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A Matter Of Life Or Death: Branding for startups

To borrow from a manager in another field, branding’s not a matter of life or death; it’s more important than that.

Like Mr. Shankly, my tongue might be in my cheek, but only ever so slightly.

Of course, if you believe that branding is simply about managing image or reputation, it won’t strike you as shocking that many start-ups go to market with their prize offering in tow and little else.

‘Why put lipstick on a pig’, they say, ‘especially when making-up can be so expensive?’

But if, like me, you consider branding to be about making the right offer to the right customer at the right place and time, then you’ll appreciate that it can make the difference between the life and death of the new business.

Simply put, if your customer doesn’t see you as just right for them, then you might as well shut up shop and go home. So the priority for every start-up has to be the business of setting out your stall in a way that makes sense to your customer.

Now that may involve a little make-up, but much more importantly, it means teasing out the part that your offer will play in the life of your buyer and playing that role in everything you do.

Say, for example, that you plan to fix problems for your customer and that you determine that the most effective way for you to do that (in a way that both fits the bill for your buyer and sets you apart from the competition) is to play the part of trouble-shooter.

(That’s the positioning part of branding).

So what do you do next?

It’s gloriously simple: you play the part of trouble-shooter.

What does that mean exactly?

It means you look, speak and act like a trouble-shooter.

It means that if you see trouble, you shoot it. Whilst others fiddle about, meet trouble half way or sit on the fence, you take that gun out of your pocket and you nail trouble there and then.

(That’s the branding part).

It also means that you don’t make trouble for your customer in other ways. You make sure that every little thing you do finishes in one way and one way only: with trouble stone dead.

Of course, you can dispense with many of the niceties. No one expects a trouble-shooter to come house-trained. In fact, it’s rather worrying to find your hired gun wiping his boots on the mat before doing the deed.

So getting your branding right is quite a simple task. It takes planning before you go to market and discipline when you get there. And maybe just a touch of lipstick.

But not, of course, if you’re a trouble-shooter.

Some people say that branding’s a matter of life or death. I say it’s more important than that. Particularly if you’re a start-up.

Over To You: What part does your offer play in the life of your customer?


Originally from Dublin, Gerard has long been fascinated with brands and how they work, rest and play. This fascination has taken him from his philosophy studies in Dublin to Asia where he worked with brands including the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Remy Martin, Cathay Pacific, Prudential, MTV and Chanel. More recently, he set up Islandbridge where his clients include Maldron Hotels, Lee Valley Clothing, Children First and Aussie Ice. Gerard is a regular contributor to discussions on branding in both Ireland and overseas and offers a Brief Word on Brands on The Persuaders radio programme and podcast. He writes regular features: The Blend on the implications of branding for hospitality and tourism and The Pitch on branding for SME’s. He is also a frequent visitor to the Irish Management Institute, Dublin City University and Dublin Institute of Technology where he presents on brand innovation. http://www.Islandbridge.com

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Comments
  • Gerard, this post is on the money. To flesh out a little more for the ‘Start up business’, as they are managing to do so much in the operation of setting up their business, often the area of branding is somewhere near the bottom of the ‘league of things to do table’. So for these very busy people if they think of one thing outside of the main operation and getting all their ducks in a row they need to believe that they are in the ‘people business’ building relevant relationships builds brands – humanise your offering/service – think of your customer as someone you know or if you don’t know them then someone you want to get to know and pull out all the stops to ensure you are relevant in everything you do to get their attention and then to keep it. Love your prospect customer and your existing customer and you will have a winning brand and a successful business. More importantly a ‘Start up business’ will be creating value in the eyes of their audience and creating a unique point of difference to the competition.

  • Thanks for a great post Barney – and connecting to the other posts – they are all well-related. I completely agree that we should look for assistance when we plan to start up something. It’s really difficult to go it alone, especially when we have very little experience.
    Every potential business owner/entrepreneur needs to know that there are lots of resources out there (including Bloggertone) just waiting to provide assistance of some kind. And it’s better we tell them as soon as possible, so time and money is not lost.

  • This is all true. We have had a good relationship with our Kerry county enterprise board and our local partnership and leader group South Kerry Development Partnership. Enterprise Ireland were also helpful to us over the years. Also Microtrade http://www.microtrade.org is great for cross border initiatives.

    It is mad to start up without approaching them all and letting them know you exist, you never know what opportunities will arise once you are on their radar.

  • Thanks for the comments Elaine. You are absolutely right, there is plenty out there to help everyone, it’s just knowing where to look and not being afraid to ask those who have done it before.

  • Hi Aileen – sorry for no responding faster(!). Thanks for the comment – and you are quite right – it is mad not to approach them. The work involved is really not that taxing compared the results that it can produce. Have a Happy New Year!




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