Brand your Start-up

If you’re working on a business idea as part of your placement or your idea is something which can benefit students then you can use GO! not only to raise funds but as a tool to build brand awareness.

Meet Mike

We asked Aston alum Mike Stevens who graduated with a 1st in Logistics (1998) to share his thoughts on branding.

Mike sold the Peppersmith company in 2018 and now helps start-up business and challenger brands, which is why we had to pick his brains!

Mike joined the start-up team at Innocent drinks in 2001 heading up their supply chain function for 6 years then spent 2 years managing the launch of the brand into Scandinavia.

In 2009 he co-founded, Peppersmith, the UK’s first healthy confectionery gum and mint brand.  Peppersmith products can now be found across the country in major supermarkets and stores.

Why is it important to have a brand?

Whether you are a product or service, your brand is your most important asset. Your brand is the embodiment of who you are, what you do and how that connects with the world.

You must have a brand else it will be impossible for your customers to understand if your company and products are right for them. Needing a brand applies whether you make consumer products or sell business to business. For example, you don’t have to see an advert or visit the website for Ferrari or Poundland to understand what you are likely to get from those businesses.

The reason you know what to expect from those companies without thinking too hard is their brand at work.

What does your brand represent?

A brand is much more than a fancy logo and a nice website. It represents what the customer will think and feel when they consider your business. The reactions you brand evokes could be represented by descriptions like “good value”, “environmentally-conscious”, “great service”, “high specification”, “innovative”, “safe” etc.

These are all strategic choices your business will make along the way; however, it is your brand which will tell the customer what sort of company you are.

Honesty is the best policy

If there is a brand mismatch, you have a problem. If your brand has high prices, looks chic, and promises high quality yet your products are poorly made and the market has a glut of cheaper alternatives, then you have a problem. Your customers will feel misled, your reputation will suffer, and demand will dry up. If however, you sell the same products, but with promises you can keep, like convenience and quick service, you may be okay even without changing the price. In this instance, you are marketing to people who value convenience and service over durability and a high spec.

The best brand advice is to be brutally honest about who you are and what you stand for. Then find people who most value those things. If you are lucky, there will be enough of them to justify your existence, if not you will have to change something about your offer and then, in turn, communicate this change through your branding.

Branding is not a marketing tactic; it is the totality of how your business communicates how it is different from the rest of the market.

Communication is Key

The good news is if you are happy to tell the truth about your products, your business and what you stand for it is relatively easy to build a brand. You need to consistently tell your story again and again and in a level of detail that is proportionate to the level of interest.

You should not feel the need to tell everyone everything about your business, start with your most important messages, the things you care most about and the biggest difference you can make. You can then expand your messaging and drill down into the detail but only once you have gained the right level of interest with someone who wants to know more.

This thoughtful communication is brand building. Once you have established your brand, then you build trust. Without trust, it is unlikely you will get many customers.

Tell you story via your brand

In summary, a brand is your story and a short-cut to help people understand what gets you out of bed in the morning. If enough people want that thing, then your job is to tell your story via your brand and then make sure it gets discovered by those people who will value it the most.

Mike Stevens (Writer | Freelance consultant for start-ups and challenger brands | Advisor | Mentor at Stevens.Earth)


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