Just like any other process in life, whether it is related to business or not, building a strong and memorable brand takes time… a lot of time. Just look at Apple for instance, did you know that it took them 20 years to start using the logomark without it being accompanied with the name? Yes two long decades of constantly trying to reinforce the obvious association between the word “apple” and the image of an “apple”.
To better understand why that is and what goes into it, we first need to take a look at the difference between what a “Brand” is and what “Branding Efforts” are.
- Brand: People’s gut feeling about your startup. The collective image that they have formed in their minds.
- Branding Efforts: What your startup does to have a hand in shaping the “Brand”. This includes your logo, visual identity, tone of voice, brand positioning… etc.
The distinction between the two is important because it shows that although a startup's actions—through “Branding Efforts”—can influence the final result, it certainly doesn’t control it completely. Meaning that a brand matures depending on the type of audience and their level of exposure to the brand.
1. What Is Osmosis?
It is a process by which molecules of a solvent tend to pass through a semipermeable membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one. But that’s the boring and overly technical explanation used in chemistry and biology. For us, we’re more interested in Osmosis as it’s known in sociology. Which is the gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas.
Hopefully you can already see where I’m going with this, but in case you don’t let me elaborate. If a startup's “Branding Efforts” are to be compared with the ingredients of a soup, then the “Brand” would not be the soup itself. But instead, a brand is the opinion of a customer after they taste the soup, or even that of a passerby that just smelled it from across the street. In short, because a brand is an idea it can be learned in many different ways—some intended, some not.
As we know though, the unconscious mind is not the type to share its day to day activities. This results in the connection one can have with a brand to be powerful, because at the deepest levels of analysis no one really knows why they like something, they just do. But on the other hand, the process is slow, gradual and difficult to predict.
The first thing that probably came to your mind when reading the title of this paragraph, is the limited budget your startup has for marketing your brand. And you’d be right, that is a relevant issue that contributes to the slow process of brand building. But today I want to talk to you about something that is a lot harder to overcome, something that can’t be solved by pouring more money into it.
I’m talking about the limitation of the human brain. As we grow older, our capacity to learn diminished. According to many scientific studies, older adults are less able than young adults to encode and utilize co-variation to make associations. In addition to that, there’s only so much that we can remember. The brain can store Terabytes of data, but unlike the fast SSD you have on your computer, not all of that data is instantly accessible to you.
A good example of the seriousness of this limitation is something called the “Doodle Test”, which in the logo design field refers to an exercise often carried out by design firms to assess a logo’s memorability. Researchers have also used the same test to gage the level of recognition of the logos of companies such as Starbucks and Apple. Most logos fail this test because like I mentioned earlier when talking about Osmosis, the process of getting to know a brand is a subconscious one. People just don’t put in any effort to remember what your logo looks like, let alone all the other aspects of your brand.
3. More Competition Than You Think
Forget about your direct, indirect and replacement competitors. Unlike your product or service, your brand has to compete with anything that occupies your audience’s thoughts. Although your brand can certainly have fans, it will rarely ever hold prime real estate in their minds. More important life matters will usually beat you there, things like family and work are what most of us think about in our day to day lives.
Moreover, people get to experience and interact with a lot of attention grabbing things. Throughout your day, you probably see countless ads, hear about local or global news, see new faces and more. It is unrealistic to expect that your customers’ lives are any different. What’s left to do is attempt to remind them that your startup exists, in an non-intrusive way that doesn’t feel pushy.
To make matters worse, social media took advertising to a whole new level of annoyance. Now it’s no longer just billboards that distract you as you commute to work or Tv ads that interrupt your favorite show while you’re relaxing in the evening. Anyone from your next door neighbor to big conglomerates use boosted social posts daily to promote one thing or another. Increasing the already massive challenge of standing out.
Looking at all these factors really puts into perspective how difficult it is to build a brand in a short period of time. Obstacles notwithstanding, branding should never be thought of as a separate task. Whenever you plan on implementing anything new for your startup, you must ask yourself the question: Does this align with my brand’s vision? The only thing left to do is be patient.