just take a look at the Glassdoor page of the main scale-ups.
So what do we do?
At # 1 We treat the value proposition like alpha and omega
To still be present in 6 months, it is better to ensure that the business results are there. At the heart of brand thinking, therefore, there must be the optimization of the value proposition. The challenge: to go beyond the simple factual description of your offer and thus give it its maximum power to resonate with your targets.
To build it, upstream of the A / B tests that will allow it to be refined, we will seek to clarify four themes:
- The competitive edge: what is the added value that sets you apart from your current and potential competitors?
- The DNA of your company: what characterizes the way you act? What sets your corporate culture apart?
- Customer insight: what is the underlying motivation to which your product / service seeks to respond?
- Cultural momentum: what are the major societal trends in which to register to gain resonance?
BioBelt is an innovative company with an ambition that seems a little crazy at first glance: to sell mosquito traps as luxury products (the entry ticket is 5000 euros without consumables…). To tell about her technology, she presented her innovation as a “mosquito belt”. By working on the 4 questions above we have redefined its value proposition. Now BioBelt protects exceptional properties against mosquitoes. An approach that better justifies its price and better tells what makes its technology innovative for owners of upscale Mediterranean and tropical villas and hotels.
# 2 We set ourselves a clear course by giving ourselves a long-term purpose
Knowing where you want to be in 6 months is good, but it’s only half the way. It remains to be seen where you want to be in 30 years if you want to consolidate your brand over time despite the changes in course inherent in the nature of a start-up. For this, a small detour to Simon Sinek’s home will be necessary. Your WHAT may change, but your WHY is here to stand the test of time.
The WHY is:
- the course to articulate the purpose of everything you do.
- the strategic filter to arbitrate between two new potential Product characteristics or two distribution strategies.
- the invisible link between your activities today and tomorrow.
Benshi is a SVOD site specializing in arthouse cinema for children which struggled to exceed an audience of parents who are keen on cinema lovers. By working on its raison d’être, we understood that parents felt judged as soon as we pitted quality children’s content against others. From there, the choice was to abandon the register of cinephilia to switch to a more emotional discourse. Now Benshi is the SVOD site to see the films that mark childhood. An approach that gave Benshi a clear course and allowed it to reconfigure its business portfolio so that everything goes in the direction of its raison d’être.
# 3 We think of our brand as much for our employees as for our customers
To paraphrase my initial quote from Jeff Bezos, you could say that employer branding is what new employees say when founders are not at the coffee machine. If you want to attract and retain top talent, think of your brand from the start as the backbone of your company’s history and culture. What are the myths that feed it? But above all, how can newcomers write a new page?
MyLittleParis is a scale-up that sums up these different issues: multiple and scalable economic models (from the newsletter to box subscriptions in particular) and strong and rapid growth in the number of employees. So many challenges that have led them to ask themselves the question of the role they wanted to play across the board for their customers and their employees. Responding to them helped them to tell their story better and thus strengthen their internal alignment and with their customers.
For a start-up; the brand often does not play the same role as for an established company. The best way to think about your brand in the service of the growth of your business is to start from a clear audit of the problems you want it to help solve, and then move forward accordingly. Or as JF Kennedy would have said if he had been in branding, “don’t ask yourself what you can do for your brand; but what your brand can do for your growth“.
He previously worked as Director of Strategy for major agencies in Europe, China and more recently NYC.