Brand Development & Positioning for Start-Up's: A Comprehensive Guide
Brand is an important component to the overall value proposition of a company. In this post, we provide a comprehensive guide to brand development and positioning strategy for start up businesses.
Every successful company has something that makes it unique. In its essence, this uniqueness comes from the creators of the company. It might be a problem that they think should be solved, a deep desire to change something about the world, to create an awesome environment for people to work in, or an insight about where the world is heading that turns into something valuable.
There is always a reason behind someone being driven enough to share an idea, to focus on it and work ridiculously hard until they’ve turned an idea into something other people can use.
Good brand creators take that unique view, philosophy, vision and ultimately the story that the idea encompasses and package it up into something that can be shared with the rest of the world. If done well, it helps to compel others to become part of the story by buying the product or service that's being sold.
Good brand development is the process of turning the emotional value that exists behind an idea, into something that the target market can easily understand, relate to and engage with. This creates additional value beyond just the product itself, by giving it a greater meaning.
To build a compelling brand strategy, start by understanding why a company exists, find a sizable market that this purpose aligns with and present the company in a way that’s compelling and makes sense to this group.
This article sets out a framework for doing this, building on the Startup DNA and Customer Discovery Processes.
Step 1: Know your company
The starting place for developing a brand is understanding the important factors that sit behind the idea or company. We cover this in more detail in our 'Startup DNA' article. You can become clear on the reason your company exists by comprehending the following factors:
- Vision and/or Purpose - why there is the need to bring this idea into existence
- Mission - what you're creating
- Values - a set of principles that you don't compromise on when making decisions
- Story - a compelling way of communicating what the company does and why.
- Philosophy - the view of the world that the company is built on and what makes it unique.
Step 2: Know your customers
Once you know the company's Startup DNA, the next step towards developing the brand is to understand your potential customers, what they value, and how you can make your company uniquely valuable to this group. Good brands are based on an alignment of the company values with their target markets values.
It's important to have a sound understanding of the following variables:
- Customers - who you're targetting
- Obstacle - what problem(s) or frustrations your customers have
- Solution - how you solve this problem for them
- Values - what your customers care about when making decisions
- Value proposition - what makes you different and uniquely valuable in the eyes of your customers.
Read our Market Validation resource to understand how to develop a deep understanding of your customers.
Step 3: Know your competition
An important purpose of a brand is to differentiate your company from what currently exists as an alternative to your product. You need to know where you sit in the industry 'mini-verse', relative to the other players. This is often referred to as market positioning.
It will be easier for your customers to understand your value if you position yourself uniquely in the existing landscape, finding the balance of familiarity and being uniquely valuable. This might mean using language that they already understand and benefits that they already appreciate.
Create profiles for your direct competition and map them out using the following process:
- Create a spreadsheet with the following columns:
- Company Name
- Market (Country)
- Key Messaging
- Unique Value proposition
- Variable 1 (I will explain these shortly)
- Variable 2
- Using the insights you've gained about what customers value from your customer discovery, and the thesis you've come up with about where the market is heading, create 2-3 variables that differentiate the existing brands in your industry. As an example, Amino Mantra, a company that produces purely plant-based patties, these two variables were ingredients (soy-based, GMO, additives etc) and whether they were trying to look, feel and taste like meat, or not. Include these 'variables' as columns in your spreadsheet.
- Research all of the existing bands that could be alternatives to your product and update the spreadsheet with the details of each. By going through this process you'll get a clearer picture of what your industry 'mini-verse' looks like, where you fit and how to position your brand so this is clear to your target market.
- I like to turn this information into a diagram, that can be used as competitor analysis. The best way to do this depends on how your industry can be mapped out, which is an article for another day.
Your branding should paint a clear picture of where you sit in the 'mini-verse', so customers can quickly identify if you have the values they are looking for.
If you are in a relatively new market, you should consider a market development strategy to grow your market and position yourself as a leader in the space.
Step 4: Develop brand assets
Branding is the exercise of giving your company an identity - who you are, what you stand for, what you look and feel like. By going through step 1 and step 2 of the brand strategy process, you should have a good idea of what your brand identity is.
Your brand assets are the end outcomes of this process. They should show your identity - the values of your brand and what you stand for.
Brand assets include:
- Logo - a symbol or other small design adopted by an organization to identify its products
- Colour Palette - a unique colour combination to represent your brand
- Fonts - a set of fonts to represent your brand
- Images - the types of images that best represent your brand.
- The tone of voice (the language you use) - guidelines for how the character of your business comes through in your words, both written and spoken
- Key messaging - the underlying value proposition conveyed and the language used in your content.
How you go about creating these brand assets depends on your team's skillset, your network and/or your budget.
If you have money to spend on brand development, you can hire a designer to come up with the logo, colour palettes, fonts and maybe images, a copywriter to finalise the tone of voice guidelines and the key messaging (and any other written work), and a photographer to capture unique images for your brand. For some cheaper options, head to our Startup Tools Cheat Sheet resource.
If you have been through the process described in this article and documented your outcomes, you will have an insightful document to give to a designer or copywriter which they can work from. This should significantly reduce the amount of time the need to create the final outputs.
To access the resources and people who have helped us create brand assets, and many of the company's we've worked with, join our online community. Once you're there we can have a conversation about what you need and who can help.
By doing the work discussed in this article, you will develop a clear picture of what your brand positioning needs to be to create the value you think your potential customers want. As well as differentiating yourself from competitors. You can then make good decisions about who you get to design your brand assets. You will also save money as you've done the strategy work yourself, and don't need an agency to do it for you.
Like your product positioning, your marketing positioning and brand image will likely change as you learn more about your customers and have more money to spend.
As this happens, I believe it's important that your original values and purpose remain at the forefront of your decision making. In my experience, the intentions a founder has for the company are most authentic at its genesis. Keep this in mind as you and your company and brand evolves.
All the best!
Other relevant resources:
Customer discovery is the first step towards validating whether there is a market for your product. It’s an excellent way to get to understand the people who will potentially be […]
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The creation of a ‘Startup DNA’ is one of the first processes we work with people on to transition their idea into an early stage company. The output is a […]