How to build an unbiased brand

If your startup has strong brand equity, you can exploit the well researched “differential effect that brand knowledge has on consumer response to marketing activity”. Developing a strong brand when you are starting up a new venture can be a relatively quick and inexpensive method to ensure your future marketing efforts resonate strongly with your audience, which in turn should deliver you a better ROI.

Key takeaways

  • A strong brand can make your marketing work harder;
  • Customers and their data should guide your brand’s messaging;
  • Cognitive bias can interfere with your brand’s true north.

The problem with your opinion

So you have just launched your startup, raised some initial investment, the pressure is on and now you need to start developing your initial go-to-market strategy. An early step in this process will be to start thinking about your brand and the messaging you want to create around it.

I’ve italicised the instances of ‘you’ and ‘your’ here to stress how much of the onus seems to be on you, as the founder, to make these decisions. After all it is your brand. Hopefully you are not patting yourself on the back or, worse, thumping yourself in the chest muttering, “Atta boy, yeah it is my brand”. If this is really your brand you should be the exact persona of the customer you’re embodying and whilst that could be the case, the chances are that it isn’t.

Brands, and indeed company cultures, have a tough time shaking off the personality of their founders and determining their own customer-centric personality. This isn’t anyone’s fault though because as humans we develop some cognitive biases that help make us think that we are right all the time. One of these biases is called the overconfidence effect. I’m going to run through a hypothetical conversation to illustrate this effect in action.

Marketing person: Hey, what do you think of these suggestions for our strapline?

Founder: Yes some of them are good, I’m pretty sure option 4 is the best for us.

Marketing person: Ok, roughly how confident are you about option 4?

Founder: Oh about 90%. It’s definitely the one we should use.

The first sign of overconfidence is the vague, unsubstantiated and dangerous: “being pretty sure”. This is then reinforced by the answer to the marketing person’s question that attempts to quantify this, “how confident are you?”.

The overconfidence effect cognitive bias comes from the mismatch in the subjective opinion being asked for versus the objective accuracy of the opinion being given. Stating a preference for option 4 is fine. Adding to that preference a level of certainty in the opinion is unfortunately laden with overconfidence bias. Sadly this kind of interaction happens quite a lot, you’ve probably experienced it in some capacity. It in part explains the emergence of the term ‘HiPPO’ (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion), which, amongst others, leading web analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik is on a mission to expose and devalue.

Outscale your bias

We’re now in a time where it is possible to harness a large amount of data, very quickly, to be able to help eliminate some bias from our decision making. The best growth teams do this by constantly running experiments throughout a startups’ lifetime, ensuring that they test frequently in order to iterate fast. However, you can do this with your brand messaging from the outset in order to get the highest initial brand equity for your startup.

Top of funnel testing

Facebook ads now give you unprecedented access to a vast audience to test your brand messaging with. Not only that, you can also slice and dice your target audience to ensure your messaging is only tested on your persona-defined audience. In times gone by, we would have relied on landing page tests to see which messaging performed better (including what button colours, images and so on). Using Facebook Ads allows you to spend less to get a similar outcome as you don’t need to drive traffic to your landing page in order for a percentage of it to then take the action you require. Using ads you can simply proxy the click-through rate at the very top of the funnel.

Using the Facebook Ads platform, you can test multiple variations of your messaging in one blast and receive statistically significant results fast. If you define your proxy for brand receptiveness as click-through rate you can work with a low CPC bid or get faster delivery with a CPM bid (with a potentially higher eCPC) — set these in the Ad Set of your campaign. The advert with the highest CTR will show you which message is resonating the most.

Strategic apathy in the face of bias

Apathy isn’t a word we usually associate with startups, founders or indeed branding. However, unless you are apathetic or indifferent about the result of your branding test you cannot be totally, empirically, objective. If you lose the apathy you will regain some bias so you need to be willing to trust the data you receive albeit without triggering another cognitive bias: expectation bias. Take pride in allowing your favourite to lose (or perhaps not) — as long as the people, your future customers, have spoken you’ll be in a better place with a stronger brand.

Final word

Brand equity is a hard metric to measure without spending lots of money on market research. This, understandably, won’t be on the top of any list for many startups. However we’ve seen that stronger nascent brands over-perform with their marketing spend as they scale.

Take urban gardening startup Patch as an example. They have a very focussed proposition: ‘Transform your space into the perfect urban garden’, a clear brand message. This permeates all their social media and marketing materials. This has helped Patch massively over-deliver in terms of a measured advertising response rate and (anecdotal) brand recall when they launched in Stratford this spring.

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