These are exciting and ambitious times for the startup community in London. Last year, the Mayor announced the £25m London Co-investment Fund, with a further £60m contributed by private sector partners. Inc. magazine ran a feature in February 2015 covering the 15 hottest London startups. You can read more about it here:
As the startup domain expands and establishes itself in London, long term sustainability and resilience of startups will increasingly come under scrutiny. There will be intense focus from investors and also from customers. There is no doubt about the fact that ideas with long term viability, driven by sound business models and led by passionate individuals form the basis of all the success stories in the startup domain in London.
But, one of the frequently ignored aspects of medium and long-term drivers of growth in this industry are the concepts of building a brand and developing strong brand equity. These might sound like oft-quoted and oft-repeated examples, but most of the hugely successful startups globally (e.g. AirBnB, Uber) have strong brand identities coupled with disruptive product ideas. Emerging startups need to have a strategic focus towards building a brand. This is equally true for both the B2B and B2C spaces and levels / verticals therein.
One initial aspect that every startup does well is checking product or idea viability at a concept stage and later at a prototype stage. Technology has opened up avenues and platforms for quick, effective and reliable consumer feedback via crowdsourcing, mobile surveys, UX research workshops and creative brainstorming. It is the immediate post-launch and mid-term stage where startups need to focus on brand building. This is critical for quite a few reasons:
1) Innovative ideas are copied, edited, re-packaged and re-launched by competitors quite fast. But strong brands cannot be copied and created. Brand building is a patient and thoughtful process that requires time, energy, commitment and focus
2) Novelty of an innovative or disruptive idea or service wears out quite quickly (and even more so in today's times when consumers are getting used to rapid innovation and disruptive product launches). The sustenance of an innovative product or an idea depends largely on the visibility, application and implementation of the trademark around it. Thinking of some original disruptors who continuously innovate even till now and you will come across examples like Amazon Prime. The concept of a 'next day delivery' for an online purchase is not new, but Amazon Prime as a brand name is. Other examples are Uber's brand portfolio extension, which is a nice play on a corporate brand endorsed brand architecture - uberX, uberTaxi, uberBlack, uberSUV and uberLUX. Think about Square. Think about Twitter. Branding is everything
3) Benefits of a strong brand translate into positive brand equity. The advantage of having positive equity acts as an enabler for startups to diversify product offerings and even enter adjacent industry sectors. The equity opens up the first few doors of opportunities for new ventures, which can then be strengthened through top-notch product experience. Google was a startup and still considers it to be able to foster the same entrepreneurial spirit that its founders had on Day Zero. So, what doors does the Google brand open for Google? You name it and have it - Google X, driverless cars, Google Glass and the freshly minted Google Cardboard (read more here: http://uk.businessinsider.com/google-io-could-feature-virtual-reality-2015-5?r=US)
4) Startup branding is not only about having a consistent set of fonts, lettering style, colours or insignia. Design elements in brand building definitely need to be given the utmost attention, but the elements of brand building that require strategic thinking is around the brand mission or vision, brand positioning, frameworks, guidelines and guardrails. Strong startup brands have clear and articulated mission and vision statements.
5) Branding is a strategic differentiator. There are quite a few successful, functionally strong and feature rich comparison websites in the UK. But why does comparethemarket.com enjoy high levels of awareness, memorability and appeal?
6) Branding is a positive influencing factor in a startup's life cycle. In the initial stages, branding helps in driving awareness and visibility. In the growth stage, it helps in broadening awareness, appeal and establishing a brand positioning. In maturity stages, it helps in gaining and strengthening brand equity, which in turn fuels further growth
As London increasingly becomes the next hottest destination for the most creative and disruptive ideas and challenges Silicon Valley's stronghold, it is critical that startups here embrace, adopt and implement strong brand building strategies. As the marketplace becomes more crowded, and as more and more product innovations jostle to get the attention of the consumer, the importance of having strong brands becomes critical for startups.