The Journey Of A Startup Becoming A Brand
Most startups begin with great ideas. The challenge, however, lies in sustaining the growth and becoming a ‘brand’
In the last decade, scalability and growth-hacking became the startup mantras, setting off a race to capture customers and markets. On the broader view, these could be viewed as short sprints, whereas pacing and perseverance are most important in the race to being a sustainable company.
Most startups begin with great ideas. The challenge, however, lies in sustaining the growth and becoming a ‘brand’. Only a handful of early-stage companies think critically about the principles and the tools they need to incorporate to build a sustainable and genuinely successful company over time.
Most startups think ‘campaigns’ and forget about cultivating stickiness in their audiences’ minds. A ‘brand’ exists in the minds of its audience. It is not just visibility or revenues but the culmination of various intangible factors built on solid foundations.
A close observation of long-standing companies around the globe across various sectors shows that several foundational elements contribute to these companies' longevity and relevancy. These may include customer-first principles, adaptable long-term strategies, and scalability of leadership. The fact is — none of these need to adversely impact short-term growth.
Creating A Value Framework For Societal Impact
If you are a startup, what are your core values? Not just the company's mission statement or the challenge of breaking yet another milestone in customer acquisition. What is your company's role in society or the larger ecosystem, and how does it create real value for its customers. These core values also guide goal-setting and the means to achieve those goals.
These core values become the foundation of your communications - internally and externally. It trickles down to every single employee who carries your startup forward. For tech-oriented startups, this often includes complex issues with AI, privacy and data security - parameters where ethical considerations are foremost. In designing the end product, many fail to consider the effects of their software products, services and operations on society or their consumer. In the long term, this may become a roadblock in their growth story.
The vision of its founders drives a successful business. The founder of a startup is synonymous with the company and its vision. The reputations of several startups have floundered because of the actions of their founders. WeWork, Uber, and Ola are some companies that come to mind in recent times. As the primary
brand custodian, entrepreneurs are often reluctant to change their approach or personality as the brand grows.
Emphasising vision and values, behaviours over intentions, and purpose over task — this kind of commitment enables every employee to be a brand custodian who can make decisions without oversight. A significant milestone for founders is when they can build a strong team that runs itself, freeing them up to further focus on the company culture, mission and values.
Brand Speak - Always
Lack of constant and consistent communication is one of the biggest failures of startups that failed to become brands. Consistent communication with stakeholders and consumers is one of the top priorities a startup must focus on right from the initial years. The core values, mission, and vision must be communicated to internal and external stakeholders.
Unfortunately, most startups do not consider PR and Communications until they seek funding, by which time, a perception already exists in their audiences’ minds. Much of the marketing before this stage is focused on customer acquisition or user engagement. Both are important, but the fragmented approach leads to a fragmented image in the minds of its stakeholders.
It is essential for a startup to consistently communicate beyond ‘who we are’ or ‘what are we selling’. Transparency in communications, particularly post-COVID, is essential. It is vital to start building a community of consumers and stakeholders early on with a clear and defined strategy on what the startup wants to portray itself as and how it wants to communicate with them. And most importantly, how it takes feedback from its community.
An excellent example of community communications is OnePlus, founded by Carl Pei and Pete Lau — which built and engaged a strong community and fanbase early on and was known to take feedback and suggestions from the audience and incorporate them into future products — this was hugely satisfying for any invested consumer.
OnePlus barely advertised in its initial years — blowing away the myth that communications to large audiences need to be expensive. The niche approach, talking directly to customers via multiple avenues such as PR stories, social media and forums, made them a favourite. Their customers saw the value in the brand, invested, and eventually felt like they were stakeholders in the brand.
A strong foundation is crucial to building a brand. Define the vision, mission and core values. Remind yourself of it every time you communicate - regardless of the medium. Consistency in communication helps shape the narrative and keeps the startup on the right path - reinforcing the required image to build a brand.
A consistent narrative resonates with your community and stakeholders. This does not mean your company has to stay the same. Your customer preferences will change with time, and your products and services will, accordingly. This is possible through constant communication and dialogue.
(The given article is attributed to Roshan Mohan, Founder & Managing Director, Pepper Interactive Communications)
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