Avoiding a Start-up Identity Crisis
By Kimberly Hansen & Lisa Silverman
You’ve recently formed a new company with a team of talented R&D, engineers and designers, developing a ground-breaking prototype product for testing and know there’s a demand from a market that needs it.
Now you’re faced with the challenge of creating not only a company identity but a product identity as well. On one side of the equation, you’ve got a product to name and brand and introduce to your customers with a solid marketing strategy. On the other hand, your company also needs a name and a brand identity to add integrity and instill confidence in the quality of your endeavor. Two very important, and sometimes, competing branding priorities to tackle, on a very limited budget.
So which brand is more important?
Your corporate brand represents the bedrock of your company. It stands for who you are, your expertise, and your vision for your product or service, and will be an integral component that distinguishes your potential for future marketing success. It is your story. It is the “who and why” of your existence. Your corporate messaging needs to speak to wider audiences, such as industry groups, agencies, partners, media and potential investors. It represents your business strategy. Your corporate identity also contains your positioning – the promise behind your brand. This promise needs to be lived from the inside out.
Your product brand represents your unique innovation, your solution to a problem, and the outcome. It helps embody the characteristics, the purpose, and features and benefits your product offers and creatively connects them with your customer to meet their needs. It is the “what and how” of your story. Your product messaging speaks to all relevant opportunities – from your channel partners to your end user – your market. A strong brand will also begin to build a relationship that will inspire brand loyalty.
All of these components are necessary to tell a complete story when launching a new company and a new product. A brand, after all, is not an item; it’s future equity. It is an idea, a promise and a philosophy that needs to be memorable, true and permeate the minds of your target market.
Whether your goal is to get to market and sell off your intellectual property, or to grow into a larger corporation, innovating additional products, launching a strong brand story starts from the beginning. Brand equity is building value behind your name and reputation, both corporately and product-level. And that value inspires trust and loyalty.
A strong product brand strategy starts with a strong foundation and includes layers that support your product’s relevance and brings it to life in the mind of your customers. The foundation starts with a unique name and descriptor for the product. Adding layers gives it life: a robust brand identity supported by logo design, and architectural components including font selection, a coherent color palette and customized graphic brand elements that support both the content of your marketing materials and keeps your branding message uniform and recognizable across all communication mediums. All of these elements combine together to set you apart and make you stand out.
Your corporate brand begins to bring your business plan to life, starting with a name that is memorable or identifiable. It defines your company’s personality and principles. Ideally you will follow the same guidelines for product branding, using uniform and consistent branding elements, fonts, logo and colors. Your corporate messaging needs to be carefully thought out and planned in advance for consistency and legal defensibility. Get your whole team on board and make sure you have a marketing manager who can oversee the consistency and accuracy of your branding and messaging, and review all content that will be released for public access.
Building Positive Equity
There is a balancing act to be managed when starting up. You lead with your strongest brand offering, whether it is your product or innovative concept, or leveraging your existing reputation or name recognition of your principles or executives. The positive equity you are able to create can help build the reputation of all the components of your organization.
So how do you avoid an identity crisis?
Always remember your brand story when communicating to your marketplace. Your company is the who and why you are there. Your product is the what you are bringing and the how describes how will it help solve the problem your customer has. Make sure the messaging you use is consistent, and the corporate and product messaging support each other’s identity and purpose.
Stories help us remember and understand new information. It holds our attention and helps us connect. Present your story through your unique brand. Your brand should be something you want to your market and investors to associate with and connect to. It’s an experience, and a belief. Investing in a cohesive brand identity will give you a better chance to own that all-important piece of your market place’s mindshare.