According to the IBM Institute for Business Value, 90 percent of Indian startups fail within the first five years. Starting a new company is never easy. There will always be competition that’s ahead of the game, but you have to start somewhere. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to have a great idea for the “new best thing.” A great product and great execution alone won’t get you far. In an environment where failure is the norm, how well you brand your business, and how well you market your product determines your success. No matter how good your product is, if people don’t know it exists, it effectively doesn’t exist to the market.
So how do you go about building your startup’s brand? Here are some simple brand-building steps that’ll lead to greater recognition, a greater connection with your audience and, ultimately, more sales.
Discover Your Audience
Not everyone will be equally interested in your product. This is especially true if your product addresses niche needs. You need to understand your target audience and where it fits into the greater population. Spend time doing research to assess the demographic and psychographic profile of your audience. What age are they? What gender are they predominantly? How much do they earn? Where do they tend to live? What are their interests?
Each question you answer will make your target market clearer. Let’s look at a quick example: The Bombay Shaving Company offers a premium subscription service for men’s grooming equipment--kits with razors, lather, and cologne. Their target market is:
a.) predominantly working-age
b.) predominantly male
c.) upper-middle to upper-class
There are plenty of other questions you can ask to further narrow down your target market. Invest some time towards doing this and discover your audience. Remember that your brand matters most to the people who are actually interested in buying your products.
Design a consistent brand identity
Your brand’s logo, tagline, and mission central to its identity. They are what your audience associates with any product that you sell.
Logos and taglines can be incredibly powerful: If you take the logo off brand-name designer clothing or even change it slightly, its market value drops by several orders of magnitude. As a new startup, brand recognition can be an incredibly important asset. Recognizability should be a key target when it comes to crafting your logo and other parts of your brand identity. Minimalism has its place. Dunzo’s logo, for instance, is simple black text on a yellow background. How far “out there” your brand design needs to be depends on what you’re selling and who you’re selling to. “Just enough is more,” is a good rule of thumb. Know your audience and understand the messaging that they respond to. Paperboat’s juice packs feature lengthy, saccharine descriptions. This might seem excessive at first glance, but nostalgia is a big part of their brand identity. Build your brand design around this. Make sure that you apply your brand design consistently, across products and material. Inconsistent branding will hurt brand recognition and confuse your customers.
Your mission should be honest to your core values. Every successful product brings about some kind of change. What change do you intend to create? Why are you in business? Who do you see your work benefiting and how? Address these questions honestly and craft a mission statement that tells people who you are and what you plan to do.
Learn from the Competition
Few startups introduce completely new paradigms to the market. In the vast majority of cases, there’ll be a lot you can learn from established competition, in terms of practices, processes, and challenges. Learn from both success stories and failures. Suppose you’ve just entered the eCommerce space. It’d be a good idea to research big names like Flipkart, Myntra, and Pepperfry to identify strategies that worked. However, it would be just as helpful, if not more, to learn from competitors that failed. Why was JustBuyLive unable to scale its business model effectively? What caused ShopClues precipitous fall from Unicorn status? By learning what went wrong, you can build robust strategies and processes that avoid the mistakes other startups have made.
From a branding perspective, focus on your competition’s communication successes and failures. How did they benefit from being on-message? What were the consequences of communication mishaps?
Go the Extra Mile
As we mentioned, unless you’ve come up with an entirely new paradigm, you’re not the only player in the market. And with a finite customer base, you’re going to have to draw customers away from the competition to succeed. In order to do this, you need to go the extra mile and offer an exceptional experience. When you succeed in offering clients an exceptional experience, they associate your brand with excellence and this becomes your differentiator.
It helps to understand that everything you do has a tangible impact on the final customer experience. Optimizing your supply line can help you offer a more competitive price. Improved quality control will mean a lower defect rate and fewer angry customers. Providing minimum incentives to your sales staff may reduce the pressure on them to “hard sell.” Exceptional after-sales support is important, too. Treat your customers like valued human beings. They’ll be less likely to see your business as a faceless entity, and more likely to make repeat purchases.
Every business is unique. When it comes to growing a new startup, there is no one-size-fits-all method. There’s no single approach to branding, either. Your approach to success depends very much on the context of your business. However, strong fundamentals play a major role. Understand who you’re selling to, what you’re selling, and what you could do to improve. Remember to always craft exceptional customer experiences.
Hiren Panchal is the co-founder of Litmus Branding, India’s growing Advertising and Digital Branding Agency. He has a strong, multi-faced experience of 22 years in the areas of branding, advertising, marketing, designing and project management. With sound expertise in brand establishment, he has helped strengthen the brand assets for clients like Coca Cola, Payson Petroleum, India Institute of Management (IIM) Udaipur, Haldiram's, Sabi Foods, Almeer Saudi, IRU, and many more.