Before you start planning and executing a digital marketing strategy, you need to make sure that you have your branding strategy buttoned up first. Branding makes perfect sense to very experienced advertising and marketing professionals, but to the startup or small business owner, the term “branding” can be hard to nail down.
Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED Talk is a wonderful explanation of the importance of where to start in your branding strategy, and that is “why do we exist?” This understanding, and the resulting ability to articulate your “why” very clearly and concisely in language that your target audience can understand, will be the foundation of your entire brand. Your “why” must be based on solving a problem for a large enough market segment to create a sustainable business. You exist to solve someone’s problem. Remembering the following point throughout the brand strategy creation process and then throughout every marketing tactic you ever use will be your guiding light: Your brand is everything you do.
With this understanding (start with why, and your brand is everything you do), you can create your core branding statement by answering this question as briefly and simply as possible: why does your business exist? Your answer should be in terms of solving a problem for a market or market segment. For example: “ABC company builds MVP web apps for startups in 2 weeks for $5,000.” This statement identifies the customer segment (startups), the problem (startups need a minimum viable product to get to market and test an idea quickly) and their solution (MVP in 2 weeks for $5k). Furthermore, ABC company understands that startups don’t have (a) a lot of money or (b) a lot of time, and they’ve addressed both aspects of that customer profile.
At some point, you’ll actually meet and get to know your actual clients, but when you’re starting off, you need to “know your customers”, which means understanding who your ideal customer is. Create a persona of your ideal customer, name him or her, dress them up in the clothes that your customers wear, understand the words they speak, where they get information and influence, and most importantly, where they look to find what you will offer. Ultimately, complete customer profiles include an understanding of their identity, needs, and behavior.
Your customers’ needs should match up exactly with your “why”, which is solving someone’s problem. In other words, your customers need your solution to their problem. Therefore, you must have a deep and complete understanding of that problem. That understanding usually comes from your own personal industry experience, in which you’ve lived that problem.
The short version of your business model is “how do you make money?” Ultimately, you make money when you provide value for a customer who pays you for your product or service. That’s the easy way to think about it. But you must go deeper than that, and consider the following:
- How does your customer learn about your business? (marketing)
- How long does it take for your customer to get from learning about you to purchasing? (sales cycle)
- Where – specifically and exactly – does the purchase transaction take place? (distribution)
- How do you deliver your product or service? (delivery)
- Is your customer a one-time purchase or a subscription (or other repeat) customer? (lifetime customer value)
- What kind of support does your product/service require, and how do you deliver that support? (customer service)
No two businesses are exactly the same, and if two businesses are very similar, branding is what sets them apart to the customer. Your brand is everything you do, and if you are not intentional about defining your brand, then the market will define your brand for you.