“Branding is dead. Everybody finds out about products on social media or review sites these days, so don’t spend your money on marketing, use it to make your product better instead.”
For a lot of entrepreneurs, this sums up their view on marketing. The trouble is, there are some serious flaws in that reasoning. Firstly, it assumes we all make completely rational choices when we buy things. That we’re cold and logical and only care about getting the best value for our money. But we know that’s not true. Brands do matter. Otherwise everyone would be buying the supermarkets’ own-brand corn flakes and Kellogg’s would be run out of business.
Secondly it assumes that, as an entrepreneur, you have a simple binary choice between marketing and growth hacking; one or the other. However, that’s not really true either. While you might be relying on growth hacking and word-of-mouth in the earliest days of your start-up, as soon as you get some investment, you can then spilt your budget any way you like.
The truth is there are some powerful reasons why entrepreneurs should embrace marketing, and branding, in particular.
Branding gives you a way of thinking about the future. It sets the tone for your business and helps you decide what you should do next. More importantly, it helps you predict what your customers are likely to expect, and accept, from you.
Branding gives you differentiation, which is important if you’re operating in a crowded market.
Branding gives you an identity and if that identity is strong enough and carries enough cachet, it allows you to charge a premium for what you do. If you don’t believe that, take a moment to think about the Apple brand, more specifically the iPhone.
Perhaps the most important thing about branding, however, is that it’s going to happen anyway. Brands are the stories we tell each other and ourselves about the products and services we consume. We’ll tell those stories whether the company behind them contributes or not. Brands are no longer created by big TV campaigns. They’re built at every point of contact consumers have with your business, its products and services, online, in-store, on your doorstep and everywhere else. This means that growth hacking and branding turn out to not be separate at all, but are inextricably linked. If you spend your entire budget on building a better product to improve your reviews and reputation, you’re actually building your brand at the same time. So why not do it consciously and strategically?
The reason a lot of entrepreneurs think the way they do about marketing is because they don’t have the marketing background. They tend to be driven by the desire to innovate or to produce a better product or service and they distrust marketing, branding in particular, for its fluffiness and its perceived lack of rigour. But it’s no coincidence that one of the first people any VC will look to introduce into a startup they’re backing is a head of marketing. They understand that branding is an investment in a company’s future, building in value over the years.
So absolutely, carry on with your growth hacking. But even if you’re not yet ready to hire a marketing person, make sure you’re at least talking to someone about the brand you’re building at the same time.