Positioning a Start-Up

Positioning a Start-Up


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Building brands is a challenge for a small business with limited resources and budgets. Nevertheless, numerous success stories exist of entrepreneurs who have built their brands up essentially from scratch to become powerhouse brands. When resources are limited, focus and consistency in marketing programs become critically important. Creativity is also paramount—finding new ways to market new ideas about products to consumers. Here are some specific branding guidelines for small businesses:


Find a compelling product or service performance advantage. As for any brand, demonstrable, meaningful differences in product or service performance can be the key to success. Dropbox has carved out a strong position in the face of a slew of competitors that also offer consumers a means to conveniently store massive amounts of documents, photos, videos, and other files, in part by virtue of its convenient single-folder approach to accommodate multiple devices for a user.34

Focus on building one or two strong brands based on one or two key associations. Small businesses often must rely on only one or two brands and key associations as points of difference for them. These associations must be consistently reinforced across the marketing program and over time. Rooted in the snowboarding and surfing cultures, Volcom has adopted a “Youth Against Establishment” credo that has resulted in steady sales of its music, athletic apparel, and jewelry.

Encourage product or service trial in any way possible. A successful small business has to distinguish itself in ways consumers can learn about and experience. One way is to encourage trial through sampling, demonstrations, or any means to engage consumers with the brand. See’s Candies allows walk-in customers to sample any piece of candy in the shop they choose. As one senior executive noted, “That’s the best marketing we have, if people try it, they love it.” See’s uses all fresh ingredients and no added preservatives to create its enticing flavors.35

Develop a cohesive digital strategy to make the brand “bigger and better.” Social media, online advertising, and e-commerce allow small firms to have a larger profile than they might otherwise. Urbane Apartments, a property investment and management company in Royal Oak, Michigan, has a virtual prominence that far exceeds its real-world scope. The company boasts a resident-penned blog touting favorite Royal Oak destinations, its own Urbane Lobby social networking site for tenants, and active YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter profiles.36 Mobile marketing can be especially important given the local nature of many small businesses.

Create buzz and a loyal brand community. Small businesses often must rely on word of mouth to establish their positioning, but they can find public relations, social networking, and low-cost promotions and sponsorship to be inexpensive alternatives. Creating a vibrant brand community among current and prospective customers can also be a cost-effective way to reinforce loyalty and help spread the word to new prospects. Evernote has several dozen “power users” who serve as passionate ambassadors to spread the word about the personal-organization application brand touted by the online company as the everything- in-one-place “external brain” for its customers.37

Employ a well-integrated set of brand elements. Tactically, it is important for small businesses to maximize the contribution of all types of brand-equity drivers. In particular, they should develop a distinctive, well-integrated set of brand elements—brand names, logos, packaging—that enhances both brand awareness and brand image. Brand elements should be memorable and meaningful, with as much creative potential as possible. Innovative packaging can substitute for ad campaigns by capturing attention at the point of purchase. SMARTFOOD introduced its first product without any advertising by means of both a unique package that served as a strong visual symbol on the shelf and an extensive sampling program that encouraged trial. Proper names or family names, which often characterize small businesses, may provide some distinctiveness but can suffer in terms of pronounceability, meaningfulness, memorability, or other branding considerations.

Leverage as many secondary associations as possible. Secondary associations—any persons, places, or things with potentially relevant associations—are often a cost-effective shortcut to building brand equity, especially those that help to signal quality or credibility. In 1996, J. Darius Bickoff launched an electrolyte-enhanced line of bottled water called Smartwater, followed in two years by the introduction of Vitaminwater, a vitamin-enhanced and flavored alternative to plain bottled water, and by Fruitwater two years after that. Clever marketing (including endorsement deals with rapper 50 Cent, singer Kelly Clarkson, actress Jennifer Aniston, and football star Tom Brady) helped drive success. Less than 10 years after its launch, Bickoff’s Energy Brands company, also known as Glacéau, was sold to the Coca-Cola company for $4.2 billion.38

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