Why should entrepreneurs invest in branding earlier than they think?

by Youri Sawerschel , 11 May 2016

Have you ever asked a startup founder about branding for their venture? Likely, you will get answers ranging from “We first need to fix the bugs before looking at branding” to “We don’t have the money at the moment.”

As a branding consultant, I routinely get these answers when speaking to entrepreneurs. Yet, the experience I gained by working on startups like Pond 5, WeWent and My Jet showed that failing to brand their startups early enough is often a real missed opportunity for many entrepreneurs.

In her book Meaningful, Bernadette Jiwa highlights that “entrepreneurs sometimes forget that the purpose of innovation is not simply to make new improved products and services, it is to make things that are meaningful to the people who use them.”

When something becomes meaningful and relevant, investors open their wallets, bloggers tweet about it and customers buy it (or pre-order in the case of startups). Note that I said “becomes” relevant. Branding creates meaning and relevance by infusing a product or service with ideas that resonate with customers, investors and influencers.

So, branding is important for startup success. But why should you (as an entrepreneur) invest your time and money in it before your product or service is ready to launch? Here are three reasons why:

1. To build a loyal base of followers who will advocate for your offering

2. To raise funds or generate orders without having a finished product or service

3. To perfect your brand messages before launch

1. Build a loyal following

It takes time to build a brand and a following. Not using the startup development time to simultaneously build a community of brand advocates can be a costly mistake when launch day comes. It ensures that not only will you have people to talk to when launching but also a loyal following who will echo your message. Read this great post by Mitchell Harper, an entrepreneur who managed to build a following of 100k email subscribers over 6 months without having a finished product.

2. Get the investors’ attention

Consider the number of Tesla model 3’s pre-ordered or the funds that many Kickstarter campaigns can raise with nothing but a video. These show us that powerful visuals and well-crafted messages can get contracts signed and raise money. Getting the narrative around your entrepreneurial idea right can generate investors’ attention and hopefully open their wallets. As Mike Hirschland, a venture capitalist, put it in an article on TechCrunch: “You don’t need a prototype to raise a seed round.”

3. Perfect your brand messages

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither will your brand be. A brand platform includes a compelling story, defined values and a visual identity. Even when working for a small startup, it often takes me several weeks of iteration to develop a brand platform that resonates with all stakeholders. Incorporating brand development into their iterative process gives entrepreneurs a unique chance to collect feedback to perfect their brand messages. As Neil Blumenthal, one of the co-founders of Warby Parker, an eyewear company, put it: “Going to factories in China is the easiest part of the process. The hardest part is building a brand that stands for something and will resonate with customers.”

What are the other advantages in building a startup brand early? Send a tweet to me @YouriSawerschel to get the discussion started. My next article will be about specific branding strategies that can be used by startups.

Picture at the top: The Next Web Conference 2010 by Julia de Boer Photography – Licence details here.