How To Brand Your Startup

Eric Ries defines a startup in his book, The Lean Startup as “a human institution designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” A startup can be a small group of engineers working in Silicon Valley or an established enterprise fighting to innovate.

At Applico, we specialize in the platform business model. This branding playbook provides guidance to startup leaders from both small and large organizations launching a platform and developing its brand.

Our Branding POV 


1. Platforms are unique, brand them accordingly.  

Platforms are not like linear businesses. A platform is defined as a business model that enables the exchange of value between two interdependent user groups, usually producers and consumers. The platform doesn’t directly create any of the consumed value, but rather facilitates the exchange of that value.

Popular examples:

  • Uber: connects riders and drivers
  • Airbnb: connects travelers with holders of latent housing inventory
  • Etsy: connects artisan creators with consumers
  • LendingClub: connects lenders with those in need of capital
  • Stripe: connects merchants with their paying customers
  • Skype: connects consumers in different locations
  • iOS & Google Play: connects app developers with mobile consumers
  • Twitter & Medium: connects content producers with readers

Let’s look at Instacart to better understand how branding for a two-sided business is different than branding for a traditional linear company.

Instacart sits in the middle and collects a fee for facilitating an exchange. Their business and interaction model requires the Instacart brand to speak to two sets of users.

Platform branding = Linear branding x 2

Compare Instacart to Pepsi.

Pepsi just needs to convince consumers that its better than Coca Cola and if Pepsi’s brand stewards move the needle, they’ll move units. If Instacart only convinces producers to work for the platform and be a food shopper and doesn’t convince enough consumers to shop on Instacart, the platform is useless. The vice versa is also true.


2. Product > brand 

Product is king. It won’t matter that you have an awesome brand if your web or mobile app sucks. Your platform needs to surprise and delight consumers and producers alike. An awesome brand can follow.

One of our NYC Principals, Greg Battle always tells our clients and internal team members, “I’d rather own an app that 100 people consistently use than an app that a million people try only once.”

Repeat usage is the lifeline of mobile and web app businesses. Invest in product above all else.

You’ll want your brand and its positioning to be flexible because products go through iterations. Don’t limit your brand by only thinking about your product’s V1.

Does your brand support your product roadmap? What is your brand roadmap? 

Let’s look at Uber as an example.

When Uber first launched, they branded themselves as Everyone’s Private Driver. They still do. As Uber becomes increasingly synonymous with rides and ancillary services such as messengers and food delivery; the word Uber and the brand are evolving. Uber will soon be able to credibly position itself as a logistics company.

Uber = logistics. 

Logistics is a larger market opportunity than on-demand rides. Uber is already a verb for on-demand rides and soon the verb will stand for a lot more.

We can certainly expect Uber to rebrand and better align to this grander vision in the near future as it prepares to declare what its remit will be as a public company.


3. Keep it simple 

The internet democratized entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship in technology is rampant. Everyone is launching a startup.

This is resulting in a lot of strange company names.

Avoid yourself the embarrassment. Develop a brand that makes sense for the differentiated value your company brings into the universe. Clearly and simply communicate the value you deliver. Use more visuals and less text. Imbue creativity and a high standard of design in all things related to your brand and its communications. Experiment to develop a strong and compelling brand voice.

Remember that time and attention are your biggest competitors. Make sure your users know you appreciate them by giving them an awesome product and experience. Like Jay Z said, “You could’ve been anywhere in the world, but you’re here with me, I appreciate that.”

Filed under: Platform Innovation | Topics: branding, platforms, startups

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