December 4, 2020
This year, we have been working with an incredible bunch of exciting startups, including Penneo, Barons, Temply, Superb and many more. We are nearing the end of the year 2020 and to celebrate this, we have put together a list of our top 10 pieces of advice to build your company’s brand.
1. Start With Why
Why has your company been put into this world? A great strategic exercise for any company to undertake is the classic ‘Golden Circle’, explained by Simon Sinek in his now-famous TED Talk. A lot has been said about Sinek, and his method might not be perfect, but in our mind, it’s hard to argue with the essence of his approach: As a company, you need to know what you are doing, how you are doing it and why you are doing it. The first two are relatively easy, but only a few companies are really aware of their own ‘why’.
The challenge we have found when defining the ‘why’ of a startup (the purpose) is to strike the right balance between being ambitious and realistic. If you’re too ambitious, people won’t believe in you. On the other hand, being too realistic is uninspiring. Without an inspiring purpose, you’ll have a hard time encouraging anyone to join your company, whether it’s employees, investors or customers. Therefore, it’s all about finding the right balance between the two.
2. Focus on Your Story
As a startup founder, you have to be a great storyteller - and the first story you need to nail is the story about the product you’re building. You need to tell this story to inspire early employees to join you, to convince early investors to fund you and to convince early customers to buy your product. You obviously don’t have to do all this by yourself - an agency or your communications team can help you out. But you need a great story if you want people to be part of your journey.
As a matter of fact, what we have experienced from working with more than 50 startups is that the most successful ones also happen to have the best stories. On the contrary, we have also met lots of startups with, say, three co-founders from tech who are amazing at what they do but have no idea how to create and market a story around the product. They have had a lot of focus on product development, less focus on sales and basically no focus on branding, marketing and communication. When this is the case, even the greatest product rarely lives up to its full potential. The product and the brand simply won’t resonate with as many people as it would if you had an exciting story.
3. Always Have a Plan
We will keep this one short. As in every other aspect of your business, it’s important to have a strategy in place when you are communicating. Without a strategy, you will likely end up communicating in all kinds of directions at the same time, creating confusion and failing to reach your target group properly.
4. Act on Your Promises
This may sound like simple advice, but when you make a promise to your stakeholders, you need to keep it. Don’t promise a product update to your social media followers and then miss the deadline. Don’t post a video about your sustainability goals and then not follow through.
More than anything though, this advice is relevant for PR. If you’re boasting to the press about a financial goal you expect to reach next year, you more or less need to be 100 percent certain that you’re actually going to reach it. If the accomplishment you’re referring to turns out to be smaller than you had made it out to be, it can backfire massively. In other words, make sure you’re not overplaying your hand. In fact, we often advise our clients to hold back on the PR stories about financial promises and instead wait until they actually reached the goal before pitching the business media. After all, a story about an accomplished goal holds much more weight than one about a goal you would like to reach (which anyone can claim).
5. Communicate Proactively – Not Just Reactively
In the words of Jesper Theil Thomsen, CEO of Soundboks, you need to “take control of your story.” What Jesper means is that you shouldn’t let someone else make up your story for you. If you don’t take a proactive approach to storytelling, your customers, the press, and so on, might create their own story about you - and it won’t always be flattering. Instead, tell your own story through content across your social media channels. You should also keep track of your progress and pitch the press when you have some exciting news to share - this could be a recent funding round at a significant size, a substantial revenue increase, a topical opinion, or just something you have done differently and succeeded with. At the same time, always keep track of how you’re perceived by relevant external stakeholders and then adjust your communication accordingly.
6. Think Branding Like a B2C Company Even if You're B2B
We have talked with countless B2B companies that love the ideas we pitch but then ask the question: “Is this feasible for us when we’re a B2B company?” The answer is always a resounding: “YES!” Great B2C branding is most often defined by companies telling good stories, using cool visuals and speaking to their target group as human beings - and that’s exactly the same approach B2B companies should adopt too. No one is going to tell you that you can’t brand yourself the same way as a B2B company, because at the end of the day, your target group always consists of people. A B2B is not selling to the business but to the people employed by the business. Think about it: Have you ever heard of anyone whose all-time favorite brand was a B2B brand?
7. Think Beyond Your Product
Instead of branding your product specs, think about the people who actually use your product and what they care about the most. Superb is a great example of a company doing exactly that. As a B2B SaaS startup, Superb is bold enough to act as a B2C in their branding and communication efforts. The company builds software for restaurants but instead of focusing on the product in its branding, Superb focuses on helping restaurant managers create better guest experiences. Copus has created a new series of mini-documentaries in collaboration with Superb called "The New Generation". The purpose of this series is to build a brand universe that tells inspiring and personal stories of the heroes of the restaurant industry - instead of talking about Superb itself.
8. Know Your Target Audience
You have probably heard the phrase: “When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one.” When we’re developing a communication strategy for a startup, we ask the startup to describe its target audience. A typical reply to this question from a B2C tech startup would be: “Our target audience is currently Danes located in all major cities, in the age range 30-65 years old, split 50/50 between men and women.” This basically leaves us with most of the working population of Denmark. Hence, we will have to dig deeper and ask elaborate questions. We will help the startup analyze their demographic data to arrive at a more narrow core target audience. Your target audience will not constitute 100% of your customers but it will constitute your most important customers.
9. Maintain Consistency Across Your Channels
It’s extremely important to stay true to your brand across any channel and touchpoint where your stakeholders might meet you. That means you need to have the same tone of voice, brand identity and type of content on all social media channels, at your website, in the press, at your physical stores (if you have any), and so on. In other words, your audience should have the same experience of your brand, no matter where and how they interact with you.
There is no easy way to gain true brand consistency, but it starts with spending a lot of time developing and nurturing a brand that is unique to you. In the best-case scenario, the brand should closely align with your product, your market position and your internal values. To make sure you stick to the brand throughout your branding and marketing execution, you need to create a detailed content plan months ahead and follow it as strictly as possible. Luckily, we have a whole blog post dedicated to the dos and don'ts of managing your brand across channels.
10. Look Beyond Competitors for Inspiration
“Good artists copy, great artists steal” was a favorite quote of Steve Jobs that originated with Pablo Picasso. Some companies take this mantra quite literally and look at their competitors for branding and communication inspiration. However, being too inspired by your direct competitors will often prevent you from standing out in the field and maybe even make you look like a cheap knockoff. Instead, it is often worth seeking inspiration from brands operating in other industries and applying similar initiatives to your brand. Taking inspiration from companies operating in completely different fields can move mountains in terms of branding, and although it’s pretty simple advice, it’s often completely overlooked by many of the startups we meet. Usually, most people do not look much further than their neighbors and that’s a shame. There is great inspiration to be found if you’re willing to look beyond your own industry.