How Important is Brand Messaging to a Startup?
At FL+G, we often consult with startups. One of the first things we talk about with these new companies is the need for strong brand messaging. We firmly believe that a strong core message is essential when building a brand because this process is about figuring out what needs to be said, what wants to be heard, and the best way to deliver it. To us, messaging is the branding decision companies should make before the logo design, before the website launches, before any marketing materials are pushed out.
Recently, however, one small business we had been meeting with argued that spending the time, energy, and money to figure out their brand’s messaging now, when it may change later on down the road, might be wasted effort.
While we fully respect that opinion and the decision to allocate funds in other areas, this conversation brought to light an interesting topic for discussion. How important is brand messaging to a startup, really?
If you think about it, behind every great brand is a fundamental core brand message: a succinct statement that declares why the brand matters, what it stands for, and how it is stands apart from its competitors. This brand promise communicates the value and primary differentiators that define the brand. It communicates why an audience should care. Obviously huge brands like Coca Cola, Nike, and Apple all have distinct brand messages and promises:
Coke - To inspire moments of optimism and uplift.
Nike - To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
Apple - Think different.
These companies also have huge advertising and branding budgets and they’ve built their brands into enormous assets that have substantial financial value on their balance sheets. At one time though, they were startups too. What differentiated them from the competition, however, were specific core values that enabled them to narrow in on a strong and focused message early on.
Take Apple, for example. Steve Jobs understood that the key to a powerful brand message was figuring out what the company’s “why” was and then determining how best to communicate that. Apple was the challenger brand. How were they going to communicate why their audience should choose them over the more established computer brands? Why did Apple exist? Early on, Apple decided their “why” (aka their “purpose”) was “to challenge the status quo. To ‘think different’. People are Apple fans not because they love the computer, but because they identify with a tribe of people who want to empower the individual.” From that insight and narrative, Apple was able to build a brand that cohesively communicated why the brand matters, what it stands for, and how it stands apart.
To new companies, the challenge is in figuring out what the “why” is and what the single most important message entails. We’ve found that startups are often so excited about their product or company that narrowing down their messaging and or narrative to one specific direction is almost painful. Being too broad, however, does them no favors because when an audience is presented with inconsistent, muddled, or varying brand messages, they become confused and disinterested and they inevitably move on. It’s a fact.
As a result, “persuasive brand messages are always brief and convey critical aspects of the brand, and they often intentionally oversimplify concepts that are often complex and nuanced. This oversimplification is a good thing, however, because the goal of a brand is to be noticed, remembered and desired. In an over-communicated world, the only way to get inside the minds of prospects is to whittle away at your message until it comes to a sharp point.”
Figuring out how to tell and connect the brand's story with its audience is key and THAT is the point of developing strong brand messaging early on. So to answer our question from earlier, “how important is brand messaging to a startup?”, from our point of view, the messaging is one of the most pivotal pieces to invest in at the beginning of a startup’s journey. This is what defines how that company’s customers will relate to the brand - it’s what will inevitably inspire, persuade, and motivate an audience to care.