Marketing at a Startup: Brand Awareness

How to build a brand - it's a leading question for almost every startup out there. There's no silver bullet. It takes time, but more than that, it takes a strategic approach. While many get bogged down by logos and colors, it's important to focus on how the audience connects to your brand.

Connecting the audience to the brand

Some people refer to this as the brand experience, however, the above phrase is much more apt because it emphasizes equal focus on the audience. 

This journey involves 3 stops.

  1. Discovering the audience

  2. Mapping their current journey

  3. Mapping their journey with the brand

At the first stop - discovering the audience - we ask two simple questions.

Who is the audience? And why do they want to buy?
Although the questions seem simple, the answers require work.

  • Who is the audience?

    Discovering your target audience is a stumbling block for many businesses. Startups that aim for "anyone with a wallet" end up with too broad of a spectrum, which leads to confusion when pricing, marketing, refining your product and beyond.   Many marketers rely on assigning personas based on qualitative characteristics, like their age, gender and location. It's difficult to make accurate assumptions on an individual customers’ interests, needs, wants or values based solely on such demographics. 

    Companies like Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and Google know that the key to understanding customers depends on what they do, not what we think they do. Audience behaviors can paint a much more accurate picture of what they want and need. We can reverse engineer the target audience by starting with second question - why do they want to buy?

  • Audience intent, or Why do they want to buy?

At the heart of any human action is the desire to satisfy a certain need. This applies to an action like making a purchase as well. In 1943, Maslow published his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation, ” in which he proposed that human needs form a hierarchy that can be visualized in this pyramid. 

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.jpg

Knowing your audience's motivation can help in targeting the product in way that leads to conversion. This works in simple scenarios, like advertising a cold beer when someone has a biological need - thirst; or UberBlack for a user’s needs for esteem - an elevated status and reputation. Ultimately, all humans want to be a better version of themselves. Understanding the why behind your audience helps strategize for growth.

The second stop - mapping the current journey - plots real audience behavior across their current experience. One effective way to do this is empathy mapping. Frequently used in the product, design and UX world, empathy mapping provides the perspective needed to form a sound growth strategy. 

  • Empathy mapping
    Empathy mapping is a series of hypothesis about the audience and user’s experience. Developing a hypothesis is great, but this next step is crucial.

  • Validate with data.
    Using search, social and qualitative data plus web analytics, the hypotheses should be proven/disproven.

What does the current audience experience look like... without your product or service? How are they searching for solutions? How are they framing their pain points? Who are they talking to? Where? And who is responding? Who are your competitors and how are they interacting with the audience? Answering questions like these can help you really step into your audience's shoes and paired with their intent, define a strategy to move the needle.

The third and final stop - mapping the journey with brand - highlights touchpoints where the brand can add value to the audience's questions and conversation. The modern customer journey is incredibly complex. The path to purchase involves many different touchpoints across multiple channels, over an extended period of time that can span from weeks to months. Building on insights from the first and second parts - both analytical and anecdotal, it becomes easier to define where, when and how the brand can add value, and create WOW or YES! moments for the audience.

On the more tactical side, there are a wide range of journey map visualizations - from post-its to collaborative cloud software. Find out what works best for you and your team. The goal is to ensure that the user’s story remains front and center. I highly recommend working with a designer to produce the graphic to ensure it is as clear as possible and grabs your stakeholder's attention.

journey map examples.jpg

Paired with the right OKRs and goals, THIS is the time to experiment - start testing tactics like SEO, PPC, Paid, etc. These tactics are constantly evolving based on multiple factors, from user interest to government intervention. What works today may not work tomorrow, or even today for a different brand. That's why it's important to have a mindset of experimentation. I'll discuss this in more detail in a future post. Up next, we'll look at the how to create an exceptional customer-product experience.