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Aspire to build a ‘Brand’ not ‘Product’

When I was running my first café, there were at least 10 other places to get coffee in our town. Though the quality varied, generally speaking, our competitors offered a pretty similar product ‒ caffeine.

So how did we get people to come to our shop?

We made ourselves more than just a café.

We positioned our business as a place where you could connect with the heart of what was going on in town. In addition to our own live bands and art shows, we hosted nonprofit organizations’ meetings, gave aspiring musicians a place to rehearse and helped promote local events. The coffee and pastries we offered, in my mind, were ancillary to what we were really doing ‒ building a community. This was the heart of what drove our business.
Unfortunately, this alone didn’t get us to the finish line, but it did bring me to a very poignant epiphany: Successful, long-lasting companies have powerful brands that evoke an emotional response from customers.

build brand

Did Apple make “the best” MP3 player when they released the iPod? Not necessarily but they did make the one people thought was the best. Apple created a product that, in consumers’ minds, embodied a set of values and aspirations they connected with.

Now, it’s no easy task to achieve that same level of brand loyalty but utilizing the

“Brand First” mentality can help to begin to separate you from your competitors.
Here are some things to consider when transforming your product or service into something people genuinely care about. A brand.

Who are you?
I don’t mean this in an existential, drop of out society and join the League of Shadows way. Though that couldn’t hurt. What I mean is, figure out what your business stands for. Or more importantly, what doesn’t it stand for?

Are you dedicated to entirely eco-friendly business practices? Will you only source materials manufactured in India? Or are you an ardent supporter of human space exploration?

Whatever your company’s platform is, make sure people know about it. Even if it has nothing to do with the specific product or service you sell, consumers want to know what kind of business ‒ and people ‒ their money is supporting.


Who are your customers?
I don’t mean your “customers” in the traditional sense. I mean, who are the people who’ve never heard of you ‒ but if they did ‒ would rally behind you?

The people who most patronized my coffee shop were young mothers and their children. However, “our people” were music and culture aficionados who raved about our avant-garde late night shows. These were the people that were excited about our coffee shop. Now, they didn’t buy as much as the early morning moms with kids did but these fans got online and helped spread the word about what really made our shop special. Find out who’s going to do the same for you.

Tell your story
Part of the beauty of being a startup is that you don’t have to behave in the same way a stodgy multinational corporation does.

You can be a real person connecting with other real people. Namely, your customers. You can be personal and involve them in the process of creating and running your business.

Look at kickstarter
Businesses are being launched with the help of strangers from the very beginning. If you’re honest with people about the state of your business, what you’re objectives are and why you’re doing it, often times the public will reward you. In fact, they’ll feel an authentic affinity towards your brand much in the same way people feel a connection to a sports team. Help people root for you.

Entrepreneurship isn’t about being infallible. It’s literally the embodiment of the human condition: success in spite of adversity. Show your human side, flaws included and get people involved in your story.

Be bold
American architect and urban designer, Daniel Burnham once said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.” Meaning, go for it!

If you’re launching a startup, you’re likely putting your entire livelihood on the line. If that’s the case, you ought to make sure the gamble is worth it.

Take Goodwill’s vision statement for their company: Every person has the opportunity to achieve his/her fullest potential and participate to all aspects of life.

That’s epic. Now, it doesn’t mean they’re currently achieving that, or ever will, but it’s the North Star guiding the spiritual mission of the business and inspiring its employees and customers to help make it a reality. Consider this when deciding what promise land your brand trying to inspire people to reach.

This article was first published on Monster.com.

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