One of the great things about a start-up company it the opportunity to create a great brand. A great brand is like a club that everybody wants to be a member of. A great brand transcends the product or service the company provides and creates its own attraction. The Customers, or members, appreciate the company for the sense of belonging it provides over and above the product’s functionality or service’s quality.
Unfortunately, when it comes to creating a meaningful brand, a lot of start-up companies blow it. They are too focused on their competition and not focused enough on their brand. Companies like these are easy to spot. Poorly-branded companies are guided by the competition. Well-branded companies are guided by their brand vision when making decisions. Poorly-branded companies create new solutions that are “better” than the competition while well-branded companies create new solutions that “fit” with the brand vision.
The benefits of a good brand, in my opinion, are twofold. First, a good brand will allow you to demand a premium price vs. the competition. Second a good brand will insulate you from competitive advances on your territory. Apple for instance, has a good brand. They are able to get a premium price for their products and they don’t sweat it when the competition comes along with something that is technically superior. Their brand provides insulation which means they don’t have to get into a price war and they will have time to come up with an even cooler new product that everyone will clamor to buy.
Over time industries establish a set of conventional standards that essentially create a set of unwritten rules for the competitive set. For instance, if you want to sell athletic shoes you have to sponsor professional athletes. Or, if you want to sell soft drinks you have to show a picture of the can dripping with cold water. Or, if you want to sell pharmaceutical products you have to show people enjoying their lives, walking on the beach or attending their grandchild’s birthday party. These are the “have-to’s” of the industry and the successful brands with break the conventions and stand out.
One of the simplest ways to break an industry’s conventions and create a powerful brand is to simply take the conventions from one industry and apply them to a different industry. For example, Lush (lush.com), is a cosmetics company that simply borrowed the conventions of the grocery industry and applied them to the cosmetics industry. The result is a very unique and powerful brand. Another great example is Le Patissier (prairiedog.com) which adapted the conventions of a French pastry shop to sell hand towels. The towels are packaged to resemble pastries and they look good enough to eat. The success of these brands is predicated on the dedication the company has to the brand vision. La Patissier, for instance, doesn’t miss a beat. Everything in the shop looks like a French pastry shop right down to the chef’s uniforms. However, eating one of their pastries would give you a serious case of cotton mouth.
When you start a company don’t miss the opportunity you have to connect with the consumer in a meaningful way and create a brand that draws customers to your product. Don’t worry about making your product better, worry about making it fit with a brand vision that creates a club worth joining.