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Brand 101 for Early Stage B2B Startups

Part 2 of our interview with Rachel Kim, VP of Marketing at Wonolo, and Emily Kramer, former Head of Marketing at Carta and Asana

We recently sat down with marketing experts Rachel Kim, VP of Marketing at Wonolo, and Emily Kramer, former Head of Marketing at Carta and Asana. Here is a summary of our conversation.

We got so many insights that we decided to split this interview in five parts. You can find them here:

Q: One of the questions I often hear from early stage startups is at what point should you invest in your brand. Do you have any thoughts about when is the right time to focus on it in a startup’s life?

Emily: People confuse the word brand a lot.

There’s building awareness of your product: making sure your problem and solution are known. This is very important early on.

Then there’s the brand: your logo, your colors, your website, the overall customer experience, tone and voice. All these things that make up the experience. How much time you spend on the brand at the beginning depends on the audience and your product. I think for more consumer-centric B2B products having some thoughtful design and thoughtful brand identity is important, but it doesn’t mean you need to get a marketing agency. There’s a middle ground — you don’t have to go over the top. Your brand just needs to be clean and polished.

Rachel: Brands can mean a lot of different things. A lot of people think about it as the look and feel. I don’t think that’s necessarily the first order of operations.

What’s critical to get right as an early stage company: what is your mission and vision, what is the world you want to create. A good example of this is Mailchimp.

Early on, just say what you are and what you aren’t. Gradually add these points to a document that says this is the vibe we are looking for. If our brand were a person, this is who we would be. Doing a bit of that work early on is good.

Q. What are the things to do early on to create brand awareness and make your startup stand out?

Emily: It the beginning, the focus is just building awareness. Sometimes that might be by creating a stand out brand identity or through other means depending on your business. Remember that at the beginning you are your brand. Building awareness with your target audience segments is what you want to focus on. Build awareness with the right people, get them in the door and then retain them. Remember that awareness and brand are different; you need to put them in different buckets.

Rachel: One tip for early stage startups is to add a little moment of surprise and delight to your target buyer. That can go a long way to get them to take the extra step and tell a friend about it. Competitors may not do that, but you can.

Emily: These little touches are great, but don’t force them. If your company ethos doesn’t feel like the type of company that does the high five like Mailchimp, don’t do it. It will appear forced.

For example, at Asana, we used to have hackathons in the early days. Something that came out of one hackathon was the unicorns flying across the screen every time you check off a task. It stuck and was something people shared all the time. I’m not saying everyone should have unicorns flying on the screen. Whatever you do needs to be a natural extension of your company. Using key moments to delight your customers, done in a way that feels genuine to you, can make a big impact.

Rachel: At the very early stage these “moments of delight” don’t have to be that awesome. When I was a startup founder, for the first year I wrote a handwritten note to every single customer and mailed it to them. People would take pictures of them and post them on Instagram. You can make a small gesture for your first customers and build that relationship. This can make you stand out and can make a difference in the early days.

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Thank you to our partners Oracle for Startups and WSGR for making this event possible.

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We believe the founders of the next decade will look fundamentally different: more female, more diverse and more distributed. We back founders based on their tenacity and ambition, not their pedigrees or who they know. Our vision is an equal opportunity tech ecosystem.

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