Some practical tips for building a proper branding (yes, also for a blockchain product).

I have been a marketer for many years, with some experience (+12 years) in the digital world, so I have seen good, regular and bad branding. Unfortunately, the last is very common in the blockchain industry. That doesn’t come as a surprise since engineers (the majority of the people building something out there) are not marketers.

Is that your case? Don’t worry. I’m giving you some free advice to create a proper brand for your blockchain startups, with some do’s taken from my experience. But first, let’s discuss what a brand is.

(Please, note that if you want to contact me, there is CTA for that at the end of this article, :). Thanks!)

What is a brand?

There are many definitions of branding out there, but I do like Seth Godin’s approach to this topic. Basically, a brand is a promise of something. When somebody thinks about a popular brand, s/he will recall something different from its competitors. Something unique to the company holding that brand. Probably they won’t care much about the logo, or about the website’s color scheme. But that particular customer will pay more for that particular product or service. Think about Apple, Mercedes or Nike. They don’t build the best products in the world, but they have developed a brand attached to some values and experiences that people are willing to pay for.

In other words, these companies have properly worked on all of the ways to establish an image of their company in their customers’ eyes. They want to position themselves in a particular market in a very specific way, and they succeeded in building an image aligned with their business strategic goals. Not a small feat!

Brands are part of the popular culture today, so they are used as cultural references that a lot of people can easily understand. That’s why they are powerful! (Source: https://www.pinterest.ch/pin/48624870950582697/)

But there is something else to that. Brands are also part of the popular culture. They are so embedded in people’s daily life that they also represent some particular ways of living in the modern world. For me, this point is really important to measure the success of a brand. Let’s have a closer look.

People out there appropriate brands because they are cultural references they can use and people will recognize automatically as representations of some particular values. This appropriation practice has been done by activist, competitors, and artist. It’s a powerful example of how brands and culture are profoundly interwoven in the modern, globalized world. And there are tons of examples out there!

At this moment the reader might ask whether there is a brand in the blockchain industry. Sure, there is! Bitcoin is now a brand itself. The Bitcoin symbol represents not only the first working decentralized working protocol but a set of values some particular people can share, as well as a promise of change in the society that the same people would like to play. Therefore, its logo is quickly associated with those values and represents also the mindset of a very particular group of people. However, Bitcoin is a very particular brand, not built by a single company but by a community. And this fact points to some important advice to start building a brand.

Bitcoin is already part of the popular culture for a growing group of people worldwide. It has a strong brand, associated with clear values, although is not created by a single company. (Source for the image: CryptoArt).

How to build a brand strategy? Is not just about utility or value.

A brand is a complex thing, which involves many things. Of course, any brand needs to be based on a product or service that provides some value to its customers. However, that is not enough. In fact, many great brands out there are selling products just slightly different from their competitors, or even commodities (think about clothes, for instance). There are more elements involved, something that transforms a good product or service into a brand. And that’s emotion and connection. Great brands move deep emotions, emotionally connecting to the people out there.

Building your brand

At this point, an intelligent reader might argue that what I’m saying is just more marketing vaporware about emotions, people and brands. Where is the actual advice about building something, dude? Well, that’s a good question! If we need to start with something in order to build a brand, I suggest using a branding strategy canvas to explore an define the main actionable elements involved.

I found this canvas useful because it conveys the elements we have been discussing before:

  1. It focuses on the value provided to a particular audience by the product or service built by the company. Remember, a brand is always making a promise of something valuable!
  2. At the same time, this value is attached to benefits, both rational and emotional. And not only that, but the company is following a set of values. Is not just about being rational with people. You need to move them. For that, you need emotional perks, as well as a set of values that people can identify with.
  3. You have also to convey all the points mentioned into a set of core messages, claims, and attributes that communicate your brand proposition. That includes logos, claims, visual design as well as copywriting style. We need to accurately shape and communicate the brand in all the interactions with the customers.
  4. Finally, a brand is also about context. You need to understand your niche and competitors to properly create something unique that moves your potential customers. You need to find that unique thing that makes people pay more your something that it is likely not very different from your competitors.

Working on these four points is a good start to design a brand that works for your company. However, is just the first step. The second one is starting a conversation with your customers.

Brands are also conversations.

Brands are always something built in two directions. Companies talk to the people, and people talk to the companies (and that’s especially in the digital era). Those conversations are critical in order to create the image we want for our company in our customers’ eyes. It’s a daily effort and involves several things.

First, let’s talk about the visuals. Your logo, colors, and overall visual aspect is a critical element of branding. Our brains are caught mostly by images, so they need to be consistent with your brand proposition. Creative directors are great for conveying a brand message and personality into great visuals. Hire yours!

Usually, when a brand changes its visuals is because it was to evolve how it is seen by the customers. A logo is not just something for the website or our business cards, it’s a fundamental part of your branding strategy!

Second, don’t forget about your copywriting. Usually, many companies forget that texts in websites, brochures or documents are also a direct way to communicate with the customers. Therefore, we need a clear style guide that works together with the brand to build the image we want. And we need also professional copywriters or somebody with a good style and communication skills. Trying to save money here could be counterproductive. Usually, web content is where our potential customers would interact first with us. A poorly, uncarefully produced content it’s the best option to lose our potential clients.

If you need some examples of the importance of this topic, just think about companies like Buffer, Hubspot, Intercom or McKinsey. They are doing quite different things, but they are all producing excellent content that not only bring clients but also contributes to building a brand based in great values, such as excellence, creativity, or top-notch research. So, forget about the typical blog post clogged with KPI to attract visits through SEO, and start working on real, valuable content.

Third, let’s do real community management. Today, social media for most of the companies are either channels for branding or for customer support. In fact, both aspects are deeply related to each other. So, your community manager should be aware and have a comprehensive brand book with clear guidelines to handle social media, where people directly interact with the brands. Those interactions are critical to building our image!

Community management is probably the element involved in brand building that crypto companies get first. If you are used to this business, you might know that it is fundamental to establish a good relationship with users, customers or investors. The fact that most projects are also open source adds nuance to that since your product will be built with the help of a community. Therefore, community management is not only about distributing content, but establishing a good relationship with all those external players involved, building the kind of relationship that will strengthen your brand.

Finally, carefully design your advertising. Ads are also part of branding. In fact, there is a great way to define advertising: the use of culture to influence commerce. I know, sound like an easy task, but it is difficult! That’s why good advertising is hard.

Going back to the beginning. Does this also apply to blockchain companies?

Of course yes! Branding is a fundamental part of many blockchain companies, as long as the blockchain is an industry where community building, trust and transparency are paramount values.

Moreover, most of your potential customers in the blockchain business will likely share strong and clearly defined values, so your brand needs to address that if you want to be relevant. Building a brand with a clear purpose and strong values, with a marketing focus on flawless community management, is a must for any blockchain startup. Just think about the Bitcoin wars or the Protocol Wars out there. If you don’t clearly state your values and purpose from the very beginning, likely your target users will hardly engage with you. If you are not aligned with the values of blockchain and crypto, maybe you will have a great business, but your brand will be crap for most of the people out there, losing most of your choices to achieve some real dominant position in your market. Just think about Ripple. Do you want to be like Ripple? Surely not. Start working on your brand now!