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I see it all the time. I’ll be scrolling through a pitch deck for some buzzy new brand, and something just isn’t adding up. The design might be great. The copy might leap off the page. They might even have a contagious-as-Omicron social media campaign that’s ready to launch tomorrow. But none of that matters, because it’s clear that whoever is leading this brand hasn’t asked themselves the most fundamental questions.
The questions I’m referring to are ones that should guide nearly every major decision that goes into building a brand, from design to marketing and even hiring. And if your brand doesn’t have concrete answers to these, then your chances of standing out in a crowded field aren’t too good. In fact, they’re terrible.
What are these magic questions? Well, I’m about to tell you.
I don’t mean this in some deep philosophical way. In fact, if you’ve got a deep philosophical answer, that might be your problem. A brand isn’t supposed to be a source of meaning or a life coach. It’s supposed to be a means to an end, a tool for achieving success.
So you need to start with a clear definition of success. That’s your “why.”
Say you’re launching a new tequila. Maybe your only aspiration is to impress your friends and gain some niche notoriety. Or maybe you’re trying to build a behemoth that rivals Casamigos and becomes a top-shelf staple by Q4 of next fiscal. Whatever answer you give will determine the kind of brand you’ll need to build, the kind of investors you’ll need to attract, and the kind of network you’ll need to develop.
2. What can I win?
So you’ve got some basic definition of success. Perhaps you’d like to launch a baked goods brand that does $10 million in domestic sales next year. Now you need a strategy for getting there. This means finding space in the market that is objectively winnable.
There’s no one way to go about this. But at our agency, A.P. Keaton, this process usually starts with a mountain of research into competing brands. From there, we chart these competitors along different qualitative axes. For instance, one axis might range from “ordinary” to “elegant.” The other from “retro” to “contemporary.”
Once we’ve got our chart, we look for white space that no other brand occupies. Then we ask: Is that space winnable given the resources and talent at our disposal? And only then can we get to work building a brand that’s tailor-made to fit in that space.
I’ll warn you in advance, the opening in the market you identify might not be the one you were initially gunning for. You could start out wanting to launch a “cool kids” brand only to learn that the biggest opportunity is for a more buttoned-up brand approach aimed at 40-something professionals.
It’s at moments like these that you’ll need to choose between the strategy you want and the one that can actually win. And if you don’t know the answer to that one, then not even I can help you.
3. Does this make any sense?
By the end of this process, you should have a brand that makes sense. Specifically, it should feel like an intuitive solution to a clearly-defined problem. And that’s precisely the idea you need to convey in your pitch deck.
In my experience, the more linear a story you can tell to investors and other stakeholders, the greater your chances at success. Your goal is to create a deck that introduces all of the relevant data — from the competitive landscape to projected sales and marketing strategy — in such a natural progression that, by end of your deck, your audience is thinking: “of course that’s why they’re naming their product X. It seems so obvious now!”
4. Do I need help?
The answer is yes. One of the biggest mistakes I see new brands make is that they don’t tap into their existing network. So think deeply about who you know and what they can do to help your brand succeed. Does your college roommate run a venture firm? Then pick up the phone. Does your brother-in-law own a chain of retail stores? Great — get him involved too.
You should also think seriously about bringing in outside experts. An agency or some other consultant can help you avoid a lot of the mistakes that young brands tend to make. They can give you new frameworks for making decisions, finding strategic partners, and building your board. And they can do all this while maintaining a degree of distance and putting strategy and tactics before preference and emotion.