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Branding for start-ups

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Ruchi Gunewardene, Managing Director of Brand Finance Lanka and Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director of Landor Mumbai provide branding insights for those entrepreneurs who are in the start-up phase 

of their businesses


For entrepreneurs who are looking at starting their own business, “brand” is usually not a priority on their minds. With the many details that need to go into getting the business off the ground such as financing, hiring, sourcing, etc., brand building is way down the list. 

However, the reality is that the brand is a key component for start-ups. The good news is that it doesn’t need any money to build! And the other good news is that entrepreneurs would have already started the thinking process which is vital to build it. The issue is that very often they do not know how to go about formally doing so!

What they need to do, is articulate those thoughts and capture it on a single piece of paper which can be constantly used in building the business – from scratch. This enables them to work off a common platform where the brand will be built from the inside out, through all the actions that are being taken at the formative phases. 

A brand can be initially built without a budget provided the right process has been followed. This can hold the business in good staid until it has achieved the next phase of growth. 

The elements for 

building the brand

The starting point is to maintain razor sharp focus on understanding the customer and finding new ways and opportunities to engage with them. In nearly every instance, the customer is quite happy doing what they are used to with the existing product, so the new entrant will need to challenge him/her to change their behaviour and switch. To do so, there needs to be a compelling and convincing reason to switch, which means the proposition is key. There must be an offer that is of a higher purpose to that which they are currently used to. The more compelling this is, the more likely the engagement will be successful. 

The formulation of the brand begins by defining this purpose. For which several questions need to be asked. It starts by asking why the product or service needs to exist at all. What is the difference that it intends to make to customers? And once established, if it was to go away, would customers actually miss it? What is the value that is intended to provide customers? And what is the core reason customers would want to come back as opposed to going somewhere else? 

Whilst PickMe offers convenience, safety and value for money that was hitherto unavailable, its higher purpose is using its unique understanding of the stresses of transportation to provide a seamless efficient and cost effective customer journey. This enabled it to pioneer the app in three wheelers, the extension of its services to other territories (Galle, Kandy, Gampaha), its recent introduction of trucks to move cargo amongst other planned initiatives. Butter Boutique is an oasis to escape the stresses of life by providing a moment of the sweetest indulgence.  

The benefit that the brand purpose offers is that it enables the business to be built around this by aligning employees through greater understanding, thereby strengthening the fledgling business enterprise. Due to limited resources at a start-ups disposal, aligning and deploying employees towards a focused mission is crucial for success.

All successful brands start with this simple mind set which becomes the foundation even after they have become highly successful mega businesses. The core purpose never changes from the day they open their doors. It becomes ingrained into the DNA of the business. To further solidify this, the brand persona can be defined so as to assist in the expression and delivery of the brand. 

Whilst PickMe is all about efficiency, precision, simplicity, being tech savvy, connected and dependable, Butter Boutique on the other hand is about being sweet, lovable, fun loving and happy.

Along with a set of beliefs which will guide and reinforce the manner in which employees would be required to serve customers, this structured thinking sets up the business around the brand. This becomes a culture that no one can take away, setting them apart and enabling talented and like-minded people to join.  

This strategic approach to building brands results in PickMe being positioned to provide hassle free travel anywhere for any occasion amidst other alternatives and Butter Boutique as a destination to go for an indulgent break amongst the multitude of available offerings. 

What the brand can provide

The approach set out here exposes the myth that advertising is required to build a brand. 

By developing a sense of focus, authenticity and personality for the fledgling business, employees will serve customers accordingly. So, the brand goes beyond just saying what it can offer, to providing relevant action. By delighting the customer in this way, a loyal base can be built. 

The most powerful form of communication is customer recommendations, which is the life blood for start-ups as they do not have funds to spend on advertising campaigns. Nurturing a brand from inception is therefore vital for start-up success.

(Ruchi Gunewardene can be contacted on r.gunewardene@brandfinance.com.)


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