Managing A Startup? Your Community Should Come Before Branding
I am big fan of organizations that work hard at branding. Companies like Apple, IBM, Coca Cola, McDonald’s and more have invested a lot of thought, time and money to make their brand strong. The most successful companies that have a strong and popular brand have an enormous amount of power on us. Branding is so powerful that if I say the word “iPhone” you can close your eyes and picture the full Apple logo in less than 2 seconds.
But how do you create such overpowering brand awareness? My theory is through community. Let me begin by saying that no successful city in the world can exist without communities. I have to agree with the critics who like to argue that the human race has become much more individualistic, but I disagree completely with those who say that communities don’t exist anymore. I like to think that some communities are even stronger than ever, and the reason is that they all have a web domain where they can connect with each other.
Community Vs. Branding
You might be asking yourself what do online communities have to do with branding, well here is my favorite example, Facebook; The Company branded itself in the beginning as the social network for the élite smart students. First Facebook established itself as a community of people with a very similar background, and after the community was strong enough it went for the jackpot of becoming a house-hold brand that lives in every house around the world. So how does a startup founder convince himself that a community should come before branding? First you should start by looking at the benefits. The best situation a startup can find itself in, is to have a small community that cares about the product and its success.
In my opinion branding is something I think corporate businesses need to deal with every day. I can’t really see why a startup should even bother with branding before it has at least 10,000 die-hard fans. Many mobile app startups that have failed thought that the more downloads you have, the more you will enjoy a good branding, which equals marketing success. The hard truth is that when a popular app breaks or people start to find it boring, they forget it forever because a popular app that fails will have its fail fully covered by TechCrunch, TheNextWeb and others.
Fans are an advantage
A community of loyal fans gives you two strong advantages that most startups usually don’t have. First and foremost your margin for error is very large in compare to a notorious startup that has developed some brand recognition. When you are allowed to make mistakes more often you have time to consult with your loyal users. In case you have a small amount of users, which are willing to share their feeling about the product you made, you struck gold. As a startup founder the best place to be in would be a situation where you could work with 500 different people on a product and hear their non-stop feedback on your product. Like I said before, the press won’t care if you are anonymous, and if you are releasing something in beta mode and nobody knows about it, use this advantage. Coming out with no press release, can help you gather the relevant data without the pressure that comes with unfriendly posts about your bugs.
Listen and learn
The best way to create a community is to be an active listener. You won’t be able to improve your product if you ignore what your users have to say. Responding fast to every comment your users have will make them feel respected by you and your business. Making sure that your users feel that they are part of the creative process is what I consider to be the first step, which must taken to build a respectable fan base. I recommend companies at all ages to always respect and share information with early adopters, loyal customers and fans. I am not saying to do whatever your fans want but showing that you are keeping their needs in mind can go a long way when you finally are ready for the next step, branding.
If you are looking for examples of companies that are actively engaging with their users, you will find plenty of big name brands that like to publicize about their work and make sure the world knows about it. I recommend to stop looking at examples from corporate companies you have already heard of. Instead, look at startups such as Takipi with their amazing videos and blog, imonomy with their engaging Instagram contest, and Bizzabo with the small events they sponsor. You will learn much more from these examples. I recommend you visit the blogs of all three of these startups, and please watch this video if you want to learn how to make any product interesting and cool.
Takipi Example: Made a very niche product feel super cool.
Bizzabo Example: Built a community around the events.
It may look like simple marketing, but making your target audience feel that your product is super cool is like gathering new followers to your community.
To summarize, just build a community. Start building your community as soon as you have a minimal viable product, get feedback, improve your work, and think about branding only after you hit a point where you feel your community is strong enough. Play your cards right, and your future community can become a valuable tool to receive the necessary feedback on problems that casual users won’t bother telling you about.
Do you have a different take on building a brand or growing a community? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.