Is branding the key to a successful startup?

Products may change, but core brand remains the same.

On April 5th, Spring Design Partners hosted a panel discussion, Spring H2H: Branding and Startups, aiming to tackle the branding challenges startups face as they build their company. Throughout the conversation, the seemingly ever-perplexing issue of the chicken and the egg emerged as a theme – what comes first, the product, or the brand? What if we define the brand and then we change the products or services? How closely are they or should they be related?

It is often difficult for an entrepreneur, all consumed and working tirelessly to get a startup off the ground, to think about the long-term progression of a company. It’s important to consider that even flagship products and services may evolve to the point of being unrecognizable, or may be cast aside completely in favor of fresh ideas. The longevity of any company is not only tied to the product it produces, but also to its resonance with consumers. In short – the core brand stays the same, even if the product changes.

“…whether it’s through the product, or in person, having an encounter with a sales person, or any of the other many ways that you now have to interact with your customers and your audience in growing a business, there needs to be an understanding that that interaction actually is your brand. And, there’s an aspect of it that will continue to be true, even if your product or your service changes.” John Lynn, Co-Founder, Chairperson at NYC Innovation Collective

Branding is not only the language and imagery associated with a company, but also it is how the consumer interacts with that company. Branding is the relationship. The importance of building this impactful relationship, particularly for startups, cannot be understated. Defining who you are and what you stand for from the get-go is key to building interest around your product or service, and to establishing a lasting relationship with your target consumers – to operate on an interpersonal and human scale: human to human. Developing this interaction should occur in tandem with the product, each informing the other to create a solid foundation to build upon going forward. In response to a question regarding common challenges faced by startups in the brand development process, John elaborated further:

“Inside of startups that I’ve worked with at accelerators as a mentor and advisor is that they see [brand] as something that they’ll build second. So, once we’ve built a product, once we’ve built a market, once we’ve got revenue, once we got the advisor, once we got the investor, then we’ll focus on looking good and defining who we are to our customers. But, the reality is that one way, one thing that will accelerate motions towards all of those accomplishments and milestones is having a clear sense in your users and your customer’s mind of what you are and where you fit in their experience and the problems you are solving.”  

While what inspired you to start your company will never change, the way your motivation is executed, and the successes manifested through products and services will change. Don’t shy away from establishing and committing to the core tenants of your brand early. It will serve as your lodestar, guiding how you and your company does everything from the way you answer the phone to how you treat employees. At Spring we believe when there is one concise message at the heart of your brand, all possible permutations that emanate from that singular core will have a common thread that builds value as you scale and naturally evolve along the way.

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