At a time when every company – more so a startup – should be conserving cash, why would anybody think about brand-building activities? Most entrepreneurs are facing far greater challenges in keeping their ship on course.
But time and again it has been proved that having a strong brand during times of adversity has always helped companies stand out and build far deeper customer and employee confidence. This has helped the business navigate through tough times.
The challenge with tech companies is that most of them believe that their customers focus only on price and performance. Over the years, most tech executives have grown in their careers focusing on the technical aspects of the business.
Brand building has always been a cost centre for them; something they are forced to do. The core concept of nurturing a strong promise to their customers and making it part of every important function of their organisation, be it product development, service, or sales, so that the customer experience is consistent is something they cannot relate to. This needs a big mindset change.
A brand-centric business will always have far greater pull factor as compared to a pure push sales-driven organisation. In the current scenario – where face-to-face interactions have drastically reduced – the role of a strong brand in customer acquisition and retention is priceless.
Debunking common myths
Let me try and debunk three common myths around investing in brand building.
1. Brand building is advertising.
Most people always think that brand building involves spending money on advertising, customer acquisition activities, media spends, and PR. As a result, for most tech startups brand building is typically an exercise they believe is best done when they raise subsequent rounds of funding. Most growth-stage funding requirements will always have a significant marketing spends component.
In reality, advertising is one component of brand building and really not needed for most tech startups till they reach a certain scale of operations.
What is really needed is a crash course on how to nurture your brand from day zero. What’s the core of your brand, what should it stand for, how does it reflect the true voice of the founders and their beliefs, and the entire visual language for the brand.
The creation of a strong brand identity and meticulously implementing it across all touch points is an absolute must. Treat this as a core foundation activity, as important as that of the next key hire you have in your task list.
A strong and well thought-out brand identity is your first stepping stone towards building a great organisation going ahead.
2. We are a B2B company; we don’t need brand building like B2C companies do.
This is one of the most oft-repeated statements I have heard from tech startup founders. It’s like they teach you this in engineering school as a great survival technique. This is also a mindset I’ve seen more in Indian tech startups than anywhere else.
My first real business trip to Silicon Valley was in early 2007 where I spent some time visiting lots of tech startups, including the poster boys of tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Yahoo. Beyond the hoopla of their great campus, free food, and leisure activities, what really struck me was how the importance they placed on their brand.
This attribute cut across all companies, irrespective of their size. The smallest of tech startups had good branding and defined values, but most importantly an amazing ownership of the brand among everybody in the company. Your company brand is the best springboard you can build for your business. Do not make the mistake of believing that it’s not for you.
Consumer behaviour is not as complicated as you are made to believe. Human beings pretty much react the same to most stimuli. If they choose to buy a good brand in their daily life, they will want to work and do business with a good brand also.
3. Good to do not a must-do.
‘We can always change things around when we grow” is a common mindset. Most brand engagements with growth-stage tech companies that I have seen go like this. “We have just raised our first significant round. The investors are now pushing us for a brand revamp! We need to relook at name, logo, positioning the works.”
This is great, but usually turns out to be lot more expensive, time consuming and, most importantly, comes with a significant opportunity loss.
Your brand is the axis around which you build your culture. A strong culture is the soul of your company – this is something that you cannot keep changing as you go along. It will evolve during your journey as an organisation but needs nurturing from day zero.
Time and again, every successful entrepreneur’s story will tell us how important the company culture has been in shaping their success. This would have never happened if there were no dedicated effort to build a brand from day zero.
The brand building cheat sheet
To make things easy here is a cheat sheet guide for efficient brand building for startups.
Without a strong brand you are just a commodity. Nobody wants a commodity, not your customer, not your future employees, not your partners, and definitely not potential investors.
In times like these: “If opportunity does not come knocking, build a brand.”