In previous articles, we discussed the importance of exploring untapped markets and audiences to grow rapidly. This should be a guiding principle in your growth strategy, and it doesn't come down to features only.
There are some clear market leaders in many competing markets. It doesn't mean the market is saturated.
So how can a challenger company go about beating established businesses? Building an unforgettable brand that resonates with your customers is one element in the differentiation puzzle.
What is branding?
"Branding is not a logo, a graphic charter or just a tagline," states Sofia Lambrou, co-founder of BOLK, a digital design studio.
A brand is the overall story you share with targeted customers, reflected in their overall experience with your product or service. It's more than a visual identity.
Lambrou defines a brand through two fundamental aspects; the gut feeling in how people connect to it and the system, resulting from defining the company's essence. She explains how "it creates a language that will help you make decisions and will enable you to interact with others consistently."
This language defines your company's unique selling proposition (USP). CEO & Founder of Homeppl, Alexander Siedes shares how branding "brings everything related to marketing together. It's more than a logo. It's about correlating your copywriting with the company's vision and purpose."
Building a personal relationship with your customers doesn't solely come down to product features. Therefore, you will be creating a perfect feeling towards your company. User experience design is focused on understanding your customers' pain points, possible market gaps. The brand-focused work will facilitate building a seamless user experience.
Branding doesn't only serve your customers. It will guide your growth internally as well. Your brand will be one of your most important assets, which will portray your business in a memorable light for investors, clients, current and future employees.
What can your brand do for your growth?
"It's very important not to miss this, especially as you're trying to grow and evolve from being a very early stage to an established startup and scale-up," states Siedes.
It might sound controversial, but it isn't easy to clearly understand the values of branding because you can't create a direct ROI from your branding investment.
As we defined it, branding is the guiding principle that will essentially facilitate your company's future. You will observe the benefits of having a defined brand in a range of aspects, from traffic acquisition to defining content creation and your user interface and your approach in supporting customers.
Naturally, for early-stage startups to grow rapidly, they need to make a lot of noise surrounding their product. To achieve your growth goals, you'll need a strong brand that guarantees the following aspects.
"It will make you noticeable and memorable in front of customers, investors and even develop your attractiveness as an employer." Alexander Siedes
1) Reputation and market awareness
Your brand forms the gut feeling your targeted audience will have when interacting with you. In today's environment, consumers can interact with a brand in many different ways. And whether it's on social media, your website's messaging, content creation is at the centre of communication.
By investing time and some capital in your company's branding, you will be laying the foundations for all your sales and marketing efforts to come together coherently. Consequently, your teams will effectively express your company's vision and purpose to bring in new customers.
Your reputation will provide the means for the overall communication to stay in line with your customers' needs and expectations. Depending on your sector and your targeted audience, your company won't be perceived as a product or service provider only.
One of our clients at Launch Mappers is Lofelt, a Berlin-based company. They build state-of-the-art haptic technologies for mobile developers and creatives, enabling them to deliver unique and immersive experiences for mobile games users.
Over the years, haptics technology has been developed by established companies such as Apple and Sony. As the gaming industry evolves, creating a realistic experience for users is a must. Lofelt provides a way to unlock the power of the haptic engine for the first time.
On top of releasing a suite of creative tools for developers and game designers, they are positioning themselves as partners to facilitate the use of this new tool.
By bringing awareness to their solution, they also focus on the industry's current state and, therefore, the lack of such software. Their brand has defined how they want to support users and how they want to be perceived.
As they continue to develop their technology further, they have a clear line of how to continue communicating with their targeted audience. By bringing awareness to their solution, they continue to build their reputation with the objective of signing more enterprise deals.
By defining your brand, you also determining your USP, which is a significant part of differentiating your company in your marketplace.
As Siedes shares his views on branding in a B2B context, "It's an opportunity to optimise your USP based on what defines you as a company."
Between two similar products that have similar functions for the users, the brand will enable this differentiation.
Imagine a brand is a person. People will relate to one person rather than another based on how they feel. That is the key to understanding and therefore creating a powerful brand. The work that goes into creating a brand focuses on establishing the company's mission statement and the values, features and benefits - as well as -the visual identity and the brand voice. By creating these different elements, you are essentially creating the personality of your company.
Let's look at Hopin, for example. The London-based company created the first all-in-one live online events platform where attendees can learn, interact, and connect with people from anywhere in the world.
The two-year-old company has positioned itself as the market leader in the event organisation industry. Despite established companies with similar products already existing, the differentiation between Hopin and Zoom or Airmeet comes down to the overall brand, not only products and features.
The SaaS-based startup did ship new product features rapidly, providing an "all-in-one" product that facilitated the road to the top. In March 2021, the company was valued at $5.65 billion.
Differentiation will result from your efforts in creating your brand because there are no two identical people. There are no two identical brands.
Consequently, by developing your brand as you prepare your company to go to market or even if you are rebranding, this fruitful investment will allow you to achieve the following:
- Being understandable and compelling through an effective messaging
- Creating a trusting feeling towards your company as well as the perfect look through UX & UI
Building a community around your product is probably not one of your objectives, not today and not in the near future. By going beyond selling your product, you will be building a valuable pool of users/customers that will only help you grow.
It's the case of Figma, a software as a collaborative interface design tool. The brand's mission is to enable anyone to design more efficiently. The company opened their app to APIs and external developers, created an extensive database of free templates and plugins, all powered by users.
By building a community of active users around their solution, Figma reduces acquisition and retention costs all of this thanks to a strong brand. A strong brand with a strong community of people wanting to help out of liking the brand, and enjoying the product, can help you reduce your client support costs.
As Lambrou puts it: "You connect to your core - what the founders' intention was, and you push that to the level of creating a community. It is different from an audience. You are creating a real community that will interact with each other and that will bring value to each other."
In addition to creating such a powerful resource to connect people, you will be able to utilise it in your product development projects. You will be prioritising the features your users need and want and therefore reducing churn.
Summary on the importance of branding:
It feels like they are many elements to invest in before the product's actual launch for early-stage founders. But branding doesn't need to cost exorbitant prices because you simply don't need it all from the get-go.
As Lambrou describes: "Branding can be modulable; it can be something that you build up." A 60-pages long brand book isn't always needed for startups. Continue to build solid foundations for your brand to ensure sustainable growth.
Generalisations can't be made. We can't stress that enough. It always comes down to the stage your company is at and your sector. As your company grows, whether it's the team, the customers, and the actual offering, your brand will continuously evolve. So prepare yourself for all these changes by building your brand.