What's in a brand? A name, a logo? For Fanny Basteau, the cofounder of the Parisian marketing agency, SoFood, and AcceleRise mentor, a brand is the essence of your company and the public expression of its strategy? Startups, because we want you to succeed, here are 5 pitfalls to avoid.



1. staying in a 'product' mindset


Fanny Basteau offers a word of caution: "When a startup is launched, it is structured around the sale of a product. For example, a 'smart' fork, an anti-waste app or a meat-less burger."


If the product is essential to a startup's development, for getting a foothold in a market, generating revenue or starting off a product range, it is not the be all and end all of the brand. "You need to make the difference between a brand and a product. Dyson doesn't sell vacuum cleaners, it sells a cleaner and more silent world. L'Oréal doesn't sell creams and makeup but eternal beauty. Evian doesn't sell bottled water but a promise of youth. Staying in a "product" mindset is setting yourself a limit that you will soon reach. Your company should be looking beyond that limit."



2. stopping at logo design


Around her, Fanny often hears young entrepreneurs say "All's good. My brand is all set up: I've got my logo and a protected trademark." Wrong! A brand is much more than that.


As Harry Beckwith, American marketing expert, says in "Selling the Invisible" (a must-read if you don't know it already - he is the grey matter behind brands such as IBM and Merck): Brands are a "shortcut" for decision-making in a world where everyone is looking for a shortcut.


Alright then. We might need a bit of an explanation... "On the one hand, a brand is a decision-making tool for the client, to help them quickly find your product in a busy marketplace. On the other hand, it is decision-making tool for you, startupper, between the various challenges you will meet. Your brand will help you to determine your long term vision, your strategic choices or your values," Fanny explains.


"When you are ready for that step, you need to formally define your brand beyond just a name and a logo: you need to build a brand platform".



3. Building an uninspired or non-lasting brand platform


A brand platform? Fanny, help us out here... 


A brand platform needs to express the 'raison d'être' of your startup. It is not just your market positioning, or your sales pitch, or your product value proposition, or your competitive advantage. It should raise you up, allow you to find what breathes life into your brand, it should inform your decisions and makes itself felt during all touch points. The consumer doesn't buy what you make but why you make it."


If it is necessary to go deeper in your thinking, conversely, a brand platform should not be a mass of sound bites and buzzwords. Any examples, Fanny? "Words like 'excellence or "values" have no meaning! I'll give you a tip for staying grounded: if you choose a word where you know that noone would lay claim to being the opposite, your brand has no real meaning. For example, "excellence". The opposite of "excellent" is "mediocre" and no brand lays claim to mediocrity! However, "luxury" is more grounded as another brand may well lay claim to being "affordable".


A brand platform is the famous "Why" talked about by Simon Senek (find out more here) the challenge is thus to keep your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds... or for the more scientifically-inclined among you, "Look into a microscope with one eye and a telescope with the other" in the words of Alina Wheeler in Designing Brand Identity.



4. Forgetting to include your company's activities


A brand platform needs to understand the vision, goals and reason for being of your company. These provide the foundations as well as guidelines for the future.


Their presence is also essential for any workshops on brand building. This means taking the time to do it right, even if it means whole days of work. "Of course, on the scale of a startup under development, it can be difficult to find the time, but it's really important."


But don't forget to look at the nitty-gritty of your company's activities in the definition of your brand: "Your brand platform is the marketing filter of your strategic vision, that is to say your profession, targets, distribution channels... These questions must be taken into account so that your brand platform is efficient and relevant."



5. not finding outside viewpoints


Keeping everything within the confines of your team could be a mistake. As Marty Neumeier says in The Brand Gap: "A brand. It's not what you say it is. It's what they say it is." 


"Outside of your startup, a number of outsiders have already created an image for your brand. These can be your partners, your first clients or suppliers, your incubator or accelerator... their contribution can give you an outside viewpoint, one that is more objective, to highlight the qualities or defects that they have perceived and that you may not be aware of."


Don't hesitate to call on or question these people directly. Make sure that you are having a fully open conversation with them.


"For the brand platform building sessions and workshops that we organise for startups, we ask them to invite "stakeholders" or advisers, as they are highly involved in the construction of the startup and in the brands overall goals,' concludes Fanny Basteau.



By Christophe Breuillet

Managing director of Vitagora and AcceleRise, Christophe is the big boss! His various areas of expertise cover innovation and food business development, internationalisation and influence strategies… basically Food “Business” with a capital B! You can contact him at: christophe.breuillet@vitagora.com