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  • Writer's pictureDeJuan Wright

Making This Simple Branding Mistake Could Ruin Your Startup

Now it may be hard to picture at the moment, especially since the term is so prevalent in present day business terminology; but not long ago, the term branding, was a term that was very much frowned upon by business professionals—especially executives of large corporations. 

Why? You may ask? Well, the answer is that as ridiculous as it may seem today, not long ago—companies only focused on facets of marketing that could be meticulously measured and explained in P&L statements.  

Therefore, marketing pioneers of yesteryear had a pretty tough time explaining to their company’s senior executives how something that could not be measured—like branding—deserved to have its own budget. 

It is for those reasons, branding, while an extremely popular term today—is still relatively new as far as startup founders having an understanding of all of the do’s and don’ts that are required to successfully brand a startup. Which opens the door for many branding mistakes—some being far more critical than others. 

The mistake not to make when branding your startup

Without a doubt, I believe that if you were to ask most brand marketers to list their top five most iconic brands of all time—Nike would definitely be somewhere on that list. In fact, a case could easily be made that Nike is the brand most responsible for changing the way that branding is perceived today by senior executives of large corporations.

Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of Nike's greatness has also led many brand marketers and senior executives to believe that Nike became the iconic brand that it is today simply by only focusing on the emotional aspect of the brand. 

I’m sure you’re probably wondering, “What does that even mean, DeJuan?” Well, take a second and write down the first three things that come to mind whenever you think of Nike as a brand. I’m sure that the functional benefits of their products probably would not make your list. 

That’s because when it comes to Nike, due to the brand’s excellent marketing over the last 30-plus years, people instantly associate the brand with either their favorite athletes, celebrities, or the emotions that the brand evokes through its advertising campaigns. 

While Nike has more than earned the right to market their brand today in a way that focuses primarily on evoking consumer emotion and not the functional benefits of their products; when it comes to branding your business, that branding approach could be the very thing that ruins your startup.

“You can’t think of the benefits of the product and the feelings of the brand as two separate things that need to be balanced.” Says branding expert and author of the book, Obsessed: Building a Brand People Love From Day One, Emily Heyward. “Instead, you need to figure out how to connect them. Every product has a set of functional benefits.” 

How to make the connection 

Speaking of Nike, long before the swoosh became the epitome of successful branding, Nike actually made it a focal point in their marketing to focus on the functionality of their products—especially footwear. Yes, while it may seem like ancient history today, back in the early days of Nike (when the company was primarily known for its running shoes), Nike placed much more of an emphasis on the performance of their products. 

As Nike co-founder and former CEO Phil Knight explained in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, “For years, we thought of ourselves as a production-oriented company, meaning we put all our emphasis on designing and manufacturing the product. We’ve come around to saying that Nike is a marketing-oriented company, and the product is our most important marketing tool.” 

Knight went on to state, “The design elements and functional characteristics of the product itself are just part of the overall marketing process.” 

One of the keys to building a brand that people will love is by making a connection between your product’s functional benefits and the emotions that you want your brand to evoke from its audience. To do that, begin by identifying a set of key functional benefits your product has that could make consumers' lives better. Then, align those benefits with a great brand story that’ll touch your audience emotionally.

“Start with your functional benefits—the full set of them.” Says Heyward. “And then figure out how they can all build to an overarching emotional territory. In other words, how they will make people feel.”

In the case of Nike, the brand connected their exceptionally engineered shoes (their product’s functional benefit) with athletes overcoming intimidating odds to persevere to greatness (their emotional story). Like Nike, you could also build a brand that is  beloved by its target audience by simply connecting the functional benefits of your startup’s products—with a story that will draw your audience towards your brand emotionally. 

So, don’t hesitate to make the connection in your branding and instead—just do it (pun intended). 

Need help making the connection?

Helping startup brands convey their best narrative to consumers is what we do best at Decryption. As a client, our primary priority will be to help decrypt and share your startup’s best narrative to the world. The way to become a Decryption client is by contacting us to schedule an interview.

After becoming a client, we’ll begin the process of helping your startup connect via culture to advance in the market. 


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