The difference between a brand and a business is stark. Companies sell products to consumers while brands interact with people and enter into relationships. In today’s heavily saturated markets, relevance and interaction are key to achieving loyalty and advocacy. People need something deeper than transactions and products to feel satisfied – that’s where a brand comes in.
Simply put, a brand is what your business represents in the collective mind of your customers. Think of the brand as the sensory system that transforms your lifeless, transactional business into a living-breathing organism, able to connect with the human psyche and elicit real, often irrational, emotions. These emotional cues become the symbolic currency that people actually trade when they transact with a business. Brands are built from common elements, including:
A brand has a higher purpose than the desire to sell goods or services to make a buck. A brand’s purpose is the human value of what your products and services provide. For example, if you’re a startup in the roboadvisor space, your purpose is not to sell clients stocks or mutual funds that outperform benchmarks, but to help your clients on the road to financial empowerment so they can lead more fulfilling lives. The purpose is often the way to achieve relevance in the mind of the customer.
A business with a brand understands who they are. A business with a great brand understands who they are not. Each of us is distinguishable from the other six billion people on earth through the individualities that make up our persona. Think of any brand (i.e. Apple) as a person – imagine what characteristics they’d have if you met them in Starbucks. Would you want to talk to them? What would you talk about? How would you represent yourself in their presence? These are the same questions prospective customers ask when choosing a company to do business with.
As customers and prospects develop a relationship with a brand over time, they also develop expectations. Customers’ expectations are formed through their experience with the company’s products, marketing communications, and level of customer service. The moment a company breaks consistency, people will feel abandoned and actually more disappointed than if the brand had never existed to begin with. Consistency allows a brand to develop meaning over time and gives customers familiarity in how they feel about their interactions with the brand.
These are just some of the important elements that separate a brand from a business. A lot of research, assessment, introspection, and honesty is necessary to make the transformation from a business to a brand. Many startups don’t have the resources, time or attention to dedicate to a comprehensive brand campaign. However, there is a step that any business, regardless of age or development, can take in order to begin the journey towards developing a real brand that customers will identify with —
Indeed, many VCs think of themselves as investors in stories, and storytellers, every bit as much as investors in companies. “How well does the founder’s life explain what they’re doing at their company?” asks Scott Weiss, a general partner at Silicon Valley venture firm Andreessen Horowitz.
So, how do you get started? Simple. Ask yourself these three questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I doing this? Think long and hard about why you’ve dedicated countless hours, and sacrificed so much to bring your ideas to fruition. Potential users want to know about an experience, not a product.
Much of it will come naturally. Once you have the answers, share them with your colleagues – with everyone for that matter – and develop the story until it starts to make its way organically into everything you do, from communication all the way to sales. Eventually, your story will start telling itself, attracting listeners and customers, and transforming your startup PR and business into a brand.