Due to entrepreneurs’ lack of experience, many startups end up in failure. As any entrepreneur can attest, there is a lot to do when starting your own business. Many startups run by founders with little marketing experience worrythat branding is something that they are missing and need to spend moretime on. I blame Apple for this. I cringe when I hear startups tell me they need to do “marketing like Apple”. The reality is that thingsthat matter for more mature established companies are different fromthose that matter for smaller companies playing in less mature markets.
Here are three branding mistakes I think most startups should avoid:
Mistake #1: Confusing Branding with Design (and Forgetting about Awareness)
Design (particularly for your website) is important because it has adirect impact on your conversion rates and how easily people can findwhat they are looking for. Branding on the other hand is about whatpeople believe about your company, product and/or services. For moststartups, the problem is not that people have misconceptions about yourbrand, it’s that they don’t think about you AT ALL. If nobody everfinds out about you, your beautiful logo, amazing crafted “brand values” and meticulously thought-out “brand image” won’t matter (please note:Apple does not have this problem). In order to have a brand, you needto be known. The best way for small companies to get known is to havean offering that a market loves (and ideally loves to talk about).
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Mistake #2: Believing that you have Control over your Brand
Again, your brand is what people believe about your company, and it’s products. As such, it’s something that a company can try to steer in a direction but buyers will ultimately control. For example, in the past week I’ve heard Microsoft described as “evil”, IBM as “stodgy”, Oracleas “mean”, and Apple as “arrogant”. I’m sure none of these companies is spending marketing budget to support these. What a market decides your brand is about is the direct reflection of their experiences with yourproduct and company. By focusing on those you are focusing on yourbrand.
Mistake #3 – Believing that Brand Matters more than Product or Customer Service
When folks say “We need to market more like Apple” often what theyare getting at is that people will buy Apple products, even if they aremore expensive and have lesser features, because of the Apple “brand”. But startups would be foolish to think that they can win in the marketwith inferior, more expensive products because their marketing looksbetter. Apple didn’t. The beautiful marketing alone without highlydifferentiated products, a great in-store customer experience, thereputation they have built over decades for innovative, easy to useproducts, etc. etc. would not have been enough. There’s no shortcut tobuilding a great brand. You still have to do the work of buildingproducts that people love and providing customers with service thatkeeps them happy over time.
If you do a great job with customer service and product, later onwhen you are flush with cash, you can hire some fancy consultants tocome in to give your brand a face to match its soul. Your company isn’t Apple. At least not yet it isn’t.