In a city filled to the brim with entrepreneurs, San Francisco is not always the easiest city for new businesses to stand out. Thousands of brands-to-be wilt on the vine every year, lacking in funding, grit, product-fit, VC connections, talent, you name it. But we’ve also noticed an emerging trend in the world of start-ups: the “so close but no cigar” scenarios. These teams have brilliant products and talent and network connections to lean on, but they fall just short of success. They are lacking in a certain magnetism and desire that helps them cross the finish line. And after working with hundreds of investors, VC’s and brands, more often than not, that missing piece of the puzzle is brand.
Many of the startups and entrepreneurs that we are lucky to work with are engineers and product developers who are responsible for some truly remarkable innovations. They’re “idea” people who are able to turn ideas into hardware, software and theoretical Unicorns. They’re brilliant. In the early years of their business, their teams are lean and scrappy. They build and iterate and prototype and drive their friends and families crazy with ideas and decks and pitches. And by the time they show up at our door, they’re eager to bring their business to market, but they need a branding and design agency’s help to do so.
9 times out of 10, this is the point at which entrepreneurs provide us with a brief for their logo. In their minds, this visual mark provides the much needed validity that will enable them to sell their idea to a room and help investors envision their idea as the next big cash cow. Much to their chagrin, this is also the point at which I explain to our entrepreneurs that brands are like icebergs. A logo is but the tip of this iceberg, whereas the heart of the idea lies submerged under water. To make a consumer - or a room full of investors - fall in love, you need the sum of these parts: the full brand.
More often than not, startups struggle with this concept. Many feel that the challenge and cost of conducting a branding exercise is prohibitive. As a result, these clients crowdsource logos or a singular piece of packaging design or collateral which they lean on to support their business as it grows. But this mentality is flawed and is often the most expensive route a company can take; we’ve seen countless companies stumble and fall when they underestimate the role of brand and fail to invest in it.
Much like a startups’ consumer doesn’t fall in love with the lines of code that make up a piece of tech, neither do consumers fall in love with a logo alone. Instead, what wins the hearts and minds of consumers is the combination of code, visual language and story all rolled into one beautiful brand. And while these entrepreneurs are often horrified to hear that we recommend investing the two things they have so little of - time and money - into building their brand the right way, we have seen first-hand the power of “brand” in cementing a startup’s success time and time again.
Here are 3 ways in which early investment in brand can make all the difference for startups looking to stand the test of time:
Many startups are started by young engineers who are, without a doubt, brilliant individuals. But these same individuals often clam up when it comes time to talk about the emotional connection to what they were building. This lack of emotion can be a quick and fatal error. A good product is one thing, but without a story or a reason for believing in your product, your business simply cannot thrive. Emotion is the fastest way to build brand loyalty with consumers, and desire is the strongest emotional of them all. Even the best product will not succeed if no one wants it.
Startups that sit at the crossroads of “desirable brand” and “exceptional product” will forge long lasting emotional connections with their consumers. This connection means loyalty in good times (and shaky), improves the likelihood of word-of-mouth ambassadorship, and inevitably sets up a solid foundation for growth. A great example? While many of its competitors has superior technological capabilities, Apple’s lifelong commitment to brand ensures that their product is the most desirable, and thereby the most successful.
Another common hiccup for startups is their hesitation to create a brand before they have the security of a fully fledged product line. And while the logic in that is relatively sound, it’s forgetting one key reality: every good product company has pivoted and reinvented itself, for which there is an essential ingredient: a strong brand.
A brand is the medium through which a startup can expr ess a desirable and sustainable vision to both investors and consumers. It’s that brand that tells a long term story that transcends product and allows audiences to buy into a bigger vision. And it’s this brand that should act as the North Star long after that first beta product launches. As much as it can be hard for our clients to hear, brand cannot be secondary to product - the two must go hand in hand. "If you are not a brand, you are a commodity. Then price is everything and the low-cost producer is the only winner." - Phillip Kotler
A few smaller clients are excited to invest in their brand, but they consider that to be their logo, the look of their website, or their packaging. While these are important components of any good brand, they’re not comprehensive and usually won’t support long term growth. While entrepreneurs can be tempted to embrace short term opportunities because they are facing cash flow issues or lack of interest from investors, it’s vital that they consider their long game before doing so.
With a strong brand in place, it is significantly easier to do this. A clear brand foundation provides a clear roadmap for the business, allowing entrepreneurs to continually vet and develop successful opportunities. Moreover, branding builds more than just desire and security on the consumer side, it also affects the internal value of a company. The best consumer brands in the world are also some of the best to work for because that brand runs deep in their D.N.A. Driven by the mission and the values of the brand, the company purpose comes alive and the company is able to build a strong and covetable culture.
“Companies pay too much attention to the cost of doing something. They should worry more about the cost of not doing it." - Phillip Kotler
Authored by CBA North America CEO, Jean-Marc Rinaldi.
Rédigé par Jean-Marc Rinaldi, CEO CBA North America.