Brands aren't built in a day: How can a fast-growing startup work around that?
Which fast-growing startups didn’t take branding seriously? The ones we don't know about. And the ones that eventually failed.
With umpteen competitors springing up every day and incumbent behemoths in each sector vying to swallow up promising new businesses, what a new business does on the branding front might decide if it survives and thrives or dies.
The story of two companies
Let's take the example of YikYak and Whisper in the secret social media space — apps where users post stuff anonymously. These kinds of startups are particularly difficult to brand since cyber bullying and hate speech are rampant.
YikYak, valued at $400 million in its heyday, ultimately shut shop after a string of unceasing legal challenges arising from online harassment. The company was sold for its parts for a paltry $1 million in 2017. In contrast, Whisper lives on despite the same problems.
What was the difference between the two companies? YikYak failed to break away from the mould of an app that facilitated teen gossip whereas Whisper branded itself as satisfying a key human urge — to confess without being judged.
In an interview with Adweek magazine, Whisper CEO Michael Heyward said, "You know you can go to the Sistine Chapel, which has little confessional booths, and people confess to their priests. This is an idea that has been around for many centuries—way before the internet."
Back to the drawing board
Creating a brand's identity is not only about defining its look and feel. As we just saw, it is important to communicate to stakeholders what a company is about.
A very useful model that can help us understand this concept is Kapferer's brand identity prism. It includes physique that encompasses the visual features of a brand, personality, the brand's culture, self-image — the brand trait a consumer associates with, the target group, and the brand-consumer relationship.
A startup must create a mission statement in its early days to describe how each of these parameters would be defined. Doing so will help a young business navigate a lot of issues related to customer service, user experience, and business model in a consistent manner.
While a company's modus operandi might evolve with time, it's very important that the brand identity remains consistent.
Storify your startup
"Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room."
— Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO
Why do consumers buy one product over another? Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman says that 95 percent of our purchase decisions happen in the subconscious mind.
This holds a significant lesson for branding: you need to appeal to a deeper instinct in the consumer to convince them to choose you over a multitude of others.
Image source: producttribe.com
Enter brand story. Simply put, it is the overarching narrative around a brand. It might include a brand's history, quality of products, customer experience, design aesthetics et al. The aim of a brand story is to forge an emotional connect with the consumer.
However, its importance goes beyond attracting a new customer for a startup. Your brand story might determine the fate of your venture capital funding.
The founder myth
A young business might not have a great story to begin with. The way to fix that is to tell a breathtaking story about how it was founded. Take, for instance, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.
A Harvard student creates an application to compare looks of fellow college mates and overwhelms the tech systems of the world's most storied university.
To sum it up
Brands like Coca Cola and Apple weren't built in a day.
Creating and sustaining a powerful brand image in the traditional style needs a lot of time and money — two resources that are generally scarce for even a fast growing start-up. Innovation is the key here.
Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram are great levelers for young companies and established ones. While you certainly can't rope in Kareena Kapoor as your brand ambassador, a viral video where a budding influencer plugs your brand could go a long way in amplifying it.
Lastly, it is important for startup founders to appreciate that branding is a full-time job. When it might not be possible to hire a good agency or an expert, you must find a person who believes in the business and is a good storyteller.
Delegating the job to a professional would be a great place for the creation of a successful brand.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)