I come across a number of so-called ‘foolproof’ steps to launching a successful startup brand. There is no such thing. There are no actual overnight success stories – those brands you hear about that leapt over huge hurdles and became market leaders within a couple of years are actually the result of luck and circumstance, an incredible concept, a forensic level of research, a considered brand and marketing strategy, and a lot of hard work.
In fact, your chances of closing down within the first few years are around 50% (ignore the unquantified and alarmist 90% statistics out there). Anyone who says they can guarantee success is lying. You’re only as good as the talent behind the brand, the product/service itself, and the market conditions at the time of launch.
However, there are some golden rules every startup must observe.
Firstly, this article isn’t about financials or operations. Consider those hygiene factors. I’m assuming you have the capital, you have a working business model, and you have market demand. The primary cause of a startup flop is general incompetence, poor pricing strategy and supplier relationships. So, let’s assume you’re competent!
According to StatisticBrain.com, one of the major causes of a startup’s decline is a ‘wasted advertising budget’. The failure of a startup can often be attributed to a lack of focus on marketing. You could have the best idea, product or service in the world, but you may still fail. Why?
So much prep work is done before a startup is launched – all centred on securing investment, approval from the relevant regulatory boards, pricing, distribution and communications. Such little work is done on the composition of the brand and what it means to consumers prior to launch. It’s often an afterthought.
Your brand is just as important as the finances and operations. Cash flow will fluctuate, but your brand equity is something that should continually grow from solid foundations. The biggest brands on earth have a capital valuation that takes into account their brand equity. The most successful companies often show a brand value comprising more than half their total market capitalisation.
Here are 7 considerations if you’re thinking of launching a brand (or looking to revisit your approach because you’re struggling):
Have a purpose you actually believe in – every product and service you launch under your brand must be true to your purpose, your mission and your vision. It’s so important, we wrote a blog about it. In the global economy and the democratisation of enterprise, there is little chance you’ve stumbled upon an undiscovered solution for the market. What differentiates you is your brand, and more importantly, your brand purpose. Two products on the shelf do the same thing, but one has a purpose that resonates with you. It could be ethical, emotional, even practical, but in buying that product it reinforces your belief and values of Self. This is a complex topic which ties in with the psychology of consumer behaviour – there are dozens of useful studies around it. It certainly can’t be summed up in a paragraph! So, read up and explore.
Position your brand in the marketplace against competitors. Where does it sit against your key indices? Price, quality, convenience, status, heritage, innovation? What is your value proposition? There are a number of really useful positioning frameworks. Some will work better than others for you. Academic works by Kotler and Keller are essential reading for any startup who needs to understand their brand. Once you have a full understanding of the market and you have solidified your positioning, you can get to work on messaging. It’s wise to do the legwork before you get to your communications strategy and creative advertising.
Be your own worst critic. Appreciate the merits of your competitors. Don’t look at your brand through rose tinted glasses. We have a habit of seeing our product/service as perfect. They’re not. There are always weaknesses in any brand and their product offering. If you can’t see them, look harder. Ask others. It’s much better to get ahead of potential weaknesses or obstacles before your competition does. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe in your product and be proud.
Know your brand personality – take the time to nurture your relationship with your brand. Understand it. How it lives. From design to advertising, and employee engagement to business partnerships. Behave in accordance with the personality of your brand.
Understand your target audience – not just demographics. Who are they? Identify your broad group, then segment them. Who is your core audience? Ensure your brand’s personality aligns with their values. You need to identify your audience to determine the best way to reach them effectively and in the most engaging way. Tap into their motives and what matters to them on a practical and emotional level. If there is a disconnect between your brand and your audience, you won’t succeed. Develop your brand once you’ve fully understood the demographic and psychographic make-up of your consumer base. Conduct research – focus groups and surveys. The smallest of insights could radically change your proposition or your strategy. Your ‘brand’ is different to your ‘product’. Find out what a brand is here.
Have tangible marketing objectives and KPIs – how do you determine success? Marketing objectives are not commercial targets. There is an art to creating progressive and actionable marketing objectives that get you there. Wanting to turn a profit is all well and good, but you need a set of steps and goals to actually get there. Start from Macro goals to Micro targets and continually measure against them. Have contingency plans for multiple outcomes – things never go as expected (for better or worse). For more guidance visit our method page.
Don’t let mistakes determine your future: as much as one can prepare and follow all of the above, there will always be hurdles, mistakes, and unforeseen circumstances. Have a contingency for this. Deploy ‘Test and Learn’ marketing ideas. If something doesn’t work, ask yourself why and move on. Just as you learn from insights, you learn from failure.
For bespoke support to launch and grow your brand, contact us at Brand Hatch.