Digital etiquette used to be “a thing” when diving into a brand strategy. With turmoil being faced in today’s society, the branding process has evolved to embrace an era of change. In lieu of just staying in line with trends and your competition, messaging is taking a bold stance especially in the startup industry. Founders, if you’re launching your business this year but you’re not sure how to pivot and authentically go against the grain, I’m providing my brand strategy highlights you should consider as you embark on the second half of 2020.
Your startup can’t be everything to everyone. Consider the days when you were first jotting down your value proposition. You likely went through a similar exercise of:
In today’s world when everyone is trying to practice digital etiquette, startups are missing the mark in their messaging. Don’t forcefully tie in your brand narrative to politics or racial injustice for the sake of enhancing your digital footprint with trending keywords.
Authentic, reliable, trustworthy, truthful, credible. Pick your word of choice, but it all narrows down to to the same narrative. In Thierry Brunfaut's riveting article, The Branding Vaccine, Brunfaut highlights the shifting paradigm of "value-washing" which is now transitioning into the new greenwashing.
What we never imagined backfiring on us is the disease we altogether disseminated: the brand bullsh*t. For years, we brand marketers, brand managers, or so-called brand experts watched too many keynotes and TED talks, ate up too much of Simon Sinek’s “Why, How, What,” put too many post-its on walls, and drew too many clever strategy charts. We immersed ourselves and others in a deep sea of brand jargon to create a brand illusion. An illusion of authenticity.
As we face multiple levels of crisis on health, humanitarian, and social justice levels, we've become immune to mission statements that are copied and pasted from other sites. The lines of branding have blurred and as an audience, we no longer want to hear the mushy-gushy language.
Founders, no matter whether you're launching a tangible product, tech platform, or service-based company, heed warning to the era of brand BS. Your audience - from consumers to investors - will smell your artificial aura from a mile away.
The most successful brands are now taking a firm stance. Whether it's committing X amount of dollars from their profits to help COVID relief or increasing diversity within their board, corporations are no longer staying silent on the sidelines.
There's strength in numbers which adds to the rationale why brands - from startup to well-established - need to take a stance. To pivot your company, look at the real-world examples. Look to the brands featured in AdAge who are taking a stand against racism. Recent initiatives include:
The VC community is making strides with the launch of initiatives to help accelerate the growth for Black founders. Joining Valence's VC initiative, partners at Accel, Sequoia, GGV, First Round Capital, Bessemer Ventures, Greylock, Upfront Ventures and Collab Capital are looking for ways to propel the growth of Black-owned startups. There is, however, an uptick in questionable motivations that has taken the Twitter community by storm. For example, Sydney Paige Thomas, Senior Associate at Precursor Ventures, noted on her Twitter feed:
When I first started PrecursorVC I got so many emails from recruiters who wanted to access to founders so they could help them find talent. I responded to each with the same question - how are URM represented in your talent database?
Having the motivation to do good isn't enough. There needs to be a striking parallel between the intention and the act of making real impact. Twitter's community has encapsulated this notion within their latest conversation, aptly named 'Make the Hire, Send the Wire.'
People want to know the steps that you're taking now to back up the mission-driven language that's listed in your investor deck and website. With a new generation of entrepreneurship, branding has new benchmarks to reach which will alter the branding process moving forward. Digital etiquette, homogeneous messaging, and lack of an actionable game plan will bring the demise of brands in the months to come. The most victorious will be those who speak up and move the needle forward outside of the world of brand theory.