5 Brand Strategy Basics for Startups

by Teresa Lagerman

Many entrepreneurs don’t know where to begin when it comes to their brand strategy. Not being a branding expert doesn’t mean you should leave it all to someone else. When clients come to us with vague ideas about their vision or bring up the dreaded “you guys are the experts, surprise me with your best work!”, I know we’re in for a bumpy ride. Not having a clear understanding of all the moving parts or being unable to articulate your vision will only cause friction.

So before you begin the branding process, there are 5 key pieces of the puzzle that you should know by heart. Once you’re able to walk someone through them confidently and clearly in under two minutes, you’re ready to go.

1. What is the purpose of my startup & how does it add value

It may seem like such an obvious question, but are you able to answer it in one sentence? I often talk to entrepreneurs who treat me to a 10 minute rambling speech before I’m able to gather what it is exactly that their company does. You should be able to outline your brand’s purpose, or reason for existing, in one sentence. Similarly, you’re going to want to have a razor-sharp pitch of your value, what it is that you bring to people’s lives. Whether it’s something emotional or a functional benefit, it should be valuable enough for people to want to bother engaging with an unknown brand.

2. What is the long-term vision for my company

In the early stages, people often fail to think about what the long-term picture is, and that typically results in growing pains. If you’re launching with one product or a limited range of services, you may run into issues down the road when you try to add new product lines, reach new audiences or expand your services. 

While nobody expects you to be a clairvoyant, it’s helpful to have a roadmap of your long-term vision. Say your company is launching with a sunscreen line. You could brand yourself as a sunscreen company and bring in touches of waves and sunshine everywhere from your name to your messaging. You know that eventually though, you want to expand to skincare, bath and beauty products. That would be hard to pull off for Banana Boat.

3. What does my audience want

As you begin to understand your audience and reinforce the value that you bring to their lives, it’s important to understand what they struggle with in your space. Talk to as many people as possible that fit your target and listen to their experiences. Draw up a target audience persona, and put yourself in her shoes. Here’s Jamie, she’s 31, newly married, no kids, she works at a healthcare startup… Try to go through the typical experience in your industry from her perspective, and describe the hurdles or pain points that she goes through. This can range from tangible and specific issues (lack of choices, high prices, cumbersome systems, etc) to more subjective things like cultural misconceptions. 

It’s easy to get so into the product development process that entrepreneurs often focus on things that don’t necessarily matter to their customers. Taking a step back and looking closely at what your future fans struggle with will help refine your product and make your value more compelling.

4. What are my strategic market opportunities

Having a comprehensive picture of your space can help identify pockets of opportunity, and also ensure that what you’re creating is relevant and brings value (hint: the world doesn’t need another Asana ripoff). Besides looking at your competition’s offerings, take a good look at their brand strategies. Do they all look the same? Do you see patterns in the way they communicate? You may be able to identify ways to stand out from the crowd if you’re the type of startup that’s bringing change to your industry (as you should be).

5. What is my brand's personality

This can be a tough one to articulate, but don’t skip it. Think about your brand as if it were a person - how would you describe them? Skidaddle is that friend who seems to know everyone, always has great stories to tell, a true social butterfly… Another helpful exercise is to think of words that apply to your brand’s personality, and then explain each one by what it doesn’t mean. Yeah I know, bear with me here. This is what I mean:

• Target is affordable but not cheap

• Mailchimp is cheeky but not silly

• Skidaddle is conversational but not gossipy

Connecting with your own brand’s personality at this early stage will not only be helpful as you work with someone on your brand strategy, it will also make it much easier for you to make decisions.

Five birds flying in the sky. Symbolic of the 5 basics of brand startup strategy.

There you have it.

Laying down this basic foundation for your brand strategy paves the way for a smoother ride going forward. Your decision-making process will be a lot more focused, and your brand team will be able to hit the ground running. Now the fun part begins!