How to brand your startup

I have very mixed feelings about "branding". Marc Benioff claims "A brand is not just a logo its your most important asset." On the other hand, "branding" is perhaps one of the most overused and cliche' B school terms you'll come across. It's also tough for entrepreneurs to understand how much value to actually place on branding (read: how much time & effort to devote to building it).

Rather than focus on all of the actions items that branding typically entails (logos, slogans, advertisements, value statements, digital marketing, etc.) branding takes on an entirely new meaning when you think of it in terms of its end goal. My personal definition of a brand is nothing more than how people categorize and position you in their minds.

As you may have expected, unfortunately the rest of the world doesn't really think of branding in that way or at the very least they certainly imply differently. I suspect a primary reason for this is because most consultants and thought leaders have a different incentive structure (no offense). That crowd tends to talk about branding in terms of action items because that's what they can charge for. Design content, advertisements, events, influencer marketing, pitch decks, etc. Good marketers however (like many of our StartFast mentors) who truly have the entrepreneur's best interest in mind instead focus on how the company is positioned in the minds of stakeholders.

So how should founders establish their brand? Perhaps this is best illustrated by an example from one of our portfolio companies Automation Intellect (AI). The company sells a SaaS product to manufacturers to help them gain insights about the performance of their automated equipment. This allows customers to boost manufacturing efficiency and reduce costs. I discussed AI in a previous post with regards to defining their target market. The company has also made tremendous progress selling their software to machine builders, the companies who actually make the automated manufacturing machines. When a manufacturer buys one of these machines, AI comes preinstalled.

This strategy has a number of incredible benefits but one very important side effect is the credibility it created for AI's brand. Imagine you are a manufacturer with 100 different machines on your floor. You just placed an order for 10 new machines all of which have AI's software preinstalled on them. When it comes time to look for ways to improve the efficiency of the other machines on your floor, what's the first company that will come to your mind? They established the credibility of a massive brand even though they're still an early-stage company. That's branding. At no point did I even talk about the company name, logo, slogans, mission statement, etc. So when you start to think about building your brand, skip all of the cliche' stuff and jump right to the punchline. Focus on the end goal, positioning yourself in the minds of your customers.

James Shomar
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