In below article, Rebekah Iliff, Chief Strategy Officer at AirPR, discusses the intersection of branding and PR; an intersection too obvious to ignore, yet one that remains ignored too often. With her permission, and as my book is being referenced throughout (well, thank you!), I now like to share her thoughts with the readers of The New Brand Post. It goes something like this:
Without intending to, a company’s departments sometimes end up working in ineffective silos. A tech team without communications professionals can’t shed light on their achievements uber-effectively. An innovative ASMR advertising campaign can’t get many kudos without public relations, and the news of a rebrand can’t spread as fast organically as it can with media outreach. Stitching together cross-functional teams leads to greater innovation and opportunity.
At the same time, there’s a bit of a stigma about bringing too many cooks into the kitchen. Does your art director really need to help approve the imagery you’re sending to a journalist? Does your public relations department really need to know if the copy team is writing a spur-of-the-moment April Fool’s Day display ad before it goes live? In both situations, the answer is yes.
It may take longer to loop in other teams, but it’s worth it. Which brings us to two teams that frequently overlap without many people realizing it: public relations and brand strategy. These teams are often severed from contact, even though it’s paramount that they work together. Together, they are more effective, as both teams deal with messaging, public perception and customer touch points.
Fabian Geyrhalter, Principal and Founder of Los Angeles-based design and branding agency FINIEN, recently released the second edition of How to Launch a Brand, which covers everything from brand positioning and naming to brand identity. He’s launched more than 50 brands – large and small – and knows that brand strategy is more effective when it’s backed by an integrated PR and communications plan. Here are three ways public relations and brand strategy teams are related and why it’s important, according to Geyrhalter, a fellow Forbes Agency Council member.
While copywriters, often living on branding or creative teams, work to align copy with a brand’s voice guidelines, public relations teams align messaging with a brand’s key ideas. In that sense, branding/creative and PR teams are the two wings holding a company accountable for what it communicates to the public, from board members to customers and journalists.
“Consumers respond to brands that have a coherent and straightforward message,” Geyrhalter writes in his book. “Equally important to your message is selecting a distinctive voice and persona for your company. The audience demands authenticity, and your brand’s voice must be authentic and transparent.”
As an executive at a PR tech company, I see Fitbit as a successful brand that has these teams in coordination. Think about Fitbit’s brand voice: It’s clear, concise, encouraging and motivational. If copywriting contradicts the foundational messaging a PR team is using, misalignment occurs and it can chip away at credibility long term. Imagine if Fitbit sent you a marketing email encouraging you to get a few extra thousand steps in today, while its CEO was quoted in a popular health magazine saying steps don’t matter, only calories. Customers may not notice, but journalists likely would; “misaligned” isn’t a way you want your brand to be perceived.
While copywriting and graphic designers and/or UX design control public perception of a brand from a customer standpoint, public relations and communications teams control public perception from the standpoint of investors, board members, influencers (from journalists and analysts to bloggers), and more.
It’s like the two sides of a vanity mirror. On the magnified side, PR people share intricate details with the press who view brands under a microscope. The other side shows a clear, customer-facing view of said brand. Both are needed in order to properly display your “face.”
Both branding and public relations teams give companies real, human faces through characters and spokespeople, some of whom are real employees, some of whom are figments of our imaginations.
“Characters give the audience someone to root for and follow,” writes Geyrhalter, referencing Mr. Clean, Virgin’s Richard Branson, and Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” as personalities that have garnered impressive followings.
Natural foods brand Kashi is another example Geyrhalter mentions in his book. Kashi has taken a different approach in leveraging its real employees as brand ambassadors, showcasing how its actual team members live and breathe the Kashi lifestyle.
“Thinking of your brand as a person will help you create an authentic voice that will connect with consumers,” writes Geyrhalter. He suggests writing a list of adjectives that describe your brand or writing a faux obituary that includes a list of life accomplishments to better illustrate these personas. How would the brand persona be remembered?
In public relations and communications, real spokespeople – from CEOs who can speak to high-level strategy to CFOs who can talk publicly about financial matters such as an IPO behind a brand are what the public and journalists want (versus boilerplate messaging penned by a PR professional).
Next time you’re poised to launch a PR campaign, perhaps take a moment to ask yourself if the brand is represented fully in every aspect of your company’s outward facing narrative. In other words, are you certain that brand and communications are effectively working together?
Chances are, if you’re a startup or a small business, at some point you’ve asked yourself: “How do I effectively launch my brand?”
While there are quite literally hundreds if not thousands of ways to get the word out these days, the truth is, unless you have a solid foundation from which to launch, your company could very well end up face-down on the pavement. In other words, if your brand lacks the necessary qualities to attract and retain loyal customers you may need to rethink your strategy.
As someone who constantly thinks about these things, I thought it would be fun to sit down with my friend and branding-savant, Fabian Geyrhalter, Founder and Principal of FINIEN. His Los Angeles-based consultancy specializes in turning ventures into booming brands. I’ve had a front row seat to his genius over the last few years, and watched brands he’s advised go from “zero to hero” in a very short period of time. Some have become market leaders, while others have sold to huge companies. Although his branding prowess wasn’t the only factor in these successes, I have no doubt it played an important role.
So whether you’re looking to refresh a brand you dreamt up three years ago or are starting from scratch without a website your business can call home, listen closely to what Fabian G. has to say. Here, I pick his brain on all things branding, positioning, and what you need to be successful in today’s digital world.
P.S. – He recently released the second edition of “How to Launch a Brand”, a step-by-step guide to crafting a brand, from positioning to naming and brand identity. It’s, pretty much, a must-read for anyone developing their own brand (which is basically everyone when you think about it, given how personal branding plays into individual’s professional careers today).
Rebekah Iliff: How many startup brands/companies have you worked with over the last several years?
Fabian Geyrhalter: In the last 3 years perhaps 50, in different capacities. The diversity in the brands we help launch is really what gets me up in the morning and why I dedicate my professional life to doing what I am doing. We helped craft a croatian underwear brand, a workers comp insurance disruptor, a VR brand, a winery, and then of course the expected fair share of apps.
What is most exciting is getting our heads into the minds of these highly diverse consumers and users and diving into the soul of these brands and connecting the two. Most founders are too close to their product, they built a tall wall between themselves and their product and the other side, the one that is so important, the consumer. It is usually mainly psychological – they have not moved an inch from their screens, so they are a bit disconnected from the ones using the product. I talked to a tech startup that worked on a product for moms and their toddlers. I asked them how much time they spent having coffee with moms or playing with toddlers. I received a deer in the headlights stare back. It was awkward; mainly for them.
RI: Why is it important for companies to think of their brands as having a Soul?
FG: A product that competes on price and features alone can never become a brand. A company that has soul does not need to compete on price; ever. Soul is what connects a product or service to a human’s emotion; a soul searches for a soul. We buy Patagonia and TOMS for a reason, and it’s not because of their product.
RI: What other brands do you think have a soul and why?
FG: Yes, there are the Patagonias and TOMS, but there are many startup brands that do it very well also. One I love to cite is Shinola. Born out of necessity and belief, the brand is fueled by authenticity and it found a great voice for itself that directly sparks emotion with their audience. I just spent $280 on a Shinola wallet last week. I did not think once of cross-comparison shopping. It just felt right. It was an all-brand purchase, solely emotional.
When that happens with a very young brand, then you know someone’s done their homework upfront when crafting a brand.
Another example would be Topgolf who realized that if they focus deeply on the target audience they would find the holy grail to generate revenue as a golf startup in a landscape where golf is known to be on the way out, not being able to connect with millennials. Topgolf created spaces to hang out, guys have craft beer and watch the games, ladies can wear high heels and sip cosmos, and everyone can enjoy instagram-happy lighting – and golf is something that happens in the background. They must have looked at bowling and realized that it’s a perfect recipe to get kids to start liking an ‘old’ sport again. It’s about them – and about socializing, in a way that works particularly well for that new audience. That is soul: soul searching in order for souls to connect.
RI: There has been a shift to brands focusing on “Purpose.” What’s the easiest way to incorporate Purpose into your brand, even if you’re a young company?
FG: The easiest way is to look at what your brand stands for, what is the WHY behind your brand: Why does it matter to have this product in this world at this point in time and for the long term and why will your audience deeply care? There is an intersection that will point towards a social cause that can be utilized in an authentic way to manifest that the purpose of the product/service goes deeper than generating sales. That is the easiest way since you asked for that; one that over the past 5 years has become somewhat of a staple for startups founded by millennials as ‘purpose’ is already ingrained in their thinking: “We don’t work for money alone, money is a necessity but not the reason why we are going into the workforce.” Multiply that by ten when they start a business on their own where the sky’s the limit, and the true north is up to their imagination.
In times of great political fear and danger, this generation of entrepreneurs is a shining star on the horizon, and I am grateful to be able to spend my days working with inspired, soulful people like that.
RI: In your book, you talk about Brands that have successfully made people an important part of their strategy. What is the advantage of doing this, over simply having a brand like Coca-Cola without a person attached to it.
FG: It’s a very strategic move that I discuss in my initial workshop with founders: How far do you want to, need to, or should you be the brand as a person? There is a clear danger to have a person be too closely tied to a brand, as was the case with American Apparel when things go sour, or it could simply hinder a smooth exit strategy. Most often founders are deeply tied with their brands.
The extreme is a Richard Branson, but on the other side of the spectrum you have a John Mackey (of Whole Foods), who only people in the business community know, despite him being the brand as a person. Ultimately, you can be the brand as a person in different ways. Many of my clients have several people that speak on behalf of the company. One faces the public as the creative force, the other as the business force, etc.
Rule of thumb is don’t name your business after yourself and don’t promote yourself more than your product, unless you are a consultant and you defacto are your business.
Even when I talked to a young and rising fashion designer I advised her to steer away from using her name and amplifying her image as part of the brand, even though we all know she is the sole designer. More often than not it causes brand turmoil down the line and is sparked mainly by ego, and believe it or not, egos have no place in a startup. Your startup is not about you, it’s about them – the ones that will buy your stuff. Think of them, think like them, don’t think about yourself.
RI: Why do you think so many early stage companies skip the Brand aspect of the process?
FG: One part lack of knowledge and understanding, one part negligence. Shake it in a speed-to-market way and top it off with self-funding and you have the Anti-Branding cocktail. It has a bitter after taste, guaranteed.
And this really is the reason why I wrote “How to Launch a Brand”. I wanted to create awareness and provide a step-by-step process. Affordability is not money alone, it’s also time. They can take an hour and a half and read the book and be aware and educated, or take a day and work through the workbook edition and get a lot of the important brand thinking done themselves. Some things they can do for themselves, some things (like creating the logo) they should leave to professionals, but even if they just listen to the 2.5 hours of the audiobook, at least they have a great understanding of the process and of the issues that can occur, steps not to miss and what to do at what time in the process.
I tell tech startups that branding is the first feature to which their audience will ever be exposed. That usually is a wake-up call.
RI: What do you think is a fair investment in terms of what an early-stage company should be spending on branding? For a resource-constrained startup, what makes sense?
FG: Early stage is such a loose term in this soon-to-come-bubble, but if they are working on a startup that they know they will invest a few years into and they will launch in a serious manner, they have to put aside a marketing budget and 40k should be the minimum to be allocated to crafting a meaningful brand strategy, name, voice and overall identity. For bootstrapped startups it can now be cut to $34.95 for the workbook I just released. Wink wink.
RI: Can you measure the ROI of a well-developed Brand?
FG: If six months after launch you have loyal followers, you have a tribe that posts for you in social media, that wears your pins and sports your logo, then you can definitely say that the investment into branding was well worth it. If you land a major investment because of the story and the professional deck and the amazing design from the inside (app/product) out (logo/site), then you should allocate a fair share to branding as well.
If your brand goes viral six days after launch because your name offends an entire country, people talk more about how weird your logo is than about your actual offering and if the few people within your target group, whom you force to look at your site don’t get what you do and why they should connect to it at all, then you most likely should point a finger (a specific finger) towards the brand folks.
Naming a company, any company, is not an easy task.
Branding is the first thing your audience will be exposed to, that is especially true when it comes to the name. A name you can’t re-launch like a campaign, a site or even periodically a logo. You better not change it at all. It’s like with your child; you can advise on clothes and friend choices as they hit puberty, but that name you gave them, that will stick forever. So yes, it’s very, very darn important.
Late last week I was contacted by LAist about the (by now infamous) name Tribune Publishing gave itself in a (presumably) hasty re-branding exercise, given they were in a legal battle. Below is what I shared with the reporter, and now with you:
Here are some of the many rules I apply when crafting a company name and here is how our new f(r)iend tronc measures up:
#1 Short and easy to pronounce, easy to spell
Got that one right…yet many will misspell it as ‘tronk’ based on ‘trunk.’
#2 Available .com
I hope that’s not the look of a large publishing group, so they might still be in talks to purchase the domain. Oh, wait, it actually is the real tronc. Maybe we should move the conversation over to talk about the logo at this point? Makes me wonder, does this site work in Netscape?
#3 Passes the Google test
They got enough press very quickly that they dominate the first page on Google. If we do an image search we can not see the tronc for the tree trunks though.
#4 Tells a story
You tell me! OK, “Tribune Online Content” does not qualify as a story.
#5 Stands out (but not too far) from competitors
Surely stands out, but quite sure that it’s way too far.
Given that this re-brand came out of a lawsuit, this name is the result of a lean startup-style ‘speed-to-market’ naming exercise. As with most startups, this rush shows and backfires quickly. Sadly, a respectable company that needed to move away from its naming issues and signify very different benefits and changes to its audience, instead hit branding rock bottom.
It is of course very easy to jump on the re-branding trash talk wagon quickly, despite it never being fair not having been part of the process and understanding all the underlying reasons and restrictions. With endless trunk, junk, Tron and Trump jokes on the way, it does feel like this will be a trunk show that won’t be too exclusive, nor end anytime soon. This one surely is justified and I am whole-heartedly riding on that brand trash talk train (as it is indeed kinda fun).
Find them on Nasdaq starting 06/20 under the ticker TRNC – might as well have called it that; would have resonated with the same audience that would ‘dig’ tronc. And that audience ain’t theirs.
CATEGORIES: Blog Startup Advice Your Brand Launch: Naming
I see this sign every time I drive to my gym (I leave it up to you to guess how often that is, but let’s say it’s not as frequent as it should be). A tire company put it up and it always makes me smile and think about how wonderful of an industry I am working in; being able to collaborate with innovators, playing a part in what’s next, shaping the future one brand at a time. That sign also shows how, as an invention, the electric car category had to re-invent everything, including the industry terminology. (Electric cars do not have gas pedals, they have accelerator pedals).
And this brings me to my point: If you are starting an inventive, innovative – or may I even use the term – disruptive brand, does your visual (or verbal) identifier indicate that? Is your brand identity in line with your product or service, or is it falling right smack into the ‘Silicon Valley Crap Trap?’ What is that you ask?
Let me visualize it for you:
Now that is the Silicon Valley Crap Trap (pictured a few years back, a more modern take can be seen here).
All of these companies were innovative tech startups, all were real disruptors (yes, even vimeo). They worked hard to kick the status quo in its behind with their products, yet why did they all look the same, in that same crappy and uninspired way? Lack of money? Lack of inspiration? Lack of design skills? None make a good excuse given these are driven and highly talented entrepreneurs with a big vision. The answer of course is their determined focus on product (and product alone) that leaves all else, including the first thing people will see – the branding, crumbling in the dust.
Think about it (and this is where you come in): You are here to change things, to propel things forward. Shouldn’t your brand identity ache to stand out from the ‘competitors’, the landscape, the segment – just the way your product/service does? You can tell most of below brands from the unique shapes mixed with the specific color of their logos alone. Now picture a blue script font and ask: Which early tech startup comes to mind? Tough call…maybe Skype? Twitter? Any of the pictured above?
So let’s recap:
Your disruptive FinTech brand can not have a bank logo. Makes sense.
Your unique coffee bean brand can not have a hip coffee shop logo. Yup, we’d agree.
Your innovative…and on it goes – you get the point: Don’t fall into the trap and have your logo do what everyone else in your industry is doing unless your brand is doing exactly what everyone else in your industry is doing, in which case I digress and leave you to climb a mountain and ponder the bigger issues.
Creating a positioning statement, a mission statement and a vision statement. Not to mention the mighty elevator pitch. It can drive Founders of new, and CMO’s of not so new ventures completely insane.
How much do they really differ? Which comes first? How do I translate one into another? Does anyone really care, or will I only create statement confusion, brand angst or promise dizziness amongst my team and my audience?
Start with these 2 steps in order to not go insane while you craft what really should be a wonderful A-HA experience for yourself and your team:
You won’t use your positioning statement ever; in public that is.
Yet, this is the very sentence that will drive everything about your brand. The positioning statement is your brand in a one sentence statement. It’s not a quick read (most often it’s a mouthful) and it is not meant to be outward-facing. This one is for your eyes only. It is crafted so you can base any and all other brand statements on it. It is everything about your brand: The who, the how, the what and the all-important why. A business plan disguised in a brand coat.
Once you have the positioning statement noted, translate it into a vision/mission statement combo. Yes, in my eyes they can be one and the same; it’s all you need.
When you think about the mission you are on, it can, and should translate into the big vision, or the ‘true north‘ you foresee for your brand. Make it easy for people and create one powerfully inspiring statement that is built on the ‘why’ – anything happening after the ‘because’ from within aforementioned positioning statement.
Taking the Alzheimer’s Association as an example, albeit a bit wordy. Currently we see two separate statements on their web site:
Using my proposed approach, these could be simply morphed into one powerful brand statement:
The mission is what you are currently setting out to achieve (and often are already achieving). The vision is the big, lofty goal. One should lead to another; naturally. By doing so it does not lead to statement confusion, instead you tell the story in a chronological order; a logical order, really.
There you have it, your public brand statement, plus two helpers.
Now go spend the extra time putting the words into action. Your team will thank you.
Getting a venture off the ground is tough. Competing against similar startups and established players along the way is even tougher.
One tool to add to your ‘brand insurance box’ (you know, the things you do that make your venture a strong brand) is also one of the simplest and most valuable branding efforts you can undertake: creating a term you can own.
Below I outline 3 reasons why owning your language will leave a quantifiable mark on your brand:
Don’t come up with a term for branding’s sake, rather evolve it naturally. The last thing you want to do is to confuse your customer with strange lingo, instead you want to inform and educate. Think of industry terms that are being used within your segment by your customers – are they all clearly saying what you’d want them to say, or are some misguiding, perhaps even outdated based on the solution your venture offers? Some you might flat-out hate or poke fun at regularly for good reason.
I, for instance, hated the term ‘brand collateral’ to describe the pieces a brand uses to communicate its brand values, visuals and language to clients, consumers and prospects. During the process of writing the book ‘How to Launch a Brand,’ I demanded a better term for the visual and verbal brand communication pieces and I coined the term ‘Brand Atmospheres.’ To me it made for a much stronger and all-encompassing description that felt logical rather than confusing. I trademarked the term, linked it to our web site, named one of four chapters in the book after it and soon prospects started talking about how ‘they needed to revisit their Brand Atmospheres.’ Long gone were brand collateral conversations.
It’s not on the scale of someone asking for a Kleenex or making a Xerox of a document, but within my niche it made me realize just how much of a differentiator it became to have marked a term that is being used in conversations by prospect clients. It strengthens the brand perception and creates an immediate relationship between prospect and provider.
Maybe you have a process, a specific way of doing things? Will you call it ‘Our unique process’ or will you actually give it a unique name that describes your thinking in a better way? I named our one day brand strategy workshop for startups ‘Resonaid,’ to further describe the function of the workshop: It serves as an aid to make your brand resonate with its customer from the get-go. It turned our process into a product that is instantly tangible as well as ownable.
The unique thing you do, whatever it may be, give it a unique name. If it’s unique it deserves it; perhaps even demands it.
People trust something you truly own (up to). It not only adds importance, it also makes it unique to you, which relates to your offering as being substantial, or substantially better than the one of your competitors. Most founders start at the brand name and end at the product name missing out on all the terms in between, which establish trust along the way of the decision making process.
Creating a lingo is like your own secret language, which won’t remain a mystery for long. It’s like writing with invisible ink, only that everyone will ask you to see it. Everyone will want to be ‘in the know’ and once they are, they will be darn proud of it. They have a sense of belonging. They don’t grab donuts at Strange Donuts in St. Louis, no, they grab dones. They call me and ask for a Resonaid workshop, not about the ‘brand creation’ workshop.
Adding intrigue to a brand is every marketers goal. Usually that involves big campaigns on even bigger budgets. By adding unique nomenclature to your branding efforts, you hit that intrigue mark on a much tighter budget.
While other startups try to become ‘the Uber of their industry’ why don’t you take the direction of becoming ‘the Kleenex of your industry’ instead? They will call you by your name. Promised.
It’s not that you don’t need to think about your elevator pitch, but I want you to think differently about it.
Like everything in your business, you should not focus on the what, when and how initially, but think about the why instead. You are seeking a specific outcome. What is that outcome? The answer is simple: You need to get people to understand what you do and you’d like them to care about it; perhaps care enough to start seeing you as a prospect to conduct business with, but at the very least enough to continue the conversation with you rather than dashing away towards a more interesting crowd – the crowd that does not pitch them, but that stimulates meaningful conversations. That is the kind of crowd you need to embody.
Why should a good conversation include a trained, and most often awkward, pitch? Don’t spend time writing your elevator pitch line, instead think about how you could trigger a question in the person that asked about what you do. Don’t make it into a question (because that really is a pitch), but into a statement that triggers a question.
Don’t craft a monologue sentence about your venture’s operations and target audience, instead think about how you would tell a new friend after a long dinner (potentially with a few alcoholic beverages involved) once they ask ‘So what do you do for a living?’ I bet the answer would not be your trained elevator pitch, instead it would be a very casual and passionate way of stating that thing you do to generate income. Simple and honest. A continuation down the dialogue road that you have already situated yourself on. It takes time, energy and sometimes gut to engage in, and continue, a meaningful conversation with a stranger, especially in business settings such as conferences and summits.
Don’t let the elevator pitch kill what you have established.
When I re-positioned my design and brand agency (Geyrhalter & Company) into FINIEN a few years ago, I initially took the same (wrong) path down the elevator pitch road. Here is how that sounded: ‘We are a specialized brand consultancy creating brand strategy, brand names and brand identities for new ventures.’
No! Boooring. Oh boy, there must be many of those consultancies. It sounded great on my plane ride to the conference. Yes, I noted it down and memorized it; it truly was my elevator pitch. Then I tested it in social settings and it was awful. No one, seriously not a single person, cared.
After lunch that day I changed it to: ‘We make sure startups get branding right from the get-go’ – Ha! Interesting. – That’s cool. Tell me more. – Boy, that truly is a real pain point you are solving.
During evening activities that day it changed to a bolder ‘We ensure startups don’t screw up branding’ and it was an instant hit (with follow-ups turning into actual clients).
Simple, personal, interesting. Created to continue a conversation, while moving it towards how I can be of assistance to the person I was not pitching, but simply chatting with. I did not stutter through a memorized statement (that’ll be an elevator pitch), instead I created a very simple conversation starter.
Just like with all things branding, you have to be interesting in order to have someone be interested in you. So skip that pitch and think of the easiest, shortest, most casual and distinct way you can say what you do that only begs for one single outcome: the amicable continuation of your conversation in context of your brand.
Brand Positioning is an art form. It is essential to the success of your venture and it is a topic we have given you plenty of guidance on. Even when it comes to something as important as positioning, just like with most things branding, there are definite fads happening. Recently these dangerous turns in brand positioning have hit actual brand names, which we all know can not change easily over time. That kind of positioning, in a nutshell, sounds something like this:
“We are the best. Seriously, we are.” Oh crap! No, you are not.
Everyone thinks their product is the best, but the market will tell you if in fact you are the best. You don’t tell the market that, the market tells you that. It seems like a no-brainer, something no branding expert needs to call out, especially given the joined consensus of the next generation of buyers (to avoid the M-word) that believe in inclusivity, honesty and modesty. Yet we have seen a flood of new brands positioning themselves as being the best through their actual brand names over the past years. In doing so, there is no turning back for them and their ‘strategic’ cockiness.
Especially in the snack food arena, ‘greatness’ in name positioning has overwhelmed the market place. Here’s a sampling of four such brands that I ran into at the market the other day:
Despite their often superior ingredients, and sometimes great taste (sometimes the opposite), naming a new product ‘way better,’ ‘perfect,’ ‘epic,’ or ‘the best in the world,’ falls nothing short of uninspired.
That is one thing.
More important though is the fact that consumers find it hard to believe a new brand can make such claim. Naming your product in an overpromising manner will attract highly critical customers from the get-go. Guaranteed. And many who will mock you. Your strategy is asking for it. And very likely you won’t be able to satisfy their appetite for tasting ‘the best’ to them as that is solely depending on individual tastes. Such statement coming from a brand itself as part of their brand name does not gain trust and nearly assures that a let-down is imminent – especially for startups that lack shelf-space and marketing dollars to hope for intrigued one-time buyers potentially turning into converts.
If consumers are looking for the perfect snack bar, the best cookie or way better snacks (and who isn’t?), fulfill their quest instead by providing specific guidance on facts, ingredients and testimonials through your brand language and marketing campaigns. It is a safe guard to ensure that your product in fact will live up to their unique expectations. Instead of describing what you think differentiates your product (or makes it float high above the rest) in your brand name, position your brand name as one that consumers like to talk about without feeling funny or being ridiculed. It will spare you of the same fate.
(Pretty epic advice, right? Without a doubt the best post in the world.)
This post has not much to do with branding, but it is a topic that I know a lot of startup founders are secretly struggling with, regardless of age, and it puts a huge bump into their road to success. Let’s change that.
I run a brand consultancy that advises new ventures on a distinct and definite brand direction to take. We name new ventures – from any vertical – that don’t have a single customer yet. We create a fictitious target audience and we craft a name to work for them. A name that will soon be used by thousands of actual customers worldwide. We do not use focus groups, instead we base the direction on brand strategy and insights we craft and collect during the process. If the name works within our criteria we go for it and there is no turning back. Referencing Henry Ford’s famous quote – “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” – most focus groups will pick the safe option, the option that feels most familiar, an option that may not look into the future enough to have the biggest impact (For more on that, see my thoughts on TopGolf).
The minute I let go of questioning my decision, of needing proof of concept, bigger and more innovative ideas keep emerging and my clients get just as energized as myself by the opportunity to do big thinking that will immediately be implemented into their brand strategy and subsequent launch. It’s the magic moment where creativity gets delivered with confidence and is met by trust.
With experience sure comes confidence, but also with writing regularly. I learned that the more I write (for this blog, but also for Inc, Entrepreneur and others) on my subject expertise, the more it forces me to analyze my daily observations. I translate them into a firm opinion that I can send to an editorial team, knowing that thousands of people of all levels of expertise (like yourself) will soon read it and I can not have any regrets. There is no looking back. In the beginning I was literally refreshing the comments field every minute to wait for the big backlash to happen, but then I realized it does not work that way.
All it takes is trust in yourself and trust in your decisions. That trust is crucial to anyone, but for founders it is of higher importance as it directly affects the success not only of themselves, but of their startup.
As a startup founder you have to be the ultimate leader: You lead your co-founders to believe in your vision, the product, and in yourself. Then you lead investors to put money into an intangible idea, but really they too are investing in you.
Your startup, in the end, is built more on you trusting your own decisions, and conveying that to everyone around you, than it is on your idea or your product. Definitely not the added features that you spent weeks perfecting. Scrap that. Instead, perfect the most important asset of this startup: Yourself.
Start by doing this: Next time you contemplate, you take a lot of time to form an opinion, you ask everyone for their thoughts, you start to implement tests to gain big data…Stop! Step back, make a firm decision, deliver it with confidence and move on. Big things will happen.
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This article was originally published as part of my column in Inc.
A long time ago, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t ever touch upon politics in my writing. I broke my rule back in February when I was interviewed by The Washington Post on Hillary Clinton’s brand, comparing its legacy to that of McDonald’s. I sure broke my rule nicely. So here I go, breaking all my rules in one sentence, yet again:
There is something very sincere we can learn from Mr. Donald Trump.
Before you hit the comments field in rage, let me explain. ‘The Donald’ is quintessential branding in the making, and we can all witness it live, night after night.
I recently came back to Los Angeles from a three-week European vacation. As I left the U.S. for my trip, I started worrying that Trump would become the center of every conversation I’d have with friends and strangers alike. From answering the ‘Do Americans really like him?,’ the ‘Could he really become President of the United States?’ and, of course, the most dreaded, ‘What do you think’? In the end, the conversation only came up once, and instead of my expected response, I found myself somewhat defending the idea that is Trump. I was shocked.
It turns out I am actually fascinated by the Trump persona and brand, even though politically and intellectually I would like to remove myself rather far from his viewpoints. The fascination comes from something truly mesmerizing, something that has nothing to do with the political Trump brand. New and steadily growing ventures alike can utilize these 3 lessons I learned from Trump to turn into better brands — even if they otherwise grunt at the TV and look the other way when ‘The Donald’ disrupts their dinner:
A Donald brand is a Frank brand. It’s confusing, I know, but you cannot refrain from looking in awe at this man’s candor. If anyone, it should be Mr. Trump that reads off perfectly crafted scripts and not answer any unvetted questions, yet he walks on stage and goes off-script within seconds. Despite everything that comes out of his mouth (and much is met with regret by many on his team, not to mention his wife), it is his candor that makes him feel different, honest… a true go-getter. He defines showmanship through a very unique personality — raw and uncensored. That’s what today’s voters and consumers alike are aching for in both people and brands: being truthful and having the guts to give it to me straight. The days of scripted press releases are numbered. How can your brand make that switch? Clearly if Trump draws a crowd that way, your brand can achieve the same (without the drawbacks) if you speak your mind to an audience that thinks alike. By eliminating some, you will earn many others.
Rolling Stone quotes Gwenda Blair (Author of Donald Trump: Master Apprentice) saying “It’s all he does, the bragging and the repetition: It’s called branding, and he’s relentless at it.”‘ Over and over again you will hear the same statements about his money, the other — the bad — rich folks, and China with a bit of ‘bad Obama’ and taxes we should be getting from foreign companies sprinkled on top. Step and repeat. Fear of getting boring? Look at Nike’s Twitter bio today. What does it say? ‘#justdoit’ – and that’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing new — and that’s just fine. If the message was crafted with its audience in mind and is well received by that audience, stick to it. Relentlessly. Seek your hit and start playing it like Trump.
Though we may often think of Trump as far removed from reality (and his voters), he has found an audience of blue-collar working class citizens who deeply connect with him — a man who lives with a self-proclaimed and oft-questioned 2014 income of $362 million. Herein lies the magic from a branding point of view: his life is surreal, but he translates it into a reality that his audience can relate to. It’s quite magical. Marketing in and of itself is a very surreal form of communication. You assume a lot about your audience while being stuck with the point of view of an advertiser or business. Once you hit the green light on an E-Blast, a magazine ad publication or a Facebook post, you witness surreal turning into real. The more you think like the ones on the receiving side, the more real it will become. And that’s where you need to be: part of reality as a real, honest and truthful brand.
Indeed, being uniquely and truly yourself, not worrying about the haters, repeating the best stories and the ones that connect are all part of what makes great brands.
As for Donald, he may not become the next President of the United States, but he sure makes for a grand brand spectacle we can all learn from. In moderation, of course.