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9 things to know about brand strategy for start-ups

Working with start-ups on their branding strategy is always exciting and challenging. The uncertainty is high, the data is lacking and you always aspire to disrupt something or solve a huge problem. After working with many of those, I thought it was time to share my two cents on this critical process. So here goes…

1 / Branding is not what you think it is

When most people think of branding they think of choosing a name, a logo or a visual identity. But Brand strategy is none of those.

It is actually about choosing a path.

It’s about understanding who you are and why you are here on this planet.

It’s about articulating in a simple communicative way what you offer to the world.

It’s about touching your target audience’s hearts and understanding what they really care about.

It’s about differentiating yourself from other alternatives that are out there. And finally, it’s about conveying a great story that VCs can relate to.

Yap. Name and design are mere executions of the branding strategy but are not the process’ essence.

2 / Start Early

So, when do you start with marketing? When do you start with developing brand strategy? For most entrepreneurs marketing and branding is something you do in later stages of the startup’s life cycle. Usually, after reaching product-market-fit. Gigi Levi, a general partner at NFX, and one of Israel’s most known and successful investors, claims that this is a classic entrepreneurs mistake, and I quote:

“But is product-market fit truly the cornerstone of product development? It’s clearly a critical step, but I believe there is an even earlier step. First, you need to find your “product promise” and your “product-promise-market fit.”


“The product promise is in fact the first step of finding your product-market fit — and testing its validity should be done before spending any effort on building the product.”

Indeed, it’s never too early to start building your branding strategy. Even if you still didn’t write a one line of code.

3 / Dive in

Building a strategy will never give you an assurance that you’ll take the right path, but it will increase the probability you will. The main secret for a good strategy is to base it on facts and data and not on beliefs and opinions. A brand strategy process is a thorough journey for understanding who you are and what you are good at; understanding the market trends and your competitors offering; and last but not least, understanding your target audience needs, motivations and barriers. For that we need to go through hours and hours of deep learning, searching and interviewing. Every aspect needs to be researched.

Your strategy’s strength is determined through its foundations. And for strong foundations, we have to go deep.

4 / Start with Choosing an arena

The essence of the brand strategy is the arena that we want to concur in our potential audience minds.

For example, when thinking of Google you think of ‘search’. When thinking of ‘search’ you think of Google. Google has conquered an arena in our minds. Even as Google’s business evolved through the years with other advertising platforms like Youtube and display, as well as other products and services like Android, Cloud and Google Marketing Platform — ‘search ads’ revenues still comprises 57% of Google’s total’s revenues and is 5 times the youtube revenues or 8 times the cloud revenues. Google is still a search company.

The arena isn’t about a tagline or about the search for a creative message — It’s about deciding the most fundamental decision that you’ll need to take: Who you are and what part of the human brain you want to seize.

5 / Think Human

It doesn’t matter if your business is a B2C or a B2B, it’s humans that will take the decision whether to buy your product or not. And humans make decisions in strange non-rationale ways. So, every brand strategy process has to be founded on genuine human insights that lean on real psychological needs and motivations.

6 / Work with your Strengths

Every organization has intrinsic strengths that the strategy can lean on. The ambition to be somebody you are not will always take you to the wrong path. Map those strengths with a clear and honest approach, and build a competitive edge that leverages your inner powers.

7 / Think of performance implementation

At the end of the road a PPC manager will manage a paid social campaign; a SEO expert will set a content strategy aiming at optimizing organic traffic; and a retention manager will set marketing automation funnels. Those marketing personnel are your marketing troopers in the marketing field. They are bound to reach targets and bring results. If the branding strategy will not be flexible enough or limit their ability to perform, it will be quickly neglected and remain in the PowerPoint.

8 / Build Thesis and put it to the test

You don’t have to decide on one final strategy. You can have few alternatives and put it to the test. You can even start testing the strategy before developing the product, and see that you reach the product-promise-market-fit before looking for product-market-fit.

9 / Adapt

Before the digital era, building a strategy was a decision you take once and execute for years. But digital marketing measurement and optimization changed all that. Every strategy we choose is just a draft that needs to be continuously tested. That doesn’t mean that strategy should be amended frequently but it definitely needs to be reviewed once in a while. And yes, adapting is the only way to survive.

Have any additional thoughts or insights? Please share below.

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