Tag Archives: branding

What’s Your Story? Branding For Start-ups

At the heart of all brand-building and marketing lies storytelling. But haven’t we all learned that product is the most critical of all Ps? Yes, that remains true. However, a super product with a poor storyline is as unlikely to cut much ice as is a super storyline with a poor product. Innovation in both is important. Especially when starting out and you don’t have huge marketing budgets, and are spending most of your time fund-raising, it’s important that you develop the story very carefully.

Here are some of my thoughts. Please feel free to add to these and/or suggest modifications, or some new viewpoint.

Develop A Story, Own The Conversation

Harry’s is a shaving brand that’s shaking up a market, which has rarely seen a leader past Gillette. That’s not a mean achievement, given that this industry requires constant product innovation, expensive R&D, high volume advertising.

For Harry’s it has been a case of good storytelling. They focused on giving really awesome looking products, with a strong core of message – creative, affordable & equally efficient. This is especially true when the goal is to sell and experience, whether that’s shaving or selling groceries. And when, the story is strong it reflects in every aspect of your value chain – factory shop floor to customer’s shelf.

The customer should feel compelled to talk about it. Therefore, it might be instructive to create engagement that creates conversations. These engagements can be as simple – for example: in the context of shaving, style competitions or creating a National Shaving Day after ‘Movember’. (Harry’s does the latter, but also goes the slightly expensive route of having its own salons, creating a magazine, etc)

Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

As we said in the beginning, the story should reflect in every aspect. The same should most importantly flow into the product or the service that your customer will be interacting with and taking home or coming back for more.

So if your story is creating a hub where musicians around the word can collaborate, then your entire product team’s innovation should be focused on the technology that will create the low latency, making available the easiest modes of recording, creating a pipeline that will compress and decompress data in sync with available bandwidth, etc.

Create your own space for growth. Do good, good will happen to you – take the case of Warby Parker which distributes free glasses to those in need, apart from selling quality, designer eyewear at affordable prices. It gets them huge brand equity, because there is a very unique story to tell – one that surpasses all costs of distributing those free glasses. It creates customer conversations, it creates brand innovation and it definitely creates revenue.

Create a product/service that is truly needed; not just one that will try to chase share in an already existent market.

Don’t Feel Shy of Highlighting Your Expertise

So you feel you have stumbled upon something new that the market needs? Good for you. But why is yours the only team that can do it? Maybe you might have some kickass coders, some brilliant marketers, a rainmaker from heaven, the best guy handling finances and the best VCs backing you.

So once again, please do tell your story. Don’t feel shy of telling the world how great you are. It’s a mistake that a lot of people make – they equate marketing of their individual expertise as boasting. It’s not.

Share Insights, Help People Decide

We are all here to buy and sell services/products and we all want to make informed decisions. Whether you are in the field of mobile technology or food, share your knowledge. Tell people what’s happening around the world, what are the latest improvements in technology, what are the latest trends in menu designs, why X is better than Y, or why customers should opt for Z.

Be the thought leader. Let your potential customers feel comfortable in the knowledge that you know your stuff. Let them feel sure that they are going to be investing in the right product/service.

This is not just about maintaining blogs, tweeting, or having an active Facebook page. Try to be out there at conferences, or if no one invites you, create mini audience-connect sessions of your own at the nearby café.

Ultimately, it’s about positioning your expertise in as helpful a way as possible.

Creative Execution – Flexible & Shareable

Creatively, you do need to go the entire path. The level of creative execution depends from sector to sector and story to story. Be careful about the visual identity and brand language that permeates all stages.

Communicate a single end-to-end experience. It’s very important to establish the mood in your creative execution that fits exactly the story you are trying to tell. Not any more, not any less.

Also, while crafting the creative strategy – think about the future and be careful while creating the story and positioning. You might want to add certain verticals to your business at a later date. In that case, the brand name that you choose, the logo that is designed and the communication that is drafted must leave enough leeway for the audience to connect with even your extended business line at a later date.

Needless to say, plan upfront with your agency, but keep the freedom to do something different. An elaborate storyboard might lock you into something, even if the final product is not in the right direction. That doesn’t mean you micro-manage the creative agency – some rough sketches before shoots work best but after that let their brilliance take over.

Creative content generated must be inspirational, aspirational and easily shareable. The last one is very important these days. Even your website must evoke the same emotions as your story and rest of the creative.

Lastly, of course, plan your campaign release well – media, timing, regions, etc.

What Should Uber’s Response Be?

I really don’t envy Uber’s management these days – especially the CEO and General Counsel. As in all brands, there’s a positioning game that you play for a short while by portraying yourself as a brash, fast growing, and arrogant, young company that really only cares about growth. But as a long-term, sustainable strategy it may not have enough legs – unless supported by plenty of checks and balances of, among other things, egos.

These headlines and the map (sourced from Bloomberg) will be giving the entire management some food for thought and hopefully, they will come up with a long-term measured response:

  • Uber Under Attack Around The Globe: Wall Street Journal
  • Uber Needs To Say More Than I’m Sorry: Marketplace.org
  • Uber In The Middle of A Social Media Whirlwind: Exchange4Media.com
  • Things Are Going Downhill Fast For Uber: TheDailyBeast.com
  • Uber Drivers Hit With Penalties: The West Australian
  • City of Portland Sues Uber: Forbes
  • Uber Under Pressure As More Bans & Lawsuits Loom: BBC
  • Uber’s Plot To Spy On Reporter Is Latest Controversy: USA Today
  • Chicago Police Investigating Allegations That Uber Driver Assaulted Female Customer: Chicago Tribune
  • Uber Driver In India, Accused Of Rape, Faces Other Charges: New York Times

uber

We are dealing with a company which has been valued at almost $40 billion recently. The least that the organization can do is own up to its shortcomings, raise its hands and apologize. But it should not just stop there. It should then start to clean up its act, change its business practices and very importantly, learn that each country is a different beast. In order to thrive, and not simply survive, it needs to take into account the dynamics of the host country.

It cannot be an action as farcical as British Petroleum changing its brand and logo BP.

Uber needs to invest some of that hot PE money into good crisis managers (not PR guys), especially given the pace at which it has grown. In countries like India, where there is a dearth of reliable data for its citizens, Uber must make that extra effort and invest in background checks & fix GPS trackers in cars. I’m sure it won’t cost the company even a fraction of the $1.2 billion it recently raised.

It might even be HUGE brand victory if they were to rethink their current Terms & Conditions which absolve them of any wrongdoing by the so-called “third party provider”. A protection, even a limited one, could act as a good service differentiator.

Now it’s up to the management to either get some good PR people to spin another story or to roll up their sleeves and go back to the market more humble, but equally confident & ambitious.

Social May Be Sexy, But Advertising Is Not Dead Yet

In my day-job, I identify and engage with organizations which are creating new conceptual businesses or redefining the market segment that they operate in. The end goal of this is to create a new leader / ‘superbrand’ in every category by virtue of investments in advertising.

However, therein lies the conundrum – is advertising alone enough to build a superbrand?

But first, let us be clear what a ‘superbrand’ is. Is it simply the brand that sells the most or advertises the most, has maximum recall? Or is it the one that sells the most without much advertising effort? Perhaps it’s the one that identifies an entire product or service category or maybe it’s merely the one that has been there, in your face, for the last dozens of years… Whatever it is – it could one or all or a mix of the parameters mentioned here – one thing is for sure; a superbrand is one that evokes a strong passion. It is a product or service that people flock to purely to see it, feel it, revel in its company, enrich their lives with it, and most of all spend a moment of their lives living it.

We are talking of winner take all markets. And these may not typically be built on the basis of advertising alone. The reason being advertising or any other above-the-line activity is practically a one-way street. You really don’t create the network externalities that are required for either mass adoption or mass reverence. The problem with depending solely on advertising is that after a point it creates dissonance. Unless a clever creative breaks the clutter, advertising alone can rarely cultivate large scale & long-term loyalty.

But yes, when you are setting out to creating a brand (with the ultimate goal of getting to be a superbrand) advertising is definitely an effective tool to encourage trials, inform people, and many of the other attendant benefits that we have all learnt in school.

However, one aspect holds true – access to deep pockets to fund high frequency & high impact advertising does create competitive barriers. It also causes competition to step up on the ad pedal themselves. But if you are the entrant with the deep pockets, you need to first sort keep your supply side geared up for bursts of new trials, you need to prime your communication to keep evolving as and when newer entrants take to the battlefield and you need build a strong dream for your stakeholders to buy in – both consumers and investors.

So yes, while many branding gurus will debate till the cows come home about the virtues of advertising vis-à-vis going social, I would say just one thing – one does not come at the cost of the other. If you are already higher up in the “branding curve”, I would say, by all means try other cost effective and viral methods of staying relevant because the marginal utility of above-the-line advertising would be very low. However, if you are an ambitious organization still in the commodity or quasi-brand level, you should perhaps start with advertising and habituate people into communicating with you on a daily basis.

What’s your view?

How To Build Businesses Out Of Thin Air?

Can a business be built on bare-bones capital requirement, yet is profitable, scalable and captures emerging trends?

Many companies have been able to do so – at least in the initial stages (think any of the dotcoms that have today become huge valuation games). But once they grow out of the initial stages, the costs start catching up. Conversely, there are equal examples of companies that have incurred high initial costs (even for many years) but have now evolved high margin business units that practically run large annuity businesses with almost all if being free cash flow (think of the Disneys, Virgins and luxury brands).

One such business philosophy that comes to mind is brand licensing. First, you need to have a strong trend to capitalize on; one which will change consumption patterns. Next, you should have the ability to incur an initial period of high costs related to brand creation, brand establishment, product making, distribution, etc. However, once the brand saliency has been established in the market, the capital costs can be cut drastically and the brand could be extended both horizontally and vertically.

This way, the risk of manufacturing, selling and marketing rests with the licensee, and the licensor can earn steady cash flow. But one needs to ensure that the brand is being extended into correct categories & price points, that the licensee’s ethos matches that of the licensor and that the investment in marketing & branding continues unabated.

There are many attendant intricacies, but I shall leave those for another day. For now, I need to go to the drawing board and see if I can rustle up a viable plan.