The
View from Initialized

The Basics of Branding for Startups

How brand strategy plays into product adoption

You have a product. You might have some early signals of product-market fit. But how do you make that product and the organization you’ve built stand out?

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Ally Fouts, a creative director at Viget, a design and engineering firm that has worked with Initialized companies, gave an in-house presentation to several dozen Initialized Capital founders last week on how branding works, why it matters to startups and when early-stage companies need to start caring about it.

She covered:

  • What makes someone adopt a product
  • How brand advances product adoption
  • What a brand strategy is
  • How it applies to your startup
  • How to get started
  • How you’ll get out what you put in
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You have a product you want people to adopt. Now what? Let’s think about what makes people adopt products.

Logic + Emotion drives product adoption

Logic is about the product’s attributes. Does it have functionality that fulfills a customer need?

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Bleach is a product that a customer might adopt by fulfilling a logical need. For example, “I have evaluated this product’s attributes and functionality and have decided that it fulfills my needs. I want it.”

Emotion is about the way a product makes you feel.

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Gucci perfume is a product that capitalizes more on the emotional motivation for product adoption. For example, “OMG I love the way this product makes me feel. I want it.”
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So how does branding fit into product adoption?

Your brand is not your logo.

Your brand is how you communicate in a clear and compelling way

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • Why you do it
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This is not Casper’s brand.
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This is Casper’s brand — the way they communicate who they are, what they do and why they do it.
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This is not Warby Parker’s brand.
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Warby Parker’s packaging, website, shipping and everything else they do communicates who they are.

Your brand is your organizational story.

But why does an organization need a story?

Stories help us understand.

  • Our brains are hardwired to detect patterns, which is how we discern meaning.
  • We detect a visual pattern and we know it’s a face.
  • We detect an audio pattern and we know it’s a friendly greeting instead of a hostile one.
  • We detect patterns in information (or stories) and we better discern the meaning of that information.

Stories help us make decisions.

  • Stories simplify information, which makes life easier on our dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Stories make us feel and act.

  • When we hear or see a story that captures our attention and transports us into the world of the story, our brains release oxytocin, which makes us more sensitive to social cues around us.
  • In many situations, social cues motivate us to engage to help others, particularly if the other person seems to need our help.
  • We start to feel what the subjects in the story are feeling and often act upon those feelings

Brand stories help your customers:

  • Remember and understand you.
  • Make decisions based on that understanding.
  • Like you, help you, and become willing to associate themselves with you and respond positively to your asks.
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So what’s a brand strategy?

If your brand is the distillation of your organizational story, then your brand strategy is how you make your organizational story come to life.

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There are two ways to make your organizational story come to life: communication and functionality.

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Let’s look at Chipotle:

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Chipotle’s brand is about “food with integrity.”

Let’s take a look at how they demonstrate this in both their communication and functionality.

Method 1: Communication

Chipotle’s messaging on external advertising takes an honest and straightforward tone. It’s a different type of billboard, where they talk about locally sourced and organic ingredients.

In appealing to logic, Chipotle’s messaging helps customers understand that their food is better because it doesn’t have antibiotics or hormones and the animals producing the meat and dairy products are raised outdoors.

In appealing to emotion, Chipotle’s tone is funny and honest.