Your brand is important. Both your personal brand and your company's brand mean a ton as it’s how people and other companies perceive you or your startup everywhere they have a touchpoint - from your personal LinkedIn page to your company's social media accounts.
Brands aren’t just names, color schemes, and logos that you create to somehow distinguish yourself in a market. It’s every impression someone has of the company.
Your company is like a person — it has a name, a style, a way of communicating, a face (or faces as in your team), friends and family in partners and professional relationships. People and companies talk about your startup, in private and online, whether it is through professional publications or social media.
What this shouldn't be is just an exercise to go through once and forget about. Your brand is the foundation for scaling your company. From finding your initial product-market fit to customer retention, growth marketing channels and more — these activities will all build off of your brand.
You also can’t build a brand without defining the consistent measures and activities to maintain it. It’s never-ending work, from building your initial brand and communication strategy to executing marketing campaigns and gathering data from users.
Research by McKinsey has shown that well-defined brands that adopt the right inbound marketing tactics are most likely to succeed, regardless of the sector they are in. While this is true for all industries, if building a digital brand (especially a tech startup) it is essential as your consumers are likely to be fully digital.
By this I mean the majority of your scalable clients, partners, users, etc are going to be interacting with your brand digitally the majority of the time. I’m not saying there aren’t conferences and events where you can interact face to face with clients and users- just the fact that their total time interacted with your brand will be digital since your product and main communication vehicles will be digital.
Now that we know that building a brand is important, how do we do it? And just as important, how do we maintain it and use it to our advantage?
We're going to walk through some exercises you need to keep in mind while build your company and brand. These exercises are valuable as a snapshot, but also are worth revisiting in on-going basis to make sure that your company and its activities continually stay aligned with your brand.
We're going to break these off into a few main sections.
- Your Customers and Their Users
- Purchase Behavior
- Brand Drivers
- Your Brand Proposition
- Refining You Proposition
Your User Personas
The first step is to start thinking about and building your user personas. User Testing defines customer personas as the following:
A customer persona (also known as a buyer persona) is a semi-fictional archetype that represents the key traits of a large segment of your audience, based on the data you’ve collected from user research and web analytics. It gives you insight into what your prospective customers are thinking and doing as they weigh potential options that address the problem they want to solve.
I believe it is also important to have three distinct categories of personas.
- Customers — This is simple. Customers are companies or people paying you for your product or services.
- Users — Users are everyone else interacting directly with your brand. This can be individuals consuming content or interacting with your social media accounts, or businesses that could be potential partners and collaborators.
- Negative Personas — These are people or companies that you don’t want to attract as a customer, or you know would never be a customer.
Now that we understand what personas are, how are they valuable?
Your personas will allow you to create appropriate content and messaging for the different segments of your target audience. Instead of sending out broad messaging for everyone you’ll be able to send different content, email campaigns, and social messages to your different personas.
When trying to move users from prospect to customer, you’ll be able to create the right content and messaging to get them to close. What does this user segment care about the most? What we'll influence their final decision?
Negative personas will allow you to filter out those who aren’t true prospects from campaigns to focus on those that are high potential buyers.
For this exercise, you’ll want to try to understand the following:
- Demographics — These are more quantitative like age, race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, income, education, and employment
- Psychographic Profile — These are personal characteristics like personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles
- Professional Characteristics — These are qualitative characteristics such as motivators, willingness to learn, communication channels, etc.
- Goals — These are both the individual and company-specific goals related to the individual or company interacting with your brand.
- Challenges — These are the challenges in the way of your users’ ability to reach their goals.
If interested in seeing some examples you can see different types of personas here:
- Venngage’s 20+ User Persona Examples, Templates and, Tips For Targeted Decision-Makin
- L&T’s 10 Examples of Detailed Content Marketing Personas
- Alexa Blog’s 10 Buyer Persona Examples to Help You Create Your Own
Answering these questions is a great way to start building your brand as a startup. Now beyond the exercise above, there are some other easy ways to gather basic data to influence your persona building:
- Look at CRM data to uncover trends in who is becoming a buyer
- Monitor your content performance in the different personas you hypothesize
- Use social listening tactics to see who is engaging with your company on social media
- Use forms and landing pages with critical persona information as form fields
- Talk to your sales team and get feedback from their conversations with different personas
- Interview your current customers or send out surveys
- Target personas via digital marketing campaigns to see who is converting
After building your personas there are two more steps in order to get a full picture of your customers and users. The first is pretty easy if you have customers — you’ll want to understand their purchase behavior. Study.com defines purchase behavior as “Consumer buying behavior is ”the sum total of a consumer’s attitudes, preferences, intentions, and decisions regarding the consumer’s behavior in the marketplace when purchasing a product or service.” Some questions to ask yourself to determine purchase behavior are the following:
- What is the average frequency of purchase in this segment?
- How long do service relationships last?
- What is the decision process that a customer follows?
- Who influences the decision to buy the product?
- How important is our customer’s user in influencing our customer’s decision to buy from us?
- How is the purchase decision made?
- Why does the customer buy?
- When does the customer buy?
You can use similar tactics to those described in the User Persona section to collect the necessary data to answer these questions. While these aren’t the only questions you should be asking, nailing these down will be a huge step in determining how your customers interact with your brand throughout the buying process.
For this exercise, we’ll be focusing on brand drivers (and not category drivers), which are the descriptors your audience associate with your business and are key in influencing the purchase behavior of your audience. While you can’t just create a brand and send it into the market, you can make sure to align brand drivers with the guiding principles and motivations behind your company, ideally creating more effective communication to users, potential buyers, and the marketplace in general.
More effective and targeted communication = revenue growth.
Leonora Polonsky does a great rundown of category drivers vs brand drivers in this article. She defines them as the following:
Category Drivers are motivations behind participation in a Category. People buy laundry detergents to clean clothes. People stay in hotels to get a good night’s sleep away from home. Ironically, Category Drivers are often not drivers of Brand choice. A hotel that emphasizes a good night’s sleep won’t get my business because all of the hotels in my consideration set provide this.
Brand Drivers determine which Brand a Category consumer will select. In Laundry, if most Brands meet or exceed cleaning expectations, this lead Category Driver may not discriminate Brand choice. Instead, drivers of Brand Choice may be scent or color protection. I prefer to stay at the Ritz because they treat me like royalty. That’s the Brand Driver and their Point-of-Difference.
Understanding your brand drivers can help you further develop the correct messaging for your users, understand and influence their decision-making process, and own your brand perception in the marketplace.
Brand drivers should be aligned with your mission statement as well as the feeling you want your users to have when they interact with your brand. If one of your users were to describe your brand, what would they say?
When trying to figure out how your brand drivers are affecting your brand and its perception, I would recommend starting by going back to your mission statement and reflect on its accuracy. While doing so you should think of the company’s long term goals, principles, and values — and list out all of the adjectives that describe the company and mission statement along with how you want your users to feel when engaged with your brand.
The next step is to take a deeper dive into how your mission statement is reflected in your brand. A great exercise for this is running through the four broader questions that Printing Impressions has laid out:
Brand Driver #1: What is the true purpose of our brand? What an organization says and does should always be the same. That’s obvious. What isn’t so obvious is it needs to deliver what no other organization can. If this first question cannot be answered in the affirmative, with distinction and uniqueness, the brand is weak and subject to diminished value and/or business failure.
Brand Driver #2: What brand promises do we make? Too many is just that, too many. Rather than throw the kitchen sink of benefits at your customers, define one to three primary promises that grow out of your brand’s purpose. For instance, if your brand’s purpose is to deliver the optimum mobile app for security, make sure your promise of the “Highest Mobile Security” is a fact that can be counted on every single time it is used.
Brand Driver #3: What is the personality of our brand? The way an organization’s employees act and sound has a lot to do with what personality is hardened into a brand’s persona. This works both for and against an organization depending on how its customers typically perceive it. A highly positive experience does a lot to cement an image and likeability associated with a brand. Likewise, a negative experience does a lot to tarnish a brand’s image.
Brand Driver #4: What is the platform of our brand? The key to answering this question begins with knowing what social and business media platforms your key prospective customers look to for informed advice. Without this informed research, this is nearly an impossible battle to win. Perhaps that’s why so many linear social media programs, although very busy, typically fail. The old axiom of rifle versus shotgun comes to mind.
If stuck within the driver questions above, some additional questions to answer that fall into those categories are:
- When someone decides to work with you, what factors do they consider?
- What are the key attributes and values that paying customers look from businesses like yours?
- What are the key needs and expectations of your customers?
- How is your business delivering on the needs of your current customers?
- How do your current client engagements affect your brand?
- Which information sources do your users look at during their decision making processes?
- What do you think customers think of your brand?
- What do you think are the most important reasons a customer chooses to buy from your business?
- What are the reasons a user does NOT choose to buy from your business?
- On a scale of 1 to 10 rate how strong you think your brand is amongst your customers. 1 is weak and 10 is strong.
A great way to think of your business proposition is that of a statement or summary of why those in your market should become users. We’ll be talking about users as opposed to buyers because the proposition should flow into every communication channel, whether towards those that interact with your brand, buy from your company, or collaborate on other initiatives.
This statement needs to be compelling. It is what conveys that you are better than the competition — whether it is related to solving a problem better, being easier to use, more reliable, more cost-effective etc.
An effective business proposition should define:
- How your product fills a need
- Communicate the specifics of its benefits
- Why it’s better than the competition (or the best out there)
Keep in mind that this also needs to be simple, direct, and all-encompassing. Your company or product might do a million different things, but what is the core problem that is solving for your market segment?
The following have been provided by the OptinMonster via their article OptinMonster’s 32 of the BEST Value Propositions. It's a great place to start so I summarized the ones I feel are helpful below.
Geoff Moore’s Value Positioning Statement
This is a bit of a long template, but it encompasses everything your business or value prop should be.
For [target customer] who [statement of the need or opportunity], our [product/service name] is [product category] that [statement of benefit].
Example: “For non-technical marketers who struggle to find a return on investment in social media, our product is a web-based analytics software that translates engagement metrics into actionable revenue metrics.”
Steve Blank’s XYZ
Simple and to the point, regardless of how your value prop ends up looking you should be able to communicate this with ease.
We help [X] to [Y] by [Z].
Example: “We help parents spend more quality time with their kids by providing parent-friendly play areas.”
Venture Hacks’ High-Concept Pitch
I would like to note that I’m not a huge fan of this actually being your business or value prop, but I do think coming up a few of these is a healthy way of understanding how someone might view your product for the first time as they tend to equate it to things they already know and understand.
[Proven industry example] for/of [new domain].
Example: “Flickr for video.”
Vlaskovits and Cooper use what they call a Customer-Problem-Solution value proposition template. this is also great for building a basic explainer deck.
Customer: [who your target audience is] Problem: [what problem you’re solving for the customer] Solution: [what is your solution to the problem]
Example: “Customer: I believe my best customers are small and medium-sized business (SMB) markets. Problem: Who cannot easily measure campaign ROI because existing solutions are too expensive, complicated to deploy, display a dizzying array of non-actionable charts. Solution: Low cost, easy to deploy analytics system designed for non-technical marketers who need actionable metrics.”
This post by WordStream goes through some in-depth examples of companies and products we already know and love. Below is one of the examples used in Unbounce:
A/B Testing Without Tech Headaches
“As you might expect from a company specializing in conversion rate optimization, Unbounce’s value proposition is abundantly clear from the moment you arrive on the homepage, namely the ability to build, publish, and test landing pages without any I.T. support. For many small businesses (and even larger companies), the perceived technical overhead of A/B testing is a major barrier to entry, making Unbounce’s value proposition particularly appealing.”
If you are looking for additional examples to help point you in the right direction you can check out Impact’s 31 Best Value Proposition Examples You Wish You Had and OptinMonster’s 32 of the BEST Value Propositions.
Refining Your Proposition
So now that we understand what the proposition is and how it should look, there are a few things we can do now and periodically to make sure that it is staying aligned with our core business activity. First I would start by answering the following questions, and keep in mind that these are things you should be revisiting over time:
- How do you define the core offering of your business?
- Is your business currently credibly delivering on this promise?
- How strong is this promise versus your competitors?
- Where would you ideally like to see the company in the next 5 to 10 years?
- What are the steps that should be taken to achieve this vision?
- Where do you think the organization’s growth will come from? (What do you see as future revenue streams?)
Next, are a few tips and things you can think about to hone your business proposition.
- Declare why specific benefits in your proposition are ‘beneficial’ - From MadeSimpleGroup "if you say ‘reinforced stitching’ on your product page for the line of hats that you design, you should actually say ‘reinforced stitching that never breaks’. The difference is subtle but undeniable. Always ask yourself why a benefit is beneficial and put that clearly on your site for a stronger proposition."
- Emphasize individuality - Also from from MadeSimpleGroup "Are the hats you design made from an unusual material? If so, that could be your angle for emphasizing uniqueness and individuality. No matter what you do – telling customers exactly why you are special is essential for your business proposition."
- Avoid fluff and ambiguity - "Tell them exactly what they get. Sign up for X and get Y. Be blunt, don’t say ‘Buy now and discover wonders you’d never imagine’ or something flowery like that. It’s just not what the customer wants."
The following are examples where company value propositions can fail:
- Not Having Proof - This one is pretty easy understand. If you are claiming your product is the best at X, or the fastest way to y, than you need to be able to back it up.
- Addressing too many customers and pain points - From Strategyser "it’s important to recognize that the best value propositions are focused primarily on resolving only those jobs, pains, and gains that are highest priority to customers. You must make deliberate tradeoffs as to which jobs, pains, and gains you will address and which you will forgo."
- Not Testing - Your messaging and value proposition always need to be tested. You won't know what resonates best with your audience unless you actually test it. You can also find which language resonates with your potential customers by using PPC ads, surveys, social media listening etc.
Going through these exercises are a great way to start understanding your brand as a startup, or realigning it as you grow. All of these things evolve over time, so make this an exercise you go through periodically to stay on the right path. By honing your user personas, understanding purchase behavior and brand drivers, and refining your value proposition you'll be able convey more value to your users, communicate effectively to potential buyers, and ultimately grow your audience and customer base.
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