“I just have to build a great product and the customers will come organically” was my biggest misconception.
Coming from an engineering background, a good quality solution to a problem was the only thing that mattered. But then reality kicked in and smacked me in a forehead saying: “You moron, they don’t even know your product exists, let alone that they can benefit from it”. Some good old advertising could show some results very fast, but I want to talk about the long game — about building a brand.
Building a brand often starts when the product is finished, as part of the marketing strategy. The idea here is to start building the brand as soon as you start building the product. But first of all, what is a brand?
What is a brand?
I will try to answer this question by saying what is NOT a brand. Despite popular belief, a logo is not a brand. Also, colours, fonts, patterns and overall visual identity is not a brand. Your mission statement is not a brand (it is getting warmer though).
A brand is a gut feeling.
When people interact with your product, they develop a set of feelings derived from the experiences they had with it. If your product is helpful, they feel grateful. If your product is entertaining, they feel amused. If your product is premium, they will feel confident. Also, if your product is crappy, they will be pissed.
So, a brand is not what you say it is — it is what your customers say about your product. It is how they feel about it. It is your mission statement from the customers perspective.
Why is having a brand important?
Nowadays, people have too many choices and abundance of similar products in the same category. All these offerings have a similar quality. A similar set of features. Fall in a similar price range. When you take these facts into consideration, beating the competition seems like winning a lottery ticket. So, how to persuade the customers that your product is the best out there? Well, first of all, you should know where does the buying decision come from. It comes from our subconscious mind. And if you build a brand which makes people feel good and confident, you’re on a roll.
We tend to base our decisions on trust. And that is why building a brand is important. Customer oriented brands (or customer obsessed brands) have a substantial customer relationship history which enables them to influence their minds based on previous experiences. Having a brand long enough builds the trust, and the trust makes buying so much easier. The trust that I’m referring to consists of reliability and delight. In order to build the trust, your product has to be robust and reliable, but also sophisticated enough to delight your customers and make them go “wow, I want that!”.
Having a strong brand gives you a better starting position in the market. It is more likely that the customers will choose you over a no-name product since they’ve developed a set of feelings as an association with your brand (hopefully a set of positive feelings). Ultimately, building a brand is a long game which has the highest return on investment.
Having a strong brand will get more people to buy more stuff from you for more years to come at a higher price.
Read that again, there’s a lot going on in a previous sentence. Here’s a breakdown of this statement…
If you have a brand that resonates with your customers, they will talk about it to their friends and colleagues. Word of mouth is like a wildfire, the best marketing you can get. This attracts more people.
If you have a range of different products and customers are happy with the ones that they’ve tried out, there is a big chance that they will try more of your products. This means that they will buy more stuff from you.
As I said, there are so many offerings which drive your customers into analysis paralysis. They’re over-thinking and over-analysing before making a buying decision. In order to avoid this dreadful feeling, they are likely to stick with the brand they trust and will buy from them for more years to come.
If all these ingredients are in place, paying the premium price will not be a problem for your customers. Based on their previous experience and their gut feeling, they will be sure that buying from you is their best choice. The higher price buys them not only the product but also the ease of mind. And that feeling will subconsciously justify buying at a higher price.
Branded or Brand-led?
Companies which have already established a strong brand enjoy the luxury of being trusted. Sometimes, they can even get away with a crappy product, at the expense of previously earned trust (reliability + delight). Their products are branded.
On the other hand, newbies and startups are faceless, unknown to the general public. They might have a small niche market, but they are far from being a brand. Their products are not branded. But in order to succeed and penetrate their target market, their products have to be brand-led. I’m not sure if brand-led is a word, but I’m sure that it’s a good compass. Being brand-led means that the product design, product features, customer service and all other aspects of the whole product are focused on that gut feeling that you want your customers to feel. Brand-led thinking from the very beginning of the product development will do good for you. First of all, you will always put yourself in the customers’ shoes. As a result, your product will look better in their eyes. Secondly, even though you don’t have a strong brand yet, customers can feel when you truly care about them. And that feeling is the closest to the one you want to get.
Ok, so how do you integrate this brand-led strategy into your roadmap?
Branding as part of your roadmap
Most of the product teams are using some tools to keep track of the tasks and features which they want to implement (might be Asana, Trello, Microsoft Teams, Salestrekker, etc.). The value that these tools bring to the team is focus and transparency. And the same way you’re planning your product development, you should plan steps to build a brand along the way.
And what are the tasks related to building a brand? Here’s what I found useful after asking myself the same question.