Branding for tech startups – Don’t put growth before your brand
It cannot be denied that we are currently in the midst of a technological revolution that shows no signs of abating. New apps, products and services are springing up on a regular basis that allow us to increase productivity, improve our social lives, enhance public infrastructure, develop greater health procedures…the list is literally endless. An array of apps at our fingertips, SaaS to automate our processes and a burgeoning Internet of Things Industry is transforming our social fabric at its core.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the tech world is wholly different to the rest of the world due to the boundless energy, creativity and investment that surrounds ‘tech’. However, for every successful app or SaaS built there are dozens more that fall by the wayside, either bettered by their peers or just are unable to get off the ground. Theproducts themselves may well be at fault at times, for instance when apps just aren’t correctly geared to their target market or the product itself is inferior. The ‘growth at any cost’ mentality and the sheer pressures sometimes to get products to market or to innovate and be ahead of the cusp are, a lot of the time, at fault too. This is where branding for tech startups should not be put to one side at the expense of other aspects of the business. Because a bad brand at the beginning of a can affect businesses further on down their lifeline too.
Great idea, where is the strategy?
This is not to say that all tech startups suffer from the same fate but the scenario is eerily similar for too many a startup for it to be an isolated phenomenon. The scenario in question is that the idea and the product are not being developed at the strategy stage before the building and the coding of a product is done. And, of course, this means that branding and brand strategy also fall by the wayside.
Brand strategy in this respect means more than just getting a workable name and a good enough logo. True, many early stage startups are focussed on getting their Minimum Viable Product off the ground to showcase to angel investors or accelerator programs and so branding, in any respect is not necessarily at the forefront of their thinking. “I will think about branding once I have a more viable product and better financial backing,” is the raison d’être of many founders in this circumstance.
This is a mistake. Even if your team is small and your product is not yet strong enough to go to market and frankly you need investment in order for the product to go ahead and grow then branding and branding strategy, even at a basic level will show that you have thought about actual business affairs and the value and growth of your company, product and brand. That is a much more significant prospect for investors and accelerator board members to invest in your company, especially when there are so many other startups and likely others in the same arena as yours who are fighting for a piece of the investment pie.
We have seen many a great idea fall by the wayside because of a lack of investment; just as we have seen some great products fail due to a lack of marketing or brand awareness– Microsoft Zune anyone? A delicate balance must be made then by startups between investing in their brand identity, strategy and brand awareness campaigns and a bootstrapping/product building/growth only mentality.
Too much too soon
While startups, especially within tech, contribute greatly to the modernisation of society and that aforementioned technical revolution there is still an incredibly high failure rate. There are clearly a number of factors at play as to why this is the case but the ‘value over profitability’ model is partly to blame, especially in cases where growth is prioritised over product and the brand. You need only look at brands such as Twitter, who are yet to post a profit, and who are stuttering to grow their user base which in turn is causing investors to be jittery to see that this is not a long-term workable model. When growth comes above brand there is a severe issue with the long-term prospects of a company.
That said, tech does offer advantages both in terms of business valuation and investor patience when it comes to growing a company and a company’s ‘brand’. The mentality among startups is often that as long as you have a neat logo, a good website and someone confident and competent enough to keep the blog and Social Media accounts ticking over then that is okay.
While, undoubtedly, the ‘something is better than nothing’ mentality is pretty sound, it nevertheless ignores vital questions surrounding brand positioning, strategy, tone of voice, coherent and brand appropriate visuals, brand-focused customer engagement et al.
It is wholly understandable, especially when the first round of seeding might be in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands or millions that budgets won’t stretch very far but by setting aside (or better yet, budgeting for) some degree of brand positioning, strategy and implementation will stand your business in good stead for the future.
A Warwick University Study on behalf of the British Design Council confirmed that investing in design and branding can help to improve a business’s bottom line. Investing in your brand’s positioning as well as its look and its feel can only give it a greater foothold in the market, inspire a loyal customer base and aid with the company growth. It isn’t all about the product itself and growth should never come at the expense of brand values.
As Buffer’s Joel Gasgoine puts it:
“We view fundraising in a different way, more of an enabler than something we want to be fully reliant upon.
This has some implications on the true growth rate we can expect, yet it has significant benefits we feel in terms of the freedom we have to experiment not only with innovation in products but also in the way we work.”
In Buffer’s case, a policy of aggressive growth, put their business into jeopardy somewhat and led to unnecessary layoffs. But sustainable growth, clear brand values and a commitment to pursuing a sustainable business model is why they are something of a leading light among tech companies.
If you don’t have clearly defined brand values and vision then there is no better time than the present to get these locked in. Tech companies have the potential to grow extraordinarily quickly. By keeping a clear brand vision and strategy you will be able to build a better brand no matter how quickly the company grows. By aligning a brand and culture mentality alongside business growth and product development, a win-win situation can be had by all.
Too little too late
From restaurant booking service Foodiebay becoming Zomato to RapExegesis becoming Genius to Research in Motion becoming BlackBerry the tech world is full of rebrands (Actually, the BlackBerry device itself was running with uninspiring working names like MegaMail and ProMail before Lexicon became involved).
Often, tech companies will go through a re-brand after their first or second seeding. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, tech companies in their infancy often have great ideas that begin with a top-notch development team. This team can build a great product but, as the product grows and investment comes into the equation the product and the scope of the company can increase or change through a pivot. There is a clear need for renaming and rebranding in this situation. Of course, often at this stage it becomes evident that the current brand name and branding just isn’t strong enough or just doesn’t match up to the product or the aims of the business.
There are many cases though when the rebrand comes a little too late – such as Research In Motion becoming just BlackBerry – when a company is just too far behind the curve to survive. It really pays to get branding right as early as possible in your tech company’s life cycle.
But what about budget?
This is a difficult question as many agile teams, even those that have secured investment still do not feel they have the resources, time or desire to rebrand.
However, once branding becomes part of the mentality of the business, part of its ethos and values (as it should be) you will find that there is budget to be found for something so necessary.
Fernando Sepulveda of Impulsa Business Accelerator comments that:
“One major challenge facing most companies who operate on the verge between childhood and adolescence is that sooner or later, they get stuck in the trenches of day-to-day operations, and more often than not fail to incorporate long-term strategic planning in the development of the business. The company may lose track of its unique value proposition – its identity – during this phase.”
In other words, identity is crucial in providing startups the chance to get out of that start-up mentality and into a fully-fledged businesses and those startups who are keep to have an identity and a desire to flourish in the real word marketplace are best placed to succeed.
Better brand strategy = brand longevity
It is worthwhile to consider the brand, that is to say, brand strategy, brand values and brand positioning as the roots of a business (along with a clear business plan of course). The ‘trunk’ of the business would be the product and the day to day running aspects of the business and the foliage is the brand design. All three make the brand and no aspect can be ignored even if one part appears, on the face of it, more important than another. Poor analogies aside, the underlying point remains valid – that branding cannot be forgotten for the sake of product and business growth or you will swiftly find inherent issues with your tech company that will be extremely costly to fix at a later stage.
Take a bite from Apple’s Book
When, in 1997 Apple decided to “Think Different” it did so because, according to Steve Jobs, its brand was “tarnished”. We perhaps know Apple today best for its great products, but it was able to get to where it was today by fixing its brand.
Today’s startups can take notice and heed both the successes and mistakes of the world’s biggest brand. When it comes to branding for tech startups and tech companies in general, don’t put growth before your brand.Tags: Rebranding, renaming, startup branding, tech