Let’s start with textbook basics first. A strong brand aids in generating equity in the consumers’ mind, which is a valuable metric to measure and monitor. But having a strong brand is not a means to an end, and in many instances it is just the beginning. The product underneath the brand should perform at the highest standards (both in terms of emotional and functional delivery).
Why should startups invest in building brands? Because it is important and it is foolish not to leverage the differentiating platforms their products already occupy. Every founder should have clarity about one important market dynamic — competitors with “me too” products are waiting at the corner. When product differentiation is minimal, having a strong brand makes a world of difference. But that is only one side of the story. Investing and building a brand right from the very beginning ensures that you don’t need to worry about “me too’s” at all.
Startups have a set of strategic advantages right from the beginning. They are not trying to find selling space in crowded categories, and have products that have taken birth through fresh and out-of-box thinking with innovative business models. All these factors are ideal for building strong brands, which unfortunately continues to be under-leveraged by startups.
The critical question then becomes one of ‘what needs to be done’ to ensure brand building opportunities are not wasted by startups. The answer lies in a two-pronged principle of ‘vision’ and ‘prioritisation’. When a founder is getting his/her startup off the ground, brand building needs to be on the top of the list of aspects that need attention. Brand building should be equally important as investor pitches, hiring, developing products, investments in scaling technology and operations and getting access to funding.
This is easier said than done, but a brand needs to be built from scratch (and it shouldn’t be an afterthought). For startups, the mindset change is more important than any other factor. But discipline of application and perseverance are equally important traits for brand building success. A key thing to keep in mind is the facet of the product / service the consumer is engaging with. Honestly, consumers are not going to be interested about the sophistication of underlying algorithms, the nature of predictive analytics at work and the technological superiority of the platform / interface. Consumers will (and always have) engage with the functionality of the product and the problem it solves or the need it satisfies. These are the driving factors that will influence product perception and brand equity.
Startups need to build strong brands and infuse the positioning with the disruptive functionality of the core product. This is like a “marriage made in heaven”, which is why very few startups have been able to achieve this strategic balance. Strong brands are built on foundations that are shaped by differentiated offerings, storytelling and narratives. The same sets of principles apply for startup branding success.