Always and Not Yet: When Brand Matters for Startups

by Patrick Woods on

As someone who has worked with many startups to develop meaningful names and brands, I’m often asked by founders, “When should I worry about my startup’s brand.”

As a brand guy, you might imagine I’d say it matters from the very beginning. And it does.

But it also doesn’t.

Internal and external realities

In reality, there are two halves of a startup’s brand. There are intrinsic realities: what you believe about the world and how you’re going to make it a better palce.

And there are external indicators of those internal realities. These include name and logo, website copy, and how you communicate with your team and with customers.

If the internal and external things are two circles in a venn diagram, brand is what’s found in the overlap.

I recommend aligning the internal and external brand elements with the stage of your company.

Beliefs matter always; external brand indicators matter, but not yet, at least not for those at the earliest stages.

Alignment occurs at product-market fit

The key turning point is product-market fit. Before product-market fit, the external stuff doesn’t matter, while the internal beliefs are essential.

Your company’s worldview guides the direction of you and your team daily. It’s the driving set of beliefs that gets you out the door to do customer discovery. To burn the midnight oil and keep the progress consistent.

But until you’ve reached product-market fit, your name and how you look don’t matter a whole lot. That’s because during one-on-one sales calls and pitches, you represent the brand of your company. You are literally knocking on customer’s doors.

However, once you know what’s working from a product standpoint, e.g. it’s clear what words and phrases resonate with customers, you find yourself repeating the same key sentences, and you’re ready to scale your marketing, then the external indicators become crucial.

Your brand leads the way

No longer can you personally speak with customers and walk them through your deck. Your brand, your messaging, and your channel partners become potential customers’ first point of contact with your company. If your name is distracting and your copy is unclear, building trust and excitement among potential customers will be nearly impossible.

Fortunately, by then, you should have a strong foundation for building the external parts of a robust brand.

For one, you have the benefit of countless customers conversations. During those, you uncovered the benefits that they love the most, along with traits the regularly rose to the top as important.

You also have the driving internal beliefs you’ve shared with your team from the outset. They’ve likely evolved, but so has your business.

Build your brand on truth

These truths—about your customers, about your product, and about you—serve as the basis for a compelling and authentic brand. What you’ll have will be so much richer than if you’d gone straight to GoDaddy on day one and tried a couple hundred URLs until you found something you thought was cool.

You’ll find your audience beginning to trust your brand, and they’ll do so because it’s based not on what you hoped you’d become, but what you have become. That level of authenticity is rare, especially among startups, and you’ll find it to be a compelling differentiator as you continue to scale.

Still need help? I’m offering free 30-minute Google Hangout office hour sessions to take questions about startup branding and messaging. No strings attached. Complete this form if that interests you.

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