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Why Branding Is Even More Important For Start-Ups – 10 Tips

Posted by Elena del Valle on October 22, 2016

By Jay Gronlund,
President, The Pathfinder Group

Jay Gronlund

Jay Gronlund, president, The Pathfinder Group

True branding can be a bewildering challenge for many managers, especially entrepreneurs. Either they don’t completely understand the strategic benefits of authentic branding, and/or they assume that branding simply consists of a new name, logo and proprietary graphics. And most certainly they don’t know how to apply relevant branding principles to improve their marketing and communications, especially when faced with new competition, changing customer preferences or other market based trends.

Entrepreneurs are understandably obsessed with their new product ideas. I conducted a workshop on branding with a group of ex-MIT inventors a few years ago, and used the theme/headline (borrowed from a friend, Wayne Cerullo): “You Have a Great Product. Now Forget It. It Ain’t Enough.” In short, these brilliant entrepreneurs must do a better job researching and defining their target customer, and then creating a brand identity that will respond to their “sweet spot” with the key product’s benefits, before just pushing it into the marketplace. 

In most situations, perhaps the biggest challenge for managers is to remain open and actively seek new perspectives and creative ideas from outside their business. In particular, many entrepreneurs don’t appreciate the value of good branding for building awareness and gaining sufficient trial. Here are ten common misconceptions or questions about branding, along with suggestions that can help a start-up succeed in the marketplace:

1. Branding Is Just About the Name/Look? – Smart branding is strategic and involves a clear promise to a select target audience, making an impression that is distinct and relevant, so it involves much more than the name or design.

2. Branding Is Too Abstract – Is There Any Practical Impact for Marketing and Sales? - The brand positioning is the heart of marketing and even sales, an essential “compass” for building a strong relationship with customers in all communications.

3. What Can Branding Do To Motivate Customers? – Marketing is all about ultimately influencing the behavior of customers. They will be more inspired by a brand that offers relevant content with an emotional promise and has an appealing personality, effectively communicated in marketing and sales.

4. Can Smart Branding Even Enhance Social Media Efforts? – Developing and implementing an insightful brand strategy starts and ends with the target customer. Today’s Millennials are not as responsive to normal advertising, but want to be engaged. Digital advertising is the ideal medium for this, but only if what the brand offers is relevant and encourages interaction, even going viral.

5. What Emotions Are Most Important for a Brand? – This depends on the customer needs and the product/service, but generally trust, authenticity and credibility are more critical than ever today, particularly among Millennials.

6. I Have An Innovative Product – But Will Enough People Care and Buy It? – Many start-ups begin with a novel, brilliant idea, but this product obsession often overshadows the need for resourceful customer research to verify its potential. This is essential for validating a true market for the idea, positioning the product brand, offering a meaningful benefit (what will it do for me?), stimulating trial and building the business.

7. We Started This, So How Can Anyone From The Outside Help? – To sustain growth in any business these days, one must be more creative and open minded, even adding an outside dimension to “think out of the box”, often with an ideation session or similar brainstorming initiatives.

8. How Important Is Delivering On Your Promise – We are living in a new digital world where quantitative metrics are easily gathered to measure a brand’s performance, so the authenticity and credibility of any promise is absolutely crucial, especially when targeting the skeptical Millennials.

9. What Marketing Tactics Should I Use Today? There are so many traditional and digital options to choose from, but it is best to use media and content that can communicate emotions well and are engaging, such as storytelling. All must reflect the core brand personality and strategy, however.

10. How To Transition From Branding To Marketing Execution – It starts with a smart, researched brand positioning that is genuinely relevant and distinct, and then using this brand identity to closely guide the development of all creative content and innovative marketing initiatives.

Most entrepreneurs for start-ups may not be aware of the importance of these basic branding principles. And most will admit that they don’t have answers for all such challenges ahead. After all, they know their current business inside and out, and there is a natural inclination to try to improve any adverse situation within its current parameters. However, a well-defined brand positioning can serve as a catalyst for new thinking and ideas, whether in the beginning or when faced with new challenges. This is essential for encouraging people to be more creative, to seek new growth opportunities and/or to expand the appeal of their brand to different segments of the market.

Jay Gronlund is founder of The Pathfinder Group, a business development firm specializing in emotional branding, ideation facilitation and international expansion. His background has included executive positions in marketing and new product development at reputable companies in the US and abroad. He is also vice president, managing director of Latin Pulse – USA, a marketing and research firm headquartered in Mexico City. Jay teaches branding at New York Universtity, and has a B.A. from Colby College and MBA from Tuck at Dartmouth.

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