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Growing Your Startup’s Brand? Don’t Forget These 3 Key Steps

You’ve just gotten a significant round of funding, and you are ready to evolve from a startup to a professional organization. You’re probably feeling overwhelmed with all the steps needed to get from where you are to where you – and your investors – want to go.

But, there are three often overlooked steps that you can’t afford to miss.

Step 1 is developing your brand.

You’re probably thinking, “But, I already have a logo and a website. My brand is developed.”

That idea is a common mistake that costs businesses billions of dollars every year in lost revenue.

Your logo and website are not your brand.

Your brand is actually the relationship people have with your company.

And, the strongest brands in the world (Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, etc.) know that they’re not competing for your money. They’re competing for your attention and emotions. (Hence my use of “relationship” when defining what a brand is.)

Why is this true?

Because, as much as we like to think of ourselves as thinking beings who feel, we are very much feeling beings who occasionally think. And, we make 100% of our decisions using emotions. (Then, we rationalize them later. It’s true.)

So, no matter what business you’re in – B2B, B2C, or even B2G – all companies are Human to Human.

And, humans tell stories.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, then what stories should I tell?” (Great question!)

First, stop talking about WHAT you do. The truth is, nobody cares WHAT you do. (If that was harsh, sorry. Not sorry. You needed to hear it.)

Instead, focus on WHY you do what you do, HOW you do it, and the RESULTS your clients get from your work. What impact are you having on the world? (You should have that info in your Mission Statement.)

Make that your guiding star to become a Mission with a Business.

When you demonstrate empathy for others and deliver results that align with why your company exists, that draws in your best clients and top talent like a black hole.

It creates a cult following (can’t spell culture without c-u-l-t!) of repeat clients and engaged employees that advocate for your brand and empower you to reach the same heights as the biggest companies in the world.

Step 2 in evolving from a startup to a professional organization is protecting your brand. Once you invest your time and hard-earned money to develop it, the last thing you want to do is damage it. (Right?)

These days, a common way to damage your brand is through a security incident. Companies such as Colonial Pipeline, Kaseya and UC San Diego Health know that only too well.

Instead of being known for their products and services, they’re known for a successful ransomware attack that caused panic gas buying and a phishing scam that resulted in nearly a half-million people potentially having their medical records exposed. (Not a good look!)

If you think incidents like the ones described above would never happen to you because your organization is too small, think again!

According to a recent report by Verizon, 46 percent of data breaches take place at small businesses. And, according to the Ponemon Institute, a data breach will cost you almost $3 million dollars. Can your company withstand an unexpected cost like that?

Now, you’re probably thinking, “How can I protect my investment in my brand?”

While many protections are required to prevent a security incident from taking your organization down, the following will allow you to quickly reduce your security risk.

  1. Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) everywhere. MFA reinforces your passwords by adding a second layer of security that confirms you are who you say you are when you log in.
  2. Implement Single-Sign-On to extend protection to all cloud services.
  3. Ensure your backups work and are protected from ransomware.
  4. Train and test employees about current cyber threats.

And if you implement protections before your organization gets too big, “congratulations!  You’re a hero,”  because the time, money and heartache involved in implementing protections increases linearly with the number of people in your organization.

But, that’s not the only overlooked brand protection tool that you need.

Part 3 of growing and protecting your brand is to be prepared for PR crises.

It’s said that, “Any publicity is good publicity.”

But in 2022, is this really still the case?

Spoiler alert – the answer is “no.”

In fact, today’s virtual communication environment means much of the content about you and your organization could very well come from unqualified individuals sitting in their parent’s basement with a smartphone, several social media accounts, and a personal ax to grind.

Even the best brand protection strategies may not be enough when anyone – not just news organizations – possesses the capability to publicly disparage an organization. You need to get ahead of the story. Some of you may think, “Can you prepare for a crisis that you don’t know is coming?”

You bet you can! More importantly, you should! Develop a response plan not when you absolutely need it, but when you think you MIGHT need it. The reason is simple. You’ve likely got about an hour to get your positions on the record in today’s online environment before the other side dominates the conversation.

If that happens, you’re in trouble. (BIG trouble!)

If you or your organization becomes the subject of a Crisis PR matter, you’ll need to figure out with whom you need to communicate. In all cases, you’ll want to prioritize audiences like this:

  1. Employees
  2. Customers
  3. Partners
  4. Agency officials/government entities
  5. Investors (or Donors if you’re a non-profit)
  6. Press/General Public

No matter the issue, staff must always – ALWAYS – get told about an adverse news event before any other audience. Employees serve as the most effective and valuable marketing assets. Empower them to convey your message clearly and effectively.

Next, know the crucial messages you desire to communicate.

Be sure to convey them with empathy along with an action plan. Doing so does not mean you must admit culpability. Certainly, if you’ve done something wrong, own up to it.

Regardless, be sure to show the anxiety-laden audiences that you care. It will help diffuse the situation faster.

Lastly, prepare for the “gotcha” questions – inquiries with an inherent bias – that seemingly come from out of nowhere and not just from news organizations.

These are inquiries like…

“So when did you realize you were doing this wrong?”

or…

“Why didn’t you figure this out earlier?”

and…

“Did you know all along that you were not talking?”

Audiences will insinuate that the organization and its leaders did something wrong, either by malicious intent or negligence. If you prepare well enough in advance, you’ll answer that question effectively while staying on message.

In this day of angry social media posts and uncivil discourse, the likelihood of you and your organization getting your reputation questioned is high. Not only can you prepare for such instances in advance, but you must!

Those are three often overlooked steps to growing and protecting your startup’s brand. Which one(s) do you need to focus on?

If you’d like to learn more about any of these topics, please contact Karl at [email protected] about optimizing your brand messaging, Anne at [email protected] about protecting your brand from security incidents, and Dave at [email protected] about protecting your brand with crisis PR.

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Karl Pontau
Karl Pontauhttps://squashandstretch.net/
I’m the owner of Squash and Stretch Productions and help people who want to have a big impact on their communities attract more of their best clients and employees with engaging, empathetic stories. I beat two brain tumors when I was 15, thanks to the help of my friends, family, community, and medical team. It’s why I’m so driven to help others build the sort of strong, empathetic connections that got me through the worst year of my life. If I could cast a spell that made everybody on Earth as empathetic as humanly possible - but casting the spell would kill me - I’d do it. It would solve big problems we’re facing like political and social divides, war, and inequality. And, it’d make challenges like Climate Change, Cancer, and Alzheimer's much easier to overcome. I enjoy working with professionals in the tech, biotech, healthcare, and professional services industries and believe that everybody has a story worth sharing.

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CONVERSATIONS

  1. Thanks for drawing our attention to this interesting subject so inspiring and deserving the utmost consideration.
    Before customers believe in the “project” and therefore the brand, trust must also be rooted within the company! A strong brand needs to develop a strong sense of belonging internally. An unsatisfied employee or collaborator is a huge crack that can cause even a fortress to collapse, a loose cannon that sooner or later will explode, risking to do really big damage.
    The brand should tell a story. A company that knows how to communicate and tell with a common thread and a strategy can be a winner.
    Whatever you do, you have to be “CONSISTENT”. The brand, the logo, the communication (both foreign and internal), the products, the relationship with customers, the values proposed and professed, etc., everything must be COORDINATED.

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