While I was attending innovfest unbound earlier this year, I met a lot of Singapore start-ups – both those exhibiting in booths and pitching at start-up challenges. I noticed that many of them do not pay enough attention to building or leveraging their brand. When compared with their U.S. counterparts, Singapore start-ups fare badly, when it comes to creating a corporate identify, investing in the look and feel of the company, and continuously managing the brand.
The leader of a company must understand the value of branding, right from day one. Your company’s brand is basically what the public thinks of when they hear your brand name. And while many entrepreneurs may think developing a brand means creating a company logo, good branding involves a whole range of items that are associated with the company, such as product names, designs, symbols, colours, or phrases.
Building the brand of a company is similar to building your own personality. It sets the company apart from others, and enables people to understand the company based on its values, character and expected behaviour. In the crowded start-up space, this is critical for establishing trust, loyalty and competitiveness. However, a reliable brand is relevant to everyone – not just the customers or prospective customers. For investors, it provides a sense of stability; for employees, it gives them a sense of direction and purpose; and for strategic partners, it offers a sense of fairness.
And while larger companies often outsource their brand development strategy to expensive consultancy companies, start-ups wanting to get their brand right, should focus on three key areas:
Choose the right company name
The name of your start-up should be easy to pronounce, not sound similar to any competitor and preferably have a linkage to the business you are in. Where possible, do not choose a generic word for your company name, otherwise imagine the nightmare a customer will have when doing a simple Google search on your company. Many technical founders choose strange names that only have meaning to a small group. This is a mistake. The name (together with message, logo and other branding mechanisms) must be easy to remember, clear and striking.
In some cases, the right name can instantly provide the right association. For example, the VC firm Sevin Rosen was known for investing in and renaming start-ups to begin with the letter ‘C’, such as Cypress, Cyrix, Compac and Cienna. I was an early investor with Sevin Rosen in Cyrix, and this resulted in a very satisfying win for me. Whenever I would encounter a new start-up starting with a ‘C’, I would quickly do a background check to see if Sevin Rosen had invested in them, as if they had, the start-up would be of immediate interest to me.
Think through your logo and design
Your logo and design should be symbolic of your company’s identity, broadly conveying what the company stands for. Where relevant use appropriate imagery, so the brand establishes the right identity in people’s minds. The brand should also resonate with your customers, evoking a certain response.
Protect your brand
One reason why brands can accumulate such value over time is because they can be protected. For example, the Tiffany brand, which associates with the robin egg blue box and luxury items, is over 170 years old. In order to maintain your brand identity, start-ups should develop an active and co-ordinated marketing strategy. There is a symbiotic relationship between the brand and marketing, where the company’s brand is used to assist marketing, and marketing is used to further strengthen the brand. Through pushing out consistent and regular messages about your brand image, the message will be perceived and embraced by a prospective customer.
Before you dismiss the value of your brand, think of Google, which according to a recent study is the world’s most valuable brand, estimated at more than US$109 billion in 2016. By having a well-planned and co-ordinated strategy, you could develop your brand into one of your most valued assets!
Ike Lee is an executive advisor to NUS Enterprise, a Visiting Professor at the NUS Business School and the CEO of LTC Innovations. He has extensive experience within the entrepreneurship sector, as an angel investor, venture capitalist from the Silicon Valley and mentor to numerous start-up management teams.