By Jami Oetting, senior vice president of content at Influence & Co.
Design and a focus on user experience have jumped to the top of a startup’s checklist. And it has proven to be worth the attention. Just look to some of the acquisitions that have been made during the past few years: Instagram and Push Pop Press, by Facebook; Massive Health, by Jawbone; Typekit, by Adobe and Hunch by eBay. All these startups are co-founded or led by designers.
But while design has infiltrated the startup mentality, many entrepreneurs still struggle with a larger problem: branding.
While founders now realize user experience is as important to your brand’s identity– as font choices, color and style– a brand is more than the culmination of a few clicks of a mouse. There are too many young companies offering the same type of product with similar features and a hip name usually ending in a .ly.
But a brand, one that people love or hate, or love to hate, is human-like — almost tangible. A brand has a mission that says how and why it is solving a problem, changing an industry, disrupting a market.
In the tech startup boom, it is now much more difficult to differentiate your product from a variety of similar services and create an experience that extends beyond a monitor. Consumers need more. Founders, you need to speak up!
The visionaries of companies are changing the way we work, play, sleep, read and communicate. Their ideas have led to a larger discussion on how we live and interact in the world. Their personalities and values are reflected in the products they create. Entrepreneurs need to own their brand, eventually becoming synonymous with their own company. You need to make “you” a brand that incites discussion, intrigue and interest. Many founders like Ryan Smith of Qualtrics discusses market research and online survey insights and Hannah Donovan, the founder of This Is My Jam, discusses real-time web and designing for data.
Each of these founders launched a company. They write about their companies. But each person has a viewpoint that adds to a larger discussion on how his or her solution solves a problem. They are not selling but are educating and discussing.
Founders need to prompt ongoing, in-depth conversations about their industry in order to build their brand. Here’s how:
1. Define your product’s ultimate goal
This should align with what you want to accomplish in your industry. Use this goal to define what you want to talk about, whether that is how technology is changing the way we exchange and track our money, or discussing how people learn in the 21st century. Make it lofty. It should surprise and excite!
2. Establish what broader discussions are going on in your specific industry
Who is talking about it and what are they saying? Because of your company’s specific mission and goals, you should have a distinct viewpoint to add. People and publishers want opinions and yours should be strong and credible.
3. Find out what problems your customers are having
Think of the competition between Jawbone UP and Nike Fuelband. While the media might lead the “this-versus-that” debate, each company should be discussing the future of our interactions with tech devices and health data. Answer the questions of your competitors’ clients. Only then will the discussion will begin to revolve around you.
Talking about company culture and “innovation” may provide you with a nice number of social shares. But eventually, you need to lead the discussion. Only then will your customers see a brand worth the attention.
You can connect with Jamie on Twitter @jamioetting.