You’re excited you found a great new business idea. You work hard and wait for customers to beat a path to your front door.
And then your faith as a business becomes a probability game.
About 476,000 new businesses are created each month according to reports. Many will struggle during the first few years -- and ultimately, half will fail and half will succeed. How you build, manage and market the brand behind your startup will determine which half you’ll be in.
In my years as a professional brand builder, professor of branding and author of a popular guide to brand building, I’ve seen the same pitfalls -- over and over again -- limit these fledgling businesses. Stay aware of these potential snags, and you'll be better able to overcome them.
1. Run without a map
A compelling business idea can give you the illusion that you can just run to get into market, and it will succeed.
But failing to understand where you're starting from or where you're headed will send you spinning instead. Before you do anything, you need to understand your starting point, which are the strengths of your proposition, the characteristics of the market you compete in and the opportunities you're after.
Reading industry newsletters is a great place to start. So is digging online. Do your own market research. Reach out to similar businesses. You’d be surprised how accessible business owners are to up-and-comers. Do surveys, questionnaires, focus groups to decode potential customers. Do the groundwork.
Only when you know where you're starting from can you chart your ultimate business destination.
2. Skimp on brand building
People think that building a brand comes after you've proven yourself in the marketplace and have the money to do so.
A startup can go the way of success -- or implosion -- with a few decisions or market changes. Often, the ability of that startup to capture value will be dependent on whether it already stands for something and has attracted the right customer following. And yet, many startups skimp on brand building efforts, such as research and marketing, thus failing to ever capture the right consumers.
Investing in your brand from the start by testing your product with customers and building a marketing activity system increases your long-term potential. Limited dollars shouldn't be an excuse. There are several creative ways and tools with social media and reviews that allow you to conduct research without breaking the bank.
Similarly, you can run quick marketing experiments, for example using search campaigns to understand if a discount, an ad or a contest drives your sales. Experiment, build and measure. Don’t leave brand building for last. It will be too late.
3. Stand for a laundry list of features
Most startups are defined at the beginning by the product they sell, thus a long list of features. But consumers don’t really buy features -- they buy benefits that solve a specific need.
The best way to deliver benefits is via a brand -- a promise of an experience that goes well beyond product. Then you can focus on excelling at delivering, communicating and nurturing those benefits that make you truly distinctive and drive higher appeal. Try answering these questions: What's your brand’s 30-second elevator speech? What benefit do you offer? What makes you different? Whose needs do you solve?
Intrigue me between the first and third floors. Write that down. Make it clear, compelling and relevant. Then use it as a north star in everything you do. If you can’t do that -- if you can’t focus your brand with a laser-sharp intensity -- you’ll be forever lost and undefined. Lack of clarity in branding is like shooting in the dark.
4. Focus on quantity vs. quality
The drive to increase sales -- fast -- is the lifeblood of any entrepreneur.
However, when that drive is focused on ruthless customer acquisition, you'll lose in the long run. First, you won’t get those consumers that really matter. Second, you're probably not giving each of them the best experience possible to stick with you over time.
Brand loyalty is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Customers who trust, respect and recommend your business. They become brand ambassadors. But that relationship is hard-earned, and it’s your job to do the work.
Remember, your customers can probably find your service or product somewhere else. So reach out to them, listen and consider their insights and suggestions. Each customer relationship is valuable. No customers, no sales.
5. Rest on your laurels too quickly
Once you put all the pieces in place and you feel you’ve established yourself within your industry, it’s the perfect time to….start all over again.
Since you began your journey all those months or years ago, the industry has changed. Your market has changed. Social media platforms have added new tricks. New apps have been created. From out of nowhere, persimmon is the new black. And competing businesses are a step ahead of you and fighting for your customer.
Never before has business morphed so dramatically in such a short period of time. If you don’t keep up with changes and updates, you’ll be yesterday’s news. Know what's working, what’s not and be disciplined to adjust your brand-building journey. Be committed to learning above all. Remember, Charles Darwin evolution theory also applies to brands: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."
Don’t let any of these pitfalls turn your startup into a negative statistic. With proper strategy, clarity, market understanding and some action planning for your startup, you can significantly increase your chances of success.