A lot of time, energy, money, and caffeine goes into launching a startup.  It’s a struggle, even painful at times. Countless hours go into the venture, fueled by an electric mix of excitement, anxiety, anticipation, and fear.

It feels like your entire future hangs in the balance as you give 110% towards launching the company, dreaming of how your life might soon change once your new brand is successful.

For startups, it’s important to “go live” and start generating revenue before running out of seed capital.  This definitely drives a sense of urgency to launch quickly.  Once the strategy and goals are well defined, most companies move straight to launching their brand.  Logos, voice and tone, website design and social media hit the top of the list.  It’s hard to argue with this approach, given the plethora of credible resources offering tips and steps to building your brand.


However there’s a problem.  While “brand identity” and “brand awareness” receive a lot of attention, isn’t something missing?  Doesn’t branding go deeper than colors, logos, voice, and tone?

What is a Brand, Really?

Your brand is the experience you deliver customers. The entire essence of branding is the connection between company and customer, learning to understand the customer and why they love your product. Once you understand the customer and what drives them to your product, you can create your brand’s visual identity. So, why do some startups fall flat on this? Here are a few reasons:

Skip Connection and Rely on Assumption

Entrepreneurs can spend so much time creating and perfecting their business concept that they essentially fall in love with their idea.  They focus on brand identity and brand awareness without asking for feedback from customers (or they ignore the negative feedback they receive).

Their branding activities are built on the assumption that customers are certain to love their company if it’s packaged with the right logo, website, and marketing.  The customer is ignored and brand experience almost always suffers.

Ready - Fire - Aim!

If you launch your brand based upon what you assume your customers will love, you’re taking a risk that your brand won’t resonate with it’s target market.  Failure to connect with customers causes startups to flounder.

Attempts to improve results without customer feedback often leads to fine tuning things that customers don’t care about. Ultimately these startups run out of money before they discover what was missing: brand experience. 

The Brand Identity Pitfall

Entrepreneurs mistakenly focus on brand identity and awareness when they should first focus on brand experience. [tweet this] As a result, many will spend years promoting a product that customers don’t really care about.  There is no logo or web design that covers up a flawed product/service.  Until you get the brand experience right, does brand identity matter?  Is there any point to adding more customers if your existing customers don’t love your product? 

How to Nail Brand Experience

Neither the founder of your company nor the web agency you hired to develop the brand’s identity are qualified to evaluate your brand’s experience. To measure your brand experience, conduct interviews with real customers.

By instituting a customer feedback loop, you not only can measure how customers perceive and value your brand, you can use their feedback to improve your brand rapidly.

Key brand experience questions to ask customers:

  1. Ask customers, “How would you feel if you were no longer able to use our product?”  You want the majority of your customers to be “very unhappy” if they had to find another solution.
  2. Find out *why* they would be very unhappy.  What is their primary benefit of your product?
  3. If our product was no longer available, what would you choose as an alternative?
  4. Use Net Promoter Score (NPS) to identify your passionate customers.
  5. Ask your customers how they would describe your product to a friend.
  6. What type of person do you think would benefit most from our product?
  7. How can we improve our product to better meet your needs?

Which Method Makes More Sense? 

Talk to customers now and find out how to improve or spend all of your money first, fail to get results and then talk to customers to find out how to improve?

Improve your brand experience first.  Don’t worry so much about the perfect brand identity or growing your company until you’ve built a tribe of passionate customers.  Focus first on nailing it, then you can worry about scaling it.

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Originally published Mar 5, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023


Inbound Marketing Branding Startup Sales