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When a starting a business, high on the list priorities are product/service development, management of capital, finding the right people and cashflow.  Each penny/cent counts.  For some, strategic goals and vision for the business lives in the Founder’s head or on well articulated business plans that only saw the light of day, when they were shared with an investor or the bank manager. We can all agree that starting up is not a walk in the park.

Amongst the things that entrepreneurs contend with, one element seems to always be low on the priority list – this is is the brand. Yet a brand can drastically impact the business.

For start-ups in particular, it can make all the difference between gaining traction quickly or months after launch or even whether you remain a niche vs. mainstream regardless of how groundbreaking your idea might be. Because branding, if done well, has the potential to be both an accelerator for growth and a strategic compass for the business.

How others have done it

Uber, Airbnb and Transferwise are just some of the start-ups or rather businesses, who have invested, mastered and strengthened their brands. They have all managed to be dominant in their categories in a relatively short space of time.  In the case of Uber – recently valued at US$40 billion, there is no doubt that a part of this value can be attributed to the success of the  brand.

 The Uber brand has not only entered the venecular – “Let’s Uber there”,  it has done so at a speed that established brands would envy. This has certainly not happened by chance, it is the culmination of a great deal of effort.

Uber, at its most basic, is a taxi service.  However its brand positioning and messaging ensures that Uber is much more than that, it is everyone’s personal driver, giving it a wider platform for diversifying its business. This potential alone adds $$ to the value of the business – an important key factor for investors.

Uber’s  brand personality is fun, engaging, refreshing and professional (In NY they reportedly delivered kittens to their customers) – who does that?  They can – because their brand DNA inspires them to think of wacky ideas while remaining true to themselves. This is evidence of a well defined brand.

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Uber launches new courier service in NY. courtesy of CNBC 4/2014

But what is a brand?

A simple question perhaps, but nevertheless, I have encountered conflicting understandings in my 15 years of experience. Some believe that brand is the logo or it is how the website looks , for most, brand is simply a graphic design exercise. Of course, there is some truth to this . After all a brand visual identity is the manifestation of the core idea, it is part of a whole that is made up of both tangible and intangible elements.  As such, a brand represents the big idea that transcends products/services while serving as a strategic compass for the business.

A brand encompasses vision, personality, tone of voice, values, positioning (where you are vis-à-vis competition or where you want to be).  Together these elements present boundless advantages and opportunities that include; gaining visibility, raising awareness, resonance, consumer attraction, retention and reputation.

In essence, the branding process will seek to utilise the defined brand for product development, innovation, customer experiences etc. Furthermore, branding will optimise certain characteristics and qualities that will help distinguish the product/service offering from competition. In short, it is the glue that holds everything together.

Admittedly start-ups are not deep-pocketed and building a brand can be an expensive exercise to undertake. My advice is to take your time in seeking a brand partner, one who will ask you the right questions and be willing to be flexible in their approach. Whichever route you choose, I strongly recommend that you do spend time and effort thinking about what a  brand can do for your start-up.

Written by @CrineyInsalata

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