Ask a roomful of early-stage entrepreneurs if brand matters and you’ll probably get:
“My product (or service) matters more than my brand.”
“I don’t have time for that stuff.”
“Selling is what matters right now.”
Some of the more enlightened entrepreneurs might even say:
“Yeah, it matters, but I’m just not there yet.”
Fair enough. Lots of hungry entrepreneurs are understandably focused on selling their product or service. After all, it’s probably the thing that prompted them to start their business. They saw a need, created a solution, and ran with it.
Sprinters and Marathoners
Entrepreneurs can run in two very different ways. Those who put their product ahead of their brand are like sprinters – fast and dazzling in the short-term, but unable to keep the pace in a marathon. Entrepreneurs who put brand at the forefront (especially in the early stage of their businesses) are marathoners – not as exciting in the short-term, but pretty amazing by the time they get to the end of a very long race.
I see the dichotomy all the time in the real world.
Sprinters are the flashy, passionate, sales-y entrepreneurs who seem really inspired and motivated. They draw a crowd easily, but tend to get blown around a lot. They shift strategy frequently and even change out their product or service offerings regularly to keep pace with industry trends. They’re often likeable and charismatic, but for them, doing the foundational work of defining their brand is an unwelcome and unimportant chore.
The marathoners, by contrast, are more quiet and steady. They eat strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They plan and execute deliberately, but they’re often not the kind of people you want hyping a crowd. Their initial product or service is just the first of many things they could offer in the long-term, so they develop and nurture their brand accordingly. They leave enough room for it to grow under a larger product umbrella.
Both types of entrepreneurs can certainly enjoy financial success. No question. But how do consumers factor in?
Yes, consumers buy products, but they build brands.
Products alone satisfy a basic need for a consumer. It’s a transactional relationship. If I’m an avid mountain biker who wants a camera to mount on my helmet, there are plenty of different kinds I can purchase to meet my needs.
But why are you, as the reader, thinking about GoPro right now?
It’s because GoPro has done a masterful job of associating their brand with a lifestyle…and yes, a product. But they don’t lead with the product itself. GoPro as a brand is all about lifestyle and experience. The association is so strong that we as consumers are conditioned to think of them when we consider recording outdoor activities. It’s very Pavlovian.
GoPro’s brand strength and power is so great that I naturally gravitate to GoPro to satisfy my product need. If I can override my emotional draw to that brand, I may be able to step back and consider other products from different manufacturers.
But most people buy based on emotion.
If you’re an entrepreneur who puts all your focus on your product, you’re missing an opportunity to connect emotionally with your customers by leveraging your brand. You need to become a Pavlovian Entrepreneur.
Go Be a Human
Need me to punch you in the face with this point?
Put on your “I’m a human being” face for a moment and check out GoPro’s About Us page. Read some of the material on the site. Then go see if you can find anything remotely human about one of its knock-off competitors, AKASO.
After doing that little bit of homework, ask yourself: If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, which brand understands you best? Which brand are you more likely to trust?
Brands can have great strength when their development is prioritized. Entrepreneurs who invest in their brands at a foundational level know that connecting emotionally and consistently with consumers trumps shiny object syndrome in the long run.
It’s really hard to fight the temptation to hold your product up as the hero in your entrepreneurial journey, but if you’re a sprinter remember this:
Great brands have staying power. Great products are fleeting.
Case in point: I doubt AKASO is going to be around 10 years from now.
Do What’s Necessary
So what does it mean to invest in your brand? I’m not talking marketing (yet). If you haven’t gone through a process to discover and validate your brand values, personality traits, and brand story, you haven’t done the foundational work. If you simply “haven’t had time” or if you think “sales matters more right now,” or even if you think you’re “not there yet” as a company, you’re wrong.
Your brand needs to come first. It may not be sexy and glamourous work. In fact, it’s really hard and taxing to dig into some of this stuff. In the end, though, it is what will help you connect emotionally with customers and provide focus for your marketing and sales efforts. A well-developed brand can make your life as an entrepreneur a lot simpler. That’s worth it.