What the experts have to say.
By Sharon Lewis
Marketing strategists worldwide are acknowledging the power of the storyteller. This is especially true for startups, thousands of which buckle under the pressure of constantly chasing growth. In an intensely competitive market, the brand with a story that consumers can really connect to, is the one that bags the deal.
Jumpstart spoke to Heeru Dingra, Chief Executive Officer at India-based digital agency WAT Consult, and Manishankar Prasad, an India-based writer and consultant who has spent the past decade as a growth coach with professional service startups with a focus on South Asia, to find out what it takes for today’s startups to build a strong brand.
“Branding is not what you believe the company is, it’s what people believe the company is,” says Dingra, whose agency has worked with over 600 brands since its founding. In an ecosystem experiencing perpetual tectonic shifts, branding is more than logos or style sheets.
She continues, “When [Rajiv Dingra, Founder and former CEO] built the company, he wanted people to connect, converse, collaborate, and co-create. Today, those words are part of our logo, but what matters is that the thought came first. When you start a company, have clarity on its purpose and values.”
Prasad shares his own tricks of the trade: “Build the basics well–a good website, an active Instagram account or LinkedIn page–and make sure you listen to your tribe of customers,” he says.
He adds that startups need to think of branding from an industry perspective. “Start ups are a spectrum, from social commerce to big data to offline service firms. The marketing strategy will differ as per the nature of the firm,” he says.
Tell The World Who You Are
The branding exercise must create value, not only for the business but for customers as well. Prasad explains, “Branding is the idea that the client or customer interacts with the product. [It is] a low-cost tool to reach out to its audience. Be cool, but help solve a pain point; the communication should ultimately be about that.”
It’s not as easy as it sounds, as any founder will agree. The overarching challenge, as Dingra points out, is to convince the market that it wants you.
“People don’t buy products, they buy brands,” she says, “Be sure of what you are doing, and hold on to that. That’s what worked for WAT Consult.”
It doesn’t end there; investors watch growth rates like hawks. Branding often ends up being the golden egg that keeps the startup alive.
“The brand is about the bottom line, and how much branding outreach can help achieve business targets. The fundamental challenge is two-fold: breaking through the clutter from the rest of the pile, and measuring brand visibility in terms of ROI (Return on Investment) metrics,” says Prasad.
Playing The Data Game
It’s important for a startup to know its identity, but the teething process starts with communicating that identity to the world. Prasad suggests that brands should communicate with their target audience in a fun way, “without being in the face and in the way.”
He also recommends that startups incorporate data in the branding process. “The targeting of the customer with data analytics should be a prerequisite, as the availability of these data sets is easier to approach,” he says.
However, Dingra counsels that startups should be cautious when working with data, as it can confuse the brand message they’re trying to convey.
“Startups are fortunate to have data that backs their ideas, but the flipside is that you get influenced by data,” she says. “If you take [the data] as a frontrunner, and your idea takes the backseat, it won’t work. Brand identity first, backed by data.”
Think Creatively, Communicate Digitally
Using digital outlets–and social media in particular–can be a gamechanger in the communications sphere. Both Dingra and Prasad agree that breaking through the content clutter is imperative when connecting with consumers.
“The larger audience understands simplicity. Keep it simple, keep it consistent, and stick to your DNA. Your communication has to be a reflection of your DNA,” says Dingra. When it comes to digital media, remember that social channels are only the medium–the real meat is in creative ideation.
“Leverage tech and digital but keep the creativity flowing,” says Prasad. “The brand is fundamentally an idea and emotion. Thinking laterally is important. Create content which will speak to your target audience,” he adds.
Taking The Branding Leap
Ultimately, startups need to figure out the line between creativity and business sense. It’s all about being unafraid to test new waters. WAT Consult, which was born from the failure of a previous company, is a testament to the strength of fearlessness in business.
“An idea is good if it scares the hell out of people,” Dingra says. “Any idea which is different is scary, which is why you need clarity about what you’re doing, and the focus to actually do it.”