Branding Essentials for Entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur with the ambition to be a major brand, what is the first thing you would do? Probably Google “how to do branding”.

But branding can be an elusive, slippery, ghostly figure and difficult – sometimes impossible – to grasp. Today, a Google search on ‘what is branding’ easily yields almost 5 million results. Most of them mentioned similar things: define your mission, vision and values; understand the competition; the intangibles of a brand; creating a set of visual identities. These are important elements of creating a brand, but before you embark on the branding journey, here are some important things to consider if you truly want to create an amazing brand.

Know why you started the business in the first place

The purpose of the business is vital – did you start the business because it was what everyone was doing and you jumped on the bandwagon? Are you trying to solve a real problem that consumers are facing?

This is important because it could become the differentiator of your brand. When founders believe in something, inject passion and turn it into reality, they often create products or services that are fundamentally different from what is available on the market. When that happens, consumers are better able to connect emotionally with brands. Consumers today are smart – they recognise authenticity. Are you genuinely interested in improving their lives? Are you invested in creating something better for them?

Singapore-born fashion company, Style Theory, started when its cofounder, Raena Lim, realised that she was not wearing 80% of the clothes in her closet. But still, she often complained that she had nothing to wear. Instead of throwing them out, she started renting out clothes to women and it very easily solved a common problem: access to an infinite wardrobe meant never having to wear the same thing twice. It allows consumers to try new styles that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Style Theory is also the only clothes rental that works on a subscription model, which means that their customer base has a steady stream of new clothes to wear until they cancel their subscription service. Raena estimated 500 customers initially but a year later in 2017, the waitlist had grown to 8,000.

Who you hire is more important than you think

Building your brand starts with putting the right people with the right skillsets in place. Employees are also important for building a company’s culture, which affects brand image and in turn, will affect how consumers perceive the brand.

By now, we are familiar with Uber’s story. The launch of the service was hugely successful as it solves fundamental problems in the transportation industry and creates convenience for consumers. For a time, it was a revered brand for its success and consumers came to rely on it. Then it became struck with troubles, starting with sexual harassment allegations, stealing software from rivals, developing systems to evade government regulators, and using software exploits to sabotage competitors.

Perhaps the story would be different had Uber’s culture been built differently, and staffed differently.

Get your target segments right

A common agony for entrepreneurs is market segmentation. Do you know who you’re selling to? The worst answer is “everyone”, because everyone is different and every person has different needs, values and lifestyle.

The answer is to segment and then segment again. You need to dig deeper. Where do they live? What does their family look like? What are their values? And then dig deeper, still. You have to understand their minds, their behaviour and their attitudes. Once you really understand what is important to them, you can create marketing programmes that are relevant to engage them, and drive conversion.

Brands can only make real connections with consumers when they truly understand what their buyers need and why.

Get your marketing right

Marketing is how brands are created. Your marketing is how you implement your brand strategy. Every activation is an attempt to engage your potential customers with who you are, what you do, what you stand for and why you exist.

It’s like going to the gym. Just because you want the body of Brad Pitt in Fight Club, it doesn’t mean you will get it immediately. You have to consistently visit the gym and work on the same routine for months before you can see muscle definitions.

Bearing this in mind, focus and alignment become paramount. Every print, every activity and every social media post have to convey the same idea about your brand. This includes your brand personality, brand image and your unique value proposition.Over time, consumers will connect with your brand when they have received consistent messages and experiences with you.

Dollar Shave Club (DSC) launched in 2012 with a YouTube video that got it 12,000 customers in two days. DSC used irreverence and humour in the launch that has remained as its brand personality and identity. It took them years to lock this image in people’s minds. Every video ad it launched subsequently followed the same thread of humour, allowing consumers to see it as a quirky, irreverent and ultimately relatable brand.

All said, branding is a continuous journey with rest stops but no end destination – every brand has to continuously evolve and adapt as the marketplace and consumers change, if it hopes to be relevant for a long time to come.

Raine Lim, Assistant Manager, Management Consulting Services, BDO Consultants Pte Ltd