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Guts and Intuition: Defining brand value for startup and emerging brands.

CEOs of startups and emerging companies often don’t  know what to expect from the process of defining their brand value to their stakeholders and customers early in the game. For many, the undertaking may seem like entering into a deep, dark forest–a big leap of faith. Many ask themselves, “what if we get this wrong?”

With so much risk facing startup and small growing brands, and no forgiveness in the marketplace if they don’t get it right, I’m convinced many small business CEOs have that thought cross their mind. Unlike outbound PR, promotions and advertising, defining brand value is a strategic process that begins with introspection. Defining brand value for startup and emerging enterprises is mostly intuitive and it takes guts.

Recently, having just completed the process of changing their name and creating a new brand identity around it, a CEO of a growing B2B company, confessed to me, “ You know, at the beginning of this whole process, we didn’t have a clue where this would lead us, or have any confidence what we were contemplating was even the right thing to do. Changing our business name was a big deal­—we only had one shot to get it right! All we had to go on was our collective intuition– believing this move was necessary for our next level of growth."

The currency of our modern age is attention. CEOs of startups and emerging companies don’t have the financial luxury of buying attention, they have to earn it. Like your money, your customer’s attention is limited too.

Defining your unique value to customers in ways customers care about is essential for marketing success. Big name brands can hedge their bets through reliance on expensive research, market data and advertising. Startup brands have to rely more on guts and intuition, and a deep empathy for their customers rather than deep pockets for advertising.

We’ve all seen many examples in our business folklore where guts and intuition won over the prevailing market wisdom and data hands down. If you’re the CEO of an emerging young company, here are some suggestions that may provide you with more clarity and confidence in the strategic and creative decisions you’ll be making when you're in the process of defining your brand’s value to consumers and customers.

Be more of who you already you are rather than more of what you are not.

Usually the driver of defining brand value is change and the goal is a transformation to a higher state. Typically there is a current business circumstance that is undesirable and needs changing. Of course, this doesn’t occur in a vacuum, there are competitive forces in the marketplace that shape the context of change facing your business.

Shaped by competitive forces and changing customer attitudes, it can be tempting to think your organization needs to become more of what it isn’t. It’s far more powerful to be more of what has made your company and brand successful thus far. Being more of what makes you highly valued and difficult to substitute is what differentiation is all about. Brands that endure are highly focused on why they matter to people. As you think about change, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Defining brand value is a collaborative process. Innovation and creativity come from diverse sources and not from where you‘d normally look.

David Packard (of HP fame) was noted to say “marketing is too important and activity to be left to the marketing department”.  At the inflection point of inventing, defining, refreshing and expressing, the perceived value of your brand, you need to look everywhere and to everyone who has a stake in your success. When you’re tweaking the whole, all the parts have to be considered. Begin with customers first.

Defining brand value is not about decoration but behavior.

You can create the “coolest branding” (logos, slogans, ads, packaging, etc.) but those things don’t do anything, only people do things. Living your brand value every day in every action your organization takes to create value is behavior. You can’t mandate or rule how your people behave in the marketplace; your people must, of their own choosing, be in resonance and shared values of your business purpose. Who hangs with you  and how you build your internal culture is more important than your cool logo.

Execute flawlessly with the resources available.

For small growing brands, money to execute on properly communicating their value is also an issue. If you have gigantic marketing budget based on mass media delivery, it’s easy to get your message out and hopefully make an impression.  Money makes everything easier. 

Startup and emerging brands have to start with what they have and from where they stand. Whatever marketing tactics you choose to spend money on, execute flawlessly. Spend what it takes to do it right!  Don't be penny-wise and pound foolish.

As I said earlier the marketplace is unforgiving. If you don’t have the money to do something right, do something else where you can afford to put your best foot forward. Start with your presence and use of social media. There is broadcast network willing to air whatever you put on for free…it’s called YouTube, Vimeo, SlideShare…you get the idea.


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