This, I believe, is a billion-dollar question to attempt. So, let us just begin with trying to understand the need to even start building a brand.
As an entrepreneur, your first step is to begin with an innovative business idea that should ideally be well-researched and validated, then followed by establishing processes, investments, disciplines, channels, and a lot more. In this entire rollout of priorities, brand building often ends up taking a back seat and could be often considered as an activity to be pursued at a later stage, sometimes even believed not being important enough to be considered at all.
Believe it or not, this possibly is the case prevalent with many entrepreneurial ventures. Entrepreneurs usually tend to fall in love with their business idea or product. And why shouldn’t they? After all, it’s a result of sheer hard work and perseverance that has gone into it. But then, this love also tends to bring in an inherent belief that their business idea or product is extremely innovative and amazing – unlike anything else that the world has ever experienced or seen. This belief system is usually cultivated on assumptions derived from minuscule to zero research and, thereby, allows them to assume that all they need to do is to simply open it up to the world and everyone will come running for it. A fairytale setup that is, unfortunately, too good to be true.
Then, you have the other amazing league of stalwarts who develop a product or business idea which, possibly, is a clever amalgamation of multiple features, either new or borrowed, all in one. And when they are not too sure about which particular feature promises to be the most appealing to drive the brand forward, they end up strategizing plans to just launch it on the market, allowing the consumer to pass the final verdict. According to me, this would be a huge mistake – to let the consumer decide the values and personality of your brand – because this would be an opinion dictated by varying mindsets, where the decision could never be unanimous. It is important to register one thing clearly: The customer is not the brand owner, you are. Period. Though, I do agree that customer perceptions can play a vital role in determining the pros and cons of your product or business idea and can add tremendous value in its development process.
I do resonate well with high adrenaline rushes and the sheer excitement that comes along when one plans to bring a new product or idea into the market. And I am always an eager supporter of this undying, energetic, entrepreneurial spirit but I also do believe that risks should be calculative and not blind. After all, this isn’t a game of poker…or is it? One simply cannot afford to overlook strategic brand building as the vital factor in creating successful brands. Most entrepreneurs believe they don’t have the time nor the financial capability to drive this vital exercise forward. More often than always, there is also an inherent tendency to consider business or product strategies to be the equivalent of a well-defined, robust brand strategy. That’s not the case and there is a lot more that goes into a strategic brand-building exercise. It is about creating a compelling brand narrative that can define the personality of your product or business idea. It is about bringing all your stakeholders (i.e., your team, your partners, your representatives, your customers, and a much larger spectrum on one common platform) thereby building unison in the way they perceive you. It is also about creating a stark differentiation for your product or idea amongst ever-growing, tough competition and ensuring that your customers stay with you forever, irrespective of the bait laid out by others. There’s more to it and, like I always say, strategic brand building is an investment in your business that is sure to yield great results if done right.
For a while, let us just park aside from the ideal brand-building process and try to focus on what could be an alternative that is palatable to entrepreneurs who might have just about started. While strategic brand building is a continuous process and goes hand in hand with growing your business, there could be a possibility wherein you initially focus on a few important factors, to begin with. Here are a few questions that, I believe, if answered rightly, might help businesses align mindsets, create a singular vision towards one defined brand narrative, build relevance, and carve a distinctive edge to cut the clutter, generating strong brand loyalty at all times. These answers formulate the core driving principles that can create the pathway for a successful brand-building exercise.
1. What is the essence of the brand?
This is what your business stands for. It is the heart and soul of your brand and is something beyond the functional. It is the feeling a customer can expect when they interact with the brand. An intangible attribute that gives the brand its vibration and character.
2. What are the values that define your brand?
Your product or business idea needs to have a set of principles that it can bank upon. These guiding principles deliver the brand tone, its portrayal, and personality. They create a sense of purpose and direction for the brand, influence decisions, and can be the reason why you end up becoming the chosen one over the competition.
3. What makes you stand out?
It is important that you make a distinct impression to stand out from the competition. A brand differentiator can be just anything, tangible or intangible, but it has to appeal to the consumer and be both relevant as well as essential enough when someone is making a purchase or interacting with your brand.
4. Who are you talking to?
It is important to register well who is it that we want to sell our product or service to. The ‘who’ answers your target audience – a specific category of consumers who are most likely to take interest and would want to connect with you. Therefore, it becomes imperative that they take good notice of you.
5. What’s on offer?
It’s not as simple as you believe it to be. Think beyond the obvious because your brand is not just about being a product or service; it’s a commitment you offer your consumers. Products or services lose relevance with time and might require upgrades or changes, but successful brands live forever. It does take a deep dive to come to a concrete definition. Look beyond the functional – your products or services, to the ultimate commitment you have made because this is what will guarantee a long-lasting relationship.
6. How do you look and sound?
What if the brand was a person? What personality trait would it showcase? It is important to set your brand tone right and build a firm, welcoming character. After all, what you wear and how you converse do matter a lot. A brand’s tone and look should be distinct, easily recognizable, and unique. It could be inspiring, emotional, aggressive, bold, funny, casual, formal, poetic, direct, or serious, depending on what the brand deserves. Consistency is key to this process and it is integral that your brand is recognized in a disciplined manner at all times.
It would be important to make a mention once again that brand building is a continuous exercise and, while it might seem to begin with these very questions, it doesn’t stop here. Building internal alignment as well as external relevance and differentiation is a sure-shot challenge for any new business and getting it right in the initial phase of one’s journey works wonders for the brand going forward. The answers to the above questions need to be very well articulated and every single individual inside the brand circle should clearly understand them on a common note. These answers then lay the foundation to a superlative brand experience in the making and, therefore, introducing your product or business idea without addressing them correctly might well be a futile exercise in any case.
As an entrepreneur, it is expected that you should have a clear point of view about what your business or product idea stands for and what is the value that it offers. Negating personal assumptions, the bare minimum that you should focus on is to ensure that this viewpoint is derived from sincere market understandings based on consumer insights, competition analysis, and other relevant factors from a broader perspective. Secondly, it becomes even more vital that these viewpoints are seamlessly percolated down to the last mile within your organization. After all, it is them who would be the ambassadors for your brand and drive it forward and, if there’s a lack of alignment right here, how do we expect the consumers to align anyways?
Lastly, it would be good to not fall in love with your innovative business or product idea. It has been well noted that successful brands are built on a strong emotional connection. Could we all agree to a fact that real innovation has always been restrictive to just a few? What we experience on a larger canvas usually are variables to innovation, as a new approach to an existing service offering or in the case of products, end up just being enhanced or new features. For example, when we were just about getting used to cell phones with a dual-camera feature, the three- and the four-camera variants were already lined up. Today, this seems to be prevalent in most cases. Can we categorically call this innovation? Does the consumer really connect with you because of this? Tomorrow, when competition comes out with the next ‘innovative’ five- or six-camera version, you either lose your cream or keep the fight alive by launching a possible better version. Frankly speaking, consumers rarely register these things strong enough or even find them worthy of a mention, unlike you, as the creator, would do so. Novelty does build traction, though very momentary, and it tends to fade away with the next big thing, thanks to increasing competition and decreasing consumer mind space. Creating a sustainable and relatable emotional connection with the consumer does help in building a stronger brand perception.
With technology now being an enabler, it has become relatively simpler for the new-age enterprise to derive a well-defined brand strategy in place and ensure that their brand is perceived in a constant manner at all times. It is always good to keep in mind that your brand is your responsibility and taking confident steps, though at a well-defined pace, doesn’t necessarily demand any kind of large financial commitments or dedicated mind space at all.
Cover image source: Vinicius “amnx” Amano