When should you prioritize brand strategy?
There are many aspects to building a startup, should branding be one?
When you’re developing a business plan for your product, where do you place branding? Starting a business takes a lot of effort. There are many things to consider before you’re ready to launch and offer your product or service. I work with startups, in particular, to help them tell their story and brand. It’s tempting when you’re focused on building and getting something into the market and learn about usability to skip the branding part.
If you’re starting a product or a business plan, it’s so important to learn right away who you are and who you will serve — the why behind your product or service. One of my favorite ways to promote a startup is the story behind getting started. When I first meet a founder, one of the first questions I ask is, “What made you want to start this particular company or develop this product?” Often they have an amazing story to share, but when I look at their website, or social media, or do a google search, I don’t see the story. It gets overlooked because sometimes we forget the human interaction behind the why.
We think about marketing or branding as a way to sell our product or service, but often the most important reason a consumer or user interacts with your product is that you offer a solution to a problem that they have. Amazing UI and UX will help users navigate and love your product — these are important to product development. But what the user will resonate with before they get to experience your product is the story or empathy that brought your idea to fruition in the first place.
Innovation to form startups has to come from somewhere. Usually, you’re standing in a line and want to create a process that is more efficient than what you’re currently experiencing. Maybe you can’t find a product and you’ve done many trials in search of the perfect solution. Entrepreneurs are known for finding a personal problem they noticed either themselves or by friends or family members who complained about a problem they found and thinking of a solution to fill the gap that exists.
That story is the start of your brand. If you look at the problem you experienced, you can think about others who might face the same issue and want your product or service — this is your target audience. Your story can be the start of your messaging platform. Your brand comes from who you are and why you do what you do. The time to prioritize branding is as soon as you have the idea to start your business or develop your product.
Just like your product, branding doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to test, learn, and grow.
When you first have your product idea, you should start to apply branding around it. They should work hand-in-hand not against or after one has been launched.
You might want to have all the features in place before you launch, but that doesn’t make good business sense or good marketing sense. While you work towards your MVP, you should be building your thought leadership. Write blogs relevant to your industry or what your product will help solve so that when you are ready to launch, people already know about you and your brand.
After you launch your MVP, pay attention to users and feedback. Maybe your platform will have a survey baked into it to find out what people love about the product or what they want to improve. This will help not only your development for future features but also the content to serve your audience and attract new users.
As you develop new features or even products, that gives you additional opportunities for press or blogs and keeps your brand front-of-mind with the public and potential users. If you wait to develop your brand or content strategy until after you have a product in beta or once you have all of your features built, you will fall behind on generating buzz (and subsequentially sales).
How do you build your brand while building your product?
When you craft your reason for developing the product and making the case for it in the marketplace, make sure you think about your audience and the messaging that will resonate. This is where you can personalize the story and get to the heart of your brand and your why. This will drive much of your messaging and content. You can take pieces of the use case and story to use as quotes, infographics, Instagram stories, the about section of your website, and pitches for the press.
Before you begin building a product, you would know what features you needed and the workflow to make each happen to get to an MVP. The same is true for branding. Before you can hope to create a splash in the public and market your product, you need to strategically think about the content cadences and build up buzz about your product to show how you are knowledgeable in the industry and why you are the right solution. Instead of product requirements, you might have a content strategy that aligns with the platform and messaging needed in the right place and medium to connect to your users.
Just as you would think about user stories to build throughout different stages of development to get to your MVP, you would look at the different user touchpoints for branding. How would a person find out about your product and what action would you want them to take? What type of case studies or email campaigns would you develop to nurture them? Which videos or demos would help show the product experience and get them to understand the value or potential of the product? Having these questions asked and written down by phase of development will help align your branding.
QA testing in beta before you launch to the public can be a helpful experiment vital to success. During this, you learn where bugs exist, what needs to be fixed, you may even find additional wants to add to your parking lot. Testing before launch is important for your brand, too. You can create a landing page to sign up users to experience the beta and measure that campaign. If you’ve been writing content and talking within the industry before you’re ready to sell or fully go public with your product, you will have already established brand identity and learned what topics your potential users care about, and define who your ideal user is.
Once you’ve tested your product to a small audience, fixed any bugs and usability issues, and learned more about your target audience, you can plan a full launch to the public. Your brand will have already built up some hype and recognition, so when you’re ready to launch, media (both earned and owned) will be more receptive to covering you. This will help drive traffic to your site, build your sales funnel, and close the lifecycle length it would have taken for a customer to get to know both you and your product.
Just like building a product, sales, branding, and launches don’t happen overnight. It takes planning, testing, learning, and constantly crafting and designing to make both your product and brand leave a lasting impression.