You just closed your Series A and you’re ready to share your story with the world. You built revolutionary technology that will be better, faster, cheaper-or all three-than anything else in the market. Now you need to hire top talent, build brand awareness, and equip your sales team to drive revenue. You know how innovative your technology is and you’re ready to create a new category.
With customers in beta and limited clear competitors, you’re likely tempted to focus solely on your product and how much better your product is than anything else on the market. But a strong product vision, budding features, and benefits aren’t enough to cut through the competitive space, lure top talent, and enable something more important to build. Leading solely with your product-even the most disruptive-is a mistake. We’ve seen this approach fail, time and again.
You’ve got to give people something bigger to believe in.
If you want to connect with your customers, partners, and prospective employees, you need to differentiate yourself with a well-developed brand. Lead with this brand and then punctuate with your product.
Positioning Beyond the Product
Positioning, the first step in branding, is about the space you carve out in the market. Great positioning communicates the one thing you want people to know about your brand and explains how you are truly differentiated, relevant, and singular in nature.
When we meet with founders, however, they often are focused only on the product. Product positioning is not the same as brand positioning. Product marketing focuses on features and benefits, speeds and feeds, and even ROI.
That is not enough to compete today.
Bringing the Outside In
Your brand positioning is an articulation of you as a company and your product: who you are, what you do, how do you do it better and different, why you matter, and-importantly-why anyone should care.
If you try to articulate your brand positioning by just looking at your product and direct competitors, your brand will fall short. You need to bring the outside in. The most important outsider to focus on first? Your prospective customer.
Yes, you’ve spent time with your customers. You’ve probably talked about the competitor offerings they’ve bought or considered. But do you have empathy for them? Many prospects say they’re interested in a “better” solution but when it comes down to purchasing, are they ready? Do you understand what it takes to displace a legacy solution? What does your buyer need to know and feel to have the confidence to do a rip and replace? To earn this confidence, you need a brand that stands for something meaningful and different.
Don’t limit your discovery work to how your brand compares to entrenched competitors. Empathy means understanding all of the demands on a customers’ time and wallet; it’s about a wide-angle view. The people in your target buyer audience have a long list of priorities for the year. Cloud migration, data replication, security-these corporate initiatives all vie for their attention and budget. Your brand needs to not only reflect the reality of your direct competitors but these other players too.
Additionally, take the time to look outside of your category. Learn from other technologies that have succeeded in similar situations-displaced legacy technologies, created net-new infrastructure, used AI or ML to solve the toughest of challenges. Data analytics, cloud migration, and modern data infrastructure plays are changing the technology landscape. You can learn a lot by extending your competitive evaluation beyond your expected primary competitive set.
Finally, tap your investors as a resource. If you’ve made it to the launch date, your investors are a great external resource you can tap. They’ve seen many companies in your space-including direct competitors and adjacent players. Test your positioning and messaging with them and use them as you build your brand.
Pay Attention to Voice
What you say is important, but how you say it matters just as much-if not even more critical. Voice is an extension of your brand; when your voice matches the kind of brand you are building, magic happens. Take Snowflake, for instance. Snowflake came onto the scene with a product they marketed as a “cloud data warehouse”. While this product name was new, the category “data warehouse” was not. Snowflake made a splash with cheeky messaging and a differentiated but predictable brand voice. They put up billboard messages like “Love at first petabyte”, “Mi Data Es Su Data”, “The Data Sharehouse Has Arrived” and “Ghost Your On-prem”. This voice strengthens the brand and creates more connections between the company and its audiences.
Make an Emotional Connection
Even if you are selling deep tech, you can’t ignore emotions. Customers don’t connect with features; they connect with an emotion that a product drives. Think about how a netops engineer will feel when they learn that your security product can stop 99% of all phishing scams. Will they experience relief? Will they feel powerful? Drill down to that idea and make sure your brand and your messaging reflect that emotion.
Give Them Something to Believe In
We’ve worked with many Series A companies that go to market with a solid brand but without a fully realized product. The company leads with an initial use case but, longer-term, they have much larger ambitions. Even so, their brand works for today and for the future.
Your brand can-and should-be aspirational. It should enable early adopters to buy into what you offer right now and communicate what customers will receive from you over time. A future-facing brand will also help attract talent; candidates want to work for a company with technology that has the potential for impact. And, an overarching brand can ignite a tribe of people who share your beliefs and will follow your brand as you grow and expand your offering.
Branding is not the time to be introspective. When you look outside, you develop empathy for your customers, understand their emotions, and take a wide view of your industry. An outside-in perspective helps you build a brand that can cut through the clutter, grab attention, and differentiate with meaning.
Emotive Brand is a brand strategy and design agency in Oakland, California.