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Building a brand

Founders are always searching for helpful advice on how to build their startup. To get a message across from any Aeron chair is hard, something that usually takes serious planning and thought to work. Many in the startup world believe they have invented their own rules, in product development and how to build a company, but they often fail to understand how they can use what already works out there.

Don’t build a company, build a brand, says John Hegarty, Advertising Executive and Creative Founder of BBH. A brand is more than a company, which often contains dull concerns that should never be part of any brand, while a brand embraces values, beliefs and ideas that go beyond any company. Values are not only part of a company culture, shared by those who work there, but can drive founders to start new companies or make them take initiatives that harmonise with those values.

Brand building cannot adopt journalistic principles; looking for the truth and weak spots amongst competitors is not what a brand is about. Strategies can be built on weak spots shared by competitors, but a brand turns these shortcomings into positive messages and advantages, easily understood by those who are initiated. If data centres are a disadvantage from a security point of view, a brand can be based on how distributed computing is more secure.

Failure doesn’t exist in advertising, John Hegarty says. There is never enough progress in a startup, failure is always present, but startup founders can learn a lot from the advertising world: how to look upon ideas, creativity and failure. Believing in silly and unhelpful credos, such as ”fail fast”, only testifies to a founder’s inexperience. It’s not about jumping from one reckless idea to the next, only to rely on luck and kismet, but to be well prepared and open for new ideas. A sound advice is to get support, through connections and partners who speak well of your startup and what it has achieved.

Hegarty also says that cynicism is a poison that should be averted at all times. Humour can be used but it requires a lot of careful thinking and delicacy to not strike the wrong cords; jokes can always be misunderstood, deliberately or accidentally. Everyone pursues beauty in life, although we certainly don’t agree on what beauty is, and few of us can create it on purpose. The problem with beauty is that it’s so hard to achieve, and requires only one ugly spot to ruin the whole impression. Beauty is therefore based on perfection, which takes a lot of experience and skill to achieve, although it undoubtedly sets a brand apart.

We live in a world filled with apathy and indifference, where influencers last two years on social media, showing little understanding for integrity and ethics during that time. It’s a world where social media appeals to our worst behaviours, resentment and narcissism, but it’s the world we live in, and we need to use it to our best ability.

When social media is a cornerstone in the brand building, the content should be something like 20% about the product and 80% about the values, the strategies and the ideas the brand connects to. Values can associate with music, art, sports or any other area the founders take to their heart, but copyright and trademarks must be taken into consideration. The more interesting a product is, the less it needs to be represented by desirable values. The product is capable of communicating these values by itself.

Branding is also about connections, since it’s a lot easier to connect to real persons in a Startup than abstract ideas their business is built on. Everything must be authentic, and it should never be about brilliance or admirable achievements, as it easily turns into self-congratulatory insincerity. Building a brand is not about bragging, it’s about having fun and something people want to be associated with, something exclusive. If everyone is doing what a brand claims to do, it isn’t special or exclusive. Values, such as the environment, relationships, health, education, or human rights, need to have a twist that makes people remember it. For a Startup, it’s a mistake to talk about valuation and money; it only shows that they could be in any business, and they are there for the wrong reasons. Keep it on a positive note, make it simple and use peppy words. Repeat those words again and again. Never go into politics, unless you have a relevant reason to do so. If you are in green tech, it makes sense to occasionally say something that can be perceived as political, but try to frame it in a positive voice. Startups in the software security business must talk about DDoS, phishing attacks and malware, but fear in marketing has its limitations and people will not care until it occurs. If mistakes happen in your brand building, note it and move on without making excuses.

Always turn negatives into positives, or don’t talk about them at all. The goal is to create desire and affection for the brand, to discover the soft spots that can connect people to new experiences. One way to do it is to look upon life as an adventure and share all the excitement you feel.