A strong Brand Vision is the cornerstone to Start-up Success
Amazing guest article by Chris West, Founder of Verbal Identity.
Nobody cares about your revolutionary business idea. Even if it’s going to change lives.
The biggest challenge for a fledgling business (and an established one for that matter) is getting people to actually take interest. Consumers, investors, colleagues - they all need to be able to paint themselves into the picture you’re creating. That’s especially true if you’re offering something they’ve never experienced before.
So how do you position and explain a totally new business concept so that your target audience will see its benefits? And how do you define your target audience when you believe your brilliant idea is something that everyone will want or need?
You define and codify your vision. Creating a brand vision for your product or service should be the number one priority for any entrepreneur. Think of it as the organising thought for your company. It’s the filter through which all future decisions - whether about funding, hiring, distribution, or product – should flow. And it’s this that lets you create a memorable story for your brand, one that makes consumers want to be part of your narrative.
‘‘Who are you?’ and ‘What do you stand for?’ are the crucial questions a founder needs to ask themselves to get to their vision. I often hear entrepreneurs talk about achieving Product-Market fit, but there’s actually a third, equally important, element which can be overlooked when asking these questions – the DNA of an organisation itself. Our work with Hunter Boot, for instance, uncovered that it wasn’t just the quality of the boot that made people want to lean in, but the pioneering vision and story they offered their customers.
Votary, the award-winning luxury skincare brand, also faced a challenge when it entered the market. They wanted to launch by the end of the year, but knew that Liberty’s shelves were crowded with established brands. We helped them identify that it wasn’t just their product that would differentiate them from their competitors. It was that the brand's voice on its packaging, website, social media, (everywhere!) should talk to the consumer one-to-one, and in particular as though it were in a consultation with the brand's founder, make-up artist Arabella Preston.
When we work with brands to crystallise their vision, we first interview all the key stakeholders to completely immerse ourselves in and understand the business’ core values. We then hold a co-creation workshop with some of the key people working on behalf of the brand to refine and adjust the insights we obtain during interviews; and we combine that with our own research into the marketplace and competitors both inside and outside of the brand’s traditional category. Finally, we distil those insights into a single thought that captures why this brand is perfect for that customer.
Defining their brand vision enables entrepreneurs to get over what I call ‘the curse of knowledge’ – they have brilliant ideas but are too close to their product or service. They know what’s so great about their offering, but they forget to say why it’s so great. They can’t explain why their target audience should care because they’re coming at it from a feature rather than benefit-led perspective. Apple was certainly not the first company to bring an mp3 player to market. But it was the first to sell ‘1000 songs in your pocket’ rather than ‘5GB of music storage.’
The language you use is key – it’s the packaging for the thought that carries it through the organisation and crystallises your offering in the mind of consumers. Take Glint, for example, a new financial service provider backed by the world’s most stable currency, gold. When we worked with them to define their brand vision, language was essential in painting the picture that Glint is not about an app or about a credit card, but about creating a fair, sustainable, global currency that gives consumers more control over their money – a credible alternative to a dystopian financial system.
Most importantly, simplifying your positioning in a clear and memorable way allows you to focus. Entrepreneurs can be the ultimate hoarders. I see how incredibly difficult it is for them to give up anything – from features, to opportunities, audiences, or responsibilities. Often, they’ve worked so hard to create their ‘baby’ they want it to offer everything to everyone. There’s a sense of ‘what if’: what if this will drive growth, what if getting rid of ‘x’ will lose me customer ‘y’, what if another brand starts offering ‘z’ feature. If you don’t limit what you do and try to do everything, you’re likely to end up doing nothing very well.
In the end, a strategic vision means being able to focus on the best of your offering and ruthlessly cut what doesn’t fit. Remember Jawbone? Perhaps not. Despite being valued at $3.2 billion, it failed to differentiate itself in the health-tracking wearable technology market. It had enough money to see off competitors like Apple and Fitbit and create a sustainable niche but, without a compelling vision, investor value didn’t translate into customer appeal and differentiation.
Likewise, Beepi, a peer-to-peer marketplace for buying, lending, and selling cars, had a huge valuation and offered an impressive service. However, it missed an organising thought, and this ultimately led to a mismanagement of resources and a lack of alignment within the company.
As Sam Altman, founder of internationally renowned start-up accelerator, Y Combinator, said, “the communication and the evangelising of the company vision and goals -- is timewise by far the biggest part of the [Founder’s] job”. By having a strategic vision you avoid the vicious cycle of what we call ‘entrepreneur’s fever’ – where the more you do, the more you feel the need to control everything, and the harder you find it to delegate responsibility, so the more you do ad infinitum. It ensures other people understand your perspective on the world, giving you the confidence to let the sales team to do the selling, the marketing team to do the marketing, the product development team to develop the products. Now it’s just up to you to grow the business.