Start-up to stardom: How do you create a winning brand strategy?

This was the central question facing our 2017 Catalyst tenants attending their first brand workshop last week. In a highly interactive and often surprising workshop – courtesy of Ian Mumford, Creative Director of leading regional brand agency The Escape –  the budding entrepreneurs quickly discovered that, to create a brand that will propel them from start-up to stardom is definitely not about getting someone to draw you a logo.

For many, the ‘marketing bit’ can be the most daunting element of launching a business.  It’s the creative bit, the bit that can make or break a pitch, a funding round or, ultimately, a merger or acquisition.  Not too much pressure then!  Unfortunately it’s often also the bit that’s left until last, trailing well behind product or service development because this is the comfort zone, especially for those working in scientific or technology discovery.

However, disconnecting product development and brand development could be extremely detrimental to the growth of the fledgling business, as Ian explains. “The insights that you gain from creating your brand strategy – provided you do this properly! – will fuel and fast track the development of the entire business.  It will shape your behaviours as an organisation and enable you to employ staff, brief suppliers and go to market with confidence, certainty and consistency.”

Why are brands important?

Any successful businessman or woman anywhere in the world will tell you that your brand is your cornerstone for success.  Failing to lay these foundations properly could result in the whole business collapsing.

Ian Mumford summed up why in just four bullet points:

  • Branding offer customers a means to choose and enable recognition in cluttered markets.
  • Customers like brands that they associate with positive qualities.
  • Customers like to be associated with the positive value, characteristic and position of a brand.
  • Branding creates loyalty and repeat business.

More than a logo

So, what is a brand?

“A successful brand is more than an identity,” explained Ian.  “A brand is a combination of attributes, communicated through a name or a symbol, that influences a thought-process in the mind of an audience and creates value.”

Value is a core principle here. So, before the tenants got to work on their own brands, they were encouraged to consider the value that brands around them bring.  They were tasked to come up with a list of brands and categorise them according to:

  • Brands that they really admire
  • Brands that present themselves well but are disappointing underneath
  • Brands that they think are a great idea but poorly communicated
  • Brands that are a bad idea and poorly presented

This is really good advice for anyone considering creating their own company.  Lifting your head out of your own business plans for a moment, take some time to consider what it is that differentiates the best from the rest: it will give you a good set of learnings to take forward, especially if you’ve never been in business before.

Creating a winner

Ian then took the Catalyst tenants through the fifteen – yes, fifteen! – stages of creating a robust and effective brand strategy.  These included: evaluating the fundamental purpose behind the business; what it is that makes this attractive to customers; gaining insight into key audiences, understanding competitor positioning, and establishing a set of values, character and personality. And that’s all before you go anywhere near messaging, writing copy and designing logos!

“There’s a lot of research involved, but harnessing the power of these insights and responding to what you learn will set you on the right path to success,” concluded Ian. “Brands, like businesses, don’t blossom overnight.  They take time, attention and nurturing which is why we suggest creating a three year activation plan to bring your brand to life across the marketing mix.”

For more on brand strategy and activation, visit