By Meaghan Carlson of FlashFunders
When you are just starting out, you often have a lot to do and not a lot of money to do it with. Often times, we focus on the “right-now-needs” instead of doing the important foundational work. For example one of the most important objectives when launching a new company is to build awareness, but often times clearly articulating your positioning gets pushed off to a later date.
(Photo courtesy of Meaghan Carlson)
So how can you build a strong brand without the money to hire a dedicated brand strategist? Don’t worry, it’s doable. You just have to tackle the task head on. I’ve spent my career helping household names rebrand, launch and position products to successfully attract new customers. Here are 10 simple principles that will help you define your brand and grow your business.
1. Don’t have FOMO over a catchy tagline.
The “Just Do It” era of spoon-fed marketing is over. Sure, it’s great to have a short phrase that clearly defines your brand, but today, consumers crave two-way conversations. Succinctly explain your product and why it matters to your target. Show your customers how your product fits into their lives, and eliminate vague taglines that may sound good, but don’t mean anything. A tagline is not your end all be all and many influential companies are scrapping them altogether.
2. Speaking of scrappy, it’s time for you to get scrappy.
Begin with your customer. If you don’t have a research budget, take advantage of your network and schedule phone interviews with potential targets. Ask them about their motivation. What brands are they passionate about? What are their pain points? Your goal is to come out with a clear snapshot of their lifestyle.
If you have a following on social media, dig into Facebook Insights and Twitter analytics to see types of pages people like and how their demographics break down. With luck, you’ll pull together trends across channels that you can synthesize with your interviews. Learn as much as you can about your customer, so you can communicate with them in a way they appreciate.
3. Once you know your customer, build your brand architecture.
Brand architecture will keep your message and tone streamlined across channels. A quick Google search will yield tons of methodologies and formats, but the most important aspect is to align your vision, mission, and positioning, and translate them into the tone you’ll apply along the way. (Note: taglines are NOT a mandatory component.) The goal is to make your architecture broad enough to encompass potential product extensions in the next three to five years.
At startups, things change quickly, so your positioning or tone may evolve with your business. But it always helps to start with your brand architecture on paper, vetting implications as time passes, rather than starting new every time. Plus it’s a great glory (ahem I mean team building) moment to rally your team around a defined brand strategy.
4. Nail down your brand architecture with your peers and managers.
Pass your draft brand architecture around to get feedback. The more you socialize your positioning, the more your team collaborates and aligns. Get any consultants and contract workers up to speed, too, if applicable.
When everyone has context, your branding becomes consistent. In the process you’ll gather points of view not previously considered and build good will with your peers. It may also be wise to validate your brand architecture with external feedback before presenting it to other stakeholders — not only current customers, but potential targets, financiers or service providers.
5. Be true to your message and resist following trends.
Don’t just copy the industry leader’s tone, look and feel. Customers may resent your lack of creativity or be confused about what your company stands for. Figure out what differentiates you and make sure it’s distinguishable throughout your design identity and tone. Then take pride in how good you look.
6. Keep a pulse on feedback.
Sometimes marketers tend to glaze over reality or overemphasize the theoretical. Instead, create a system to monitor feedback. Check in with sales, customer service, operations, and product people to get a better understanding of customer pain points. Quarterly meetings and a transparent feedback tracking system can be especially helpful to ensure brand messaging is resonating. If the feedback says it isn’t, don’t start looking for a new job until you’ve pressure-tested evolved messaging with the team and prospects.
7. Start from the bottom, but know where “here” is.
How do you know you’re improving if you don’t know where you started from? Benchmarks and key perfomance indicators seem like marketing buzzwords, but it’s important to track your success within tangible timelines. Some useful tools include built-in social insights, Geckoboard dashboards, and the ever-humble shared Google Doc.
8. Don’t limit your brainstorms to reality.
Look outside your industry for inspiration. If you’ve built a clearly differentied product or service, you can approach your branding and marketing tactics in the same way. Try innovative and scrappy lead generating ideas. A bank could try a national event tour format. A design firm could invite targets to a farmers market pop-up workshop.
9. Invest in channels with the most value.
My company, FlashFunders, is an equity funding platform, so we use Twitter as a primary channel to curate tech news and generate leads; however, we’re not on Instagram. If I had an ecommerce platform, I’d probably be doing the opposite and spending more time perfecting my Instagram “angles”.
Be realistic about which channels offer the most opportunity for organic growth based on a killer content strategy. You may be surprised that while a network like Facebook boasts the largest audience, they’re also a pay-to-play game, so efforts may be better served investing content resources in emerging or niche platforms.
10. Build monogamous relationships with customers.
This is the most important tactic. Focus your content strategy on building long-lasting and impactful relationships with customers. Never oversell or overpromise. That makes people feel annoyed, or worse, cheated.
Strive to open the door for two-way communication and over-delivering. You’ll be surprised how much more fluidly your customers will be willing to forgive late order shipments and participate in your product surveys. Build trust through honest, ownable branding, and implement an integrated content strategy to convert them into evangelists.
You want your customers to want to tell their friends about your company, so don’t beat the same message across each interaction. Tailor your key messages according to your lifecycle stages to build a coherent identity.
You made it all the way down here?
You have taken the first step in channeling your inner Peggy Olson. Well, here are some bonus tips just for you.
When reaching out, consider your customer’s lifestyle and plan interactions against moments when they will be more receptive to your message. Nothing is more annoying than a tide of emails during the weekend or a personal phone call during work hours. Note times and modes of communication that add value in the moment, and plan touchpoints accordingly.
That’s a practical tip. Here’s a principle. Know your product inside and out, and be realistic. What’s more, know your weaknesses. But don’t devalue your brand either. Keep a balance of optimism, positivity and truthfulness. No brand strategy expert can replace a solid reputation, which is the foundation to successful marketing.
Meaghan is Director of Marketing & Brand Strategy for equity crowdfunding platform, FlashFunders. She has led numerous major marketing campaigns, including Disney’s Infinity takeover at Times Square with Good Morning America, and PayPal’s OneTouch payment launch at TechCrunch. Her indepth strategic, digital marketing and communications background has driven the repositioning of European spirits brands and brand leadership of Viacom, Banana Republic and Sony.
The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the authors alone and do not represent those of CBS Small Business Pulse or the CBS Corporation. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are verified solely by the authors.