“We’re all looking to belong to something.” “It’s about how it makes you feel.” “It’s about what you stand for.” At our MeetUp in May, we met three founders to uncover their secrets on building an irresistible brand.
Celia Pool, co-founder of sustainable period product startup, DAME, Nathan Perry, co-founder of healthy dog snack startup, Denzel’s, and Tom Tapper, CEO of creative agency, Nice and Serious, came together to explore why branding is so intrinsically linked to the personality of not just the founder, but the captive target audience, too, and why values are the core essence of long-lasting business.
If you missed the event, we’ve pulled together the insights for you:
1) A great brand = what you stand for
Tom Tapper, CEO of creative agency Nice and Serious, had a simple definition for what a brand is: “A brand is essentially the answer to this question: ‘what do you stand for?’.”
“The brands that actually last are the ones that stand for something and are willing to say ‘no’ as much as they are to saying ‘yes’. And it helps you, as the founder, decide what’s a distraction and what's an opportunity.”
2) A great brand must capture an element of your personality
Celia Pool, co-founder of sustainability-driven, taboo-busting period brand, DAME, spoke strongly of her values: being kinder to the planet, and kinder to women. You can find these values in DAME’s approach to branding and communication.
“We wanted to be a voice for women and we wanted to make sure we were speaking in a bold and truthful way,” she told us.
“I think there’s always an element of your personality in your brand. We knew we wanted to move away from the negative language usually associated with women’s periods: talking about ‘discretion’ and being ‘fresh’. Therefore, we really needed our brand to move away from this pejorative meaning.”
If you’re struggling to find your why, think about these questions:
What led you here? Why you, and not anyone else?
By drawing on those values as you’re developing your brand it will help you to connect with the right consumers.
3) A great brand no longer broadcasts, it builds an emotional connection
Host of our MeetUp, Virgin StartUp Business Advisor and co-founder of Rebel Book Club, Ben Keene, acknowledged how the essence of great branding has changed over the years.
“Branding is about building trust. How brands used to do that was by broadcasting their message - repeating ‘this is what we do’ - but now it’s about building an emotional connection with your consumer.”
When Tom Tapper was starting out in his career, his inspiration for Nice and Serious came from a realisation that the way brands were talking about climate change wasn’t resonating with consumers - there was something missing in the emotional connection of the subject with people.
“It wasn’t that people didn’t care about climate change a few years ago, it’s that the way companies were telling stories about it didn’t land with people. So, I decided to start an agency that would tell creative stories the world needed - and wanted - to hear.”
When working out how to connect with your audience, think about the emotional drivers that are motivating them. How can you meet them there?
4) A great brand is always evolving - don't be afraid of the process
Tom Tapper is the CEO of a creative agency working with global companies to develop their brands, but even he advises not to spend too much time obsessing over the ‘perfect brand’ for your startup.
“It’s about quick iterating at those early stages - don’t splash out on an agency to develop your brand unless you have huge amounts of seed capital,” he advised.
“Don’t get too obsessed with your branding at first. Talk about the problems you’re fixing in the world and encapsulate that. Google ‘brand frameworks’ or get some critical friends on board - but then you need to get it out into the world and test your product in front of users, because that’s where your idea develops. You can refine as it grows.”
Nathan Perry, co-founder of Denzel’s, agreed. “We weren’t scared to evolve as the brand developed and I think you need to hold onto that.”
Branding isn’t about perfection; it’s about the iterative process. It’s ongoing, and will never truly be complete.
5) A great brand draws on resources outside of your core founding team
Whilst Tom advises early-stage founders not to spend the big bucks on an agency when you don’t have the resources to do so, hiring a freelancer can be a great step forward in bringing your founding mission and values to life. So how do you do that?
“It’s like speed dating,” Celia said. “You’ve got to meet a few people, see who really gets it and find the one that understands your values and your company. If they really get it it means they can easily translate your mission, visually, for you.”
Nathan had some great advice when it comes to conceptualising your brand identity.
“We built a library of other brands that we really loved, reached out to them for advice, and some got back to us. Don’t be scared to do that. We ended up meeting our freelance designer with that connection with another brand that hugely inspired us.”
6) A great brand handholds a two-way relationship
Whilst a brand needs to be flexible, iterative and unafraid of evolution, it must also embody the dynamic between founder and customer: it’s a two-way relationship.
“As much as you may want your company’s brand to have a certain feel, it’s also about how your customer reacts. You have to work alongside your customer. It’s like dating - you have to adjust and shift your branding in line with what your customer data is telling you,” Celia said.
7) A great brand understands sustainability is paramount
Both Celia and Tom operate their startups as B Corps. The B Corp Certification has become the benchmark for sustainable business; a framework for conscious founders to create businesses that have real, positive impact in the fight against climate change. But whilst obtaining B Corp Certification is a great way to embed sustainable practices in your startup, it’s also a way to understand your brand values.
“It’s an incredible framework to guide you on what you want to achieve,” Celia told us.
“There are so many big brands becoming B Corps right now, so the brand equity surrounding B Corp is only going to grow. If you can get into that community earlier, it’s going to mean a lot more and help your brand stand out,” Tom said.
As Nathan works towards obtaining the Certification for Denzel’s, he offered a great reminder for founders just starting out on their journey. Whilst sustainability is paramount, there’s a lot on your plate as a young founder.
“Sometimes it’s worth starting up, and then applying to obtain Certification once you’re already on your path and have someone to help you. At the beginning, there’s a lot going on, and you have a lot to be keeping your eye on, so take it one step at a time.”
It’s that iterative process, again.
8) A great brand doesn't overthink itself
Big tasks will fill as much time as you allow for them. Coming up with a brand for your startup could take a week; it could take months if you allowed it. But often, when you just don’t know how a brand or campaign is going to be received, overthinking ends up costing your business too much time and money.
Celia reflected on the times where marketing campaigns for DAME had landed a little more like lead balloons than roaring successes. “You spend so long crafting a campaign that you think is going to work and cut through the noise, but then it lands badly. Don’t sit on them and craft them for too long.”
The takeaway? Just go for it.
9) A great brand offers a space for customers to belong
As our panel discussion drew to a close, Celia Pool offered some insight into the true secret to branding success.
“I think we’re in an age right now where people are looking to belong somewhere. We used to get this from religion, and now we want to feel like what we’re contributing to and buying into means something. You’re not just buying some cereal or buying some socks, you’re investing - it’s a statement that helps define you.”
10) A great brand has a legacy
Tom Tapper’s final words encapsulated the vision many founders have when starting out: to create something and be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves.
“That transition from being a business to being a brand lies precisely in that moment where you can step out of it all. Your brand operates as an organism in its own right. Your projects go out into the world and people find your startup without your help; a legacy is created. That’s the power of a brand: it goes beyond the person into something else entirely.”
So there we have it: branding secrets uncovered. What legacy do you want to leave behind?
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