A few things I’ve learned about brand building in venture capital

A couple weeks ago I conducted a very official (unofficial) Twitter poll where I asked founders to rank how important a VC firm’s brand is to them when evaluating partners.

I deliberately kept “brand” vague because I wanted gut reactions only. As you can see, 91% of respondents said it was somewhere between a little important and very important to them.

Put aside all the reasons a VC firm might want to focus on its brand (we’ll get to that later), founders care. And if founders care, VCs should care too.

Two years ago, I left a job in journalism to start in a new role at Lerer Hippeau, as the nine-year-old fund’s first Content and Brand Manager. Under our Director of Platform Stephanie Manning, I was lucky to have the freedom to help determine what exactly that job would entail.

Today, it breaks down into the following: running our blog, writing our daily newsletter, managing our social media accounts and our website, hosting workshops and events, sourcing brand-building opportunities for our team, and helping our founders with anything they need (launch plans, content strategy, intros, etc).

As I transitioned from my old industry and navigated this new one, I consumed all the content I could and learned some pointers from the best in the business. Along the way, I developed a decent framework for how venture capital firms are building their brands today and why it matters in the scheme of things.

From what I can tell, these are all the ways VCs build their brands:

  • Blog posts
  • Newsletters
  • Contributed articles
  • Books
  • Data reports
  • Original products
  • Social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, even TikTok)
  • Podcasts
  • Video
  • PR (TV appearances, press coverage)
  • Conferences
  • Speeches
  • Sponsoring/hosting events
  • Presentations

It’s a lot — and I’m probably missing some.

Why firms invest time and resources into building their brands through the aforementioned channels vary. Some newer firms might choose to launch a newsletter to lay the groundwork for building their community. Firms that have been around longer might opt to podcast to provide access to successful peers and founders for interested listeners. Across the board, more funds are putting effort into their brand because (at least for now) the market is good, deals are competitive, and everybody’s doing it.

Here are a couple of the macro lessons I’ve learned so far.

Brand is hard to pin down. To me, brand is a combination of the following: visual identity, mission, values, reputation, track record, and the summation of people’s experiences with you. At the end of the day, brand is how people feel about you. And that affinity builds through being good at what you do, and doing so consistently. I like to quote one of my former coworkers from Colgate University’s communications office, Matt Hames, who offered me this sage wisdom: “Brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” When building any brand, it’s helpful to realize that it’s not really about you, it’s about other people.

Everyone does their own thing. For some funds, an active investor on Twitter can go a long way (for better or worse) toward building the firm’s brand vis-à-vis conveying its values, mission, and expertise. But that’s not the case for all, or even most, firms. Some firms might have investors who are great writers (so they blog) or speakers (so they podcast). Others might prefer to lean on a PR team that can connect them with interview opportunities. Trying to replicate what another firm is doing well will probably not feel authentic for you — or pan out long-term. If it’s working for someone else, there’s probably a good reason.

Brand is tied to deal flow. If you or your fund is known for investing in consumer companies and/or have many consumer breakouts, people will be more likely to send you consumer deals. That’s great if you’re primarily a consumer investor. But if you’re a generalist, for example, you’ll need to find ways to communicate that, while you may have backed great consumer companies, you still invest across categories — otherwise you risk missing deals that folks may mistake for outside your coverage areas. Clearly communicating where you invest and building a brand that spells that out can go a long way towards making sure you’re seeing more of the companies you want to see.

Everyone starts from a different place. Firms that have been around for a long time have built track records that signal where they invest and how successful they’ve been in a given sector. The longer you’ve been around, the more you have in your portfolio to point to. On the flip side, newer funds have extra work to do to make a name for themselves. Younger funds still building their investment records may choose to direct more resources toward building their brand in order to communicate their bona fides and credibility to potential founders — long before they have any exits.

Distribution is key. All the content in the world won’t matter if a firm doesn’t have good distribution. I’ve covered this particular topic before because I believe it’s so important. As much, if not more, work has to go into community building as goes into content production. In a world crowded with content, you either need to deliver something really unique and valuable to the ecosystem or master your distribution engine — and ideally do both. Brand building efforts can and will fall flat if they‘re not finding an audience.

What’d I miss? Share what you think is important in content strategy in the comments or tweet at me.

Head of Content at @thingtesting. Formerly @LererHippeau and @Forbes.