Why startups need a brand strategy, not just a marketing strategy

I get the pleasure of working with a lot of companies in the early phases of their business. It’s that exciting and exhilarating time, taking something that was once just a good idea and presenting it to the world. It’s ‘go time’ and there’s a lot on the line.

Conversations often go like this:

First, I hear about their business. The problem they’re there to solve. Who they solve it for. The impact it can have. I get excited by their passion.

Then I get an understanding of where they’re at in the journey, often the highs of early funding, the lows of constant pressure.

And then, we start to talk goals.

They like goals, but they really want to talk about how they’re going to happen – there’s nothing worse than being all talk and no action.

“I need a website”. “I’m ready for Facebook advertising.” “I need to rank on Google”.

I agree. They do need all of those things.

Because marketing = engagement = sales = startup sees another day.

And that, particularly in the early stages, is what we live and die by. We have to prove that people are interested, that they care, that they’re willing to put some money down. Evidence of organic growth is what so many VCs, investors, and even your mum is wanting to see.

But it’s getting straight to the tactics. So often, we want to get to the action – to the marketing and campaign plan, without taking a moment for the brand strategy. (Get a recap of the difference between strategies and plans).

Brand strategy can be seen as that ‘nice to have’ that gets thrown down the line, till the timing is right and funding is in.

But the thing is, brand strategy does not have to be complicated or time-consuming. It’s even a false dichotomy to think about them in completely different contexts. Because at its heart, brand strategy is about knowing your customer, knowing yourself, and knowing how to articulate your message in a way that bridges the two. If that’s not what you’re communicating through your marketing, what are you communicating?

Brand strategy is what gives you the story – the content – that you share in your marketing. Your story that resonates with the right audience, providing the value your customer truly cares about, and doing so in a unique and own-able way. Brand strategy is what makes our marketing more effective.

‘Brand strategy’ is your story. ‘Marketing’ is your channel.

You don’t actually, meaningfully, have one without the other.

Brand strategy is developed intentionally or unintentionally

The funny thing is that as we jump to tactics, we are building a brand through this process, whether we think we are or not. We’re setting the tone and establishing the associations people have of them and of their brand.

With every touchpoint, we all build ‘schemas’ of the brands we encounter. We record quick and often subconscious notes about how a brand made us feel, the tone they used, how they looked or how it sounded. And let’s face it, we love to be right. With each additional touchpoint, we look for ways to confirm our existing schema. Thankfully, we’re generous in giving brands the benefit of the doubt. We want to endorse and embed what we already believe, giving ourselves a pat on the back and moving forward with a more entrenched view of the brand.

But when we can’t do this, when we’re presented with something that challenges our existing view, we’re quick to give up. When this happens often enough, we either lose trust in a brand or, more likely, forget them altogether.

It’s not something to leave to chance, or to leave till later.

So what we portray, what we say, how we look and behave, is incredibly important from the earliest days. We want to get those early interactions right, building from there for the long-term.

Is brand building quick? No. It’s a long-term strategy. But it’s a lot easier to reinforce someone’s existing perception of you than it is to change their mind about you.

And we’re building brands for the long-term.

Brand strategy can be done in an action-oriented way

Forget what you know about post-it obsessed strategists and agencies. (Though re. the post-its – 🙋‍♀️ guilty).

Forget theory without practice. Instructions without accountability. Stale coffee with dry sandwiches (just kidding – if your agency can’t put out a good lunch spread, you. can. do. better.)

You don’t need 1000 different models and a ‘brand essence’, ‘brand purpose’ and ‘brand-everything-else-under-the-sun’. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

It does have to be action-oriented.

It does have to inform your marketing

It does have to be linked with KPIs.

We can ensure you have the strong brand foundation that gets properly communicated in your marketing – it just needs to be integrated in the development of your marketing campaign, getting some answers straight first:

Who your customer is – getting to know every relevant detail about them.

Who you are – why your customers care.

How you tell your story and present yourselves – consistently and effectively.

Brand Strategy 101 is my digital course that takes founders through the essentials of your brand. It walks you through what every strong brand needs to succeed, but none of the extraneous, time-consuming aspects that would delay a launch or a campaign. You’ll walk away with clarity on your customer, your positioning and true value you offer, and how you articulate that story and show up consistently. It’s the precursor that moves directly into your marketing campaign, making it more effective, efficient and consistent.

So let’s be intentional about our brands, doing them justice from the very beginning. Your brand deserves it.

Learn more about Brand Strategy 101.

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Hi, I'm Emily!  My entire career goal has been to build brands that I'm proud of, who have a strong story to tell and are making an impact on the world. 

Taking learnings from the big player clients like Google and TD Bank, I'm most passionate about building the brands of tomorrow, and I know what that takes for startups.  I would love to learn more about your company and discuss the possibilities! 

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A guide through brand strategy for startups

A guide through brand strategy for startups

all new digital course

all new digital course