A Branding Playbook for Unicorns

Editor’s note: We don’t usually accept contributed pieces from tech vendors, but we felt Snowflake’s story had general  amessage of interest for all kinds of start-up brands.

By Denise Persson, CMO at Snowflake Computing

Taking a startup from idea to successful enterprise is a daunting challenge. Many factors contribute to the startups that succeed – a great product, founders, team, market opportunity and value proposition are some of the key elements. Also very important is brand building. This applies to Silicon Valley unicorns and tiny, bootstrapped startups alike!

Having collaborated over the years with smart, driven marketing teams and agencies for several successful tech companies that built strong brands – and, in the case of Snowflake, continue to do so – I often get questions about branding initiatives that deliver the most impact. While I am quick to point out that any startup’s success begins and ends with their customers being successful using the products, I’ve developed a list of five key pillars that play an integral role in building a successful brand.

Get positioning right at the very beginning

Positioning is something that all startups struggle with. Some figure it out along the way, but most never do. Startups are so focused on building a minimum viable product (MVP) as fast as possible that they don’t step back to think about how to best position it to their target audience and within the marketplace as a whole. It’s understandable why this happens given the pressure to deliver quickly, but over the long term it’s a mistake.

Positioning is like the foundation of a house: the more solid it is, the better the chances of it helping your company last for a long time. Once you’ve clearly defined your category and established your positioning, the key is to leverage it everywhere: marketing campaigns, sales conversations, media outreach, website, and social media.

Be consistent in your messaging

As with positioning, consistency in messaging is an area where just about every startup can improve. If you have messaging inconsistencies in your different marketing channels, there is no brand. The target audience gives up very little of their time to companies they don’t know, and if they are confused by your messaging at the outset then you’ve likely lost them for good.

Consistency in messaging is also critical for building credibility and trust. After all, people (and companies, for that matter) like things that are consistent. Consider a well-known brand like Coca-Cola – no matter where you go in the world, you trust that the Coke you’re about to drink is going to taste like every other Coke you’ve ever had.

Be authentic, unique and bold

To create a brand that stands out, your company needs to be authentic, unique and bold in all of your marketing activities. If you are doing the same things the same way as every other company in your category, then you’re setting your company up for brand failure. Every startup strives to be “innovative,” but few actually are, especially when it comes to branding.

A great example is Virgin America. When they launched in 2007, the airline industry was not exactly at the top of anyone’s innovative branding list. Virgin America was like a breath of fresh air sweeping through a musty attic. It certainly helped to have a charismatic leader like Richard Branson, but that alone wasn’t enough. They created a 360 degree brand experience that encompassed all customer touchpoints, from the cheeky tone and bright colors in their marketing to the upbeat boarding process to the fun-loving attitude of the crew during the flight to…well, you get the idea. Let’s just say their brand book inspired me and my colleagues. In fact, it helped us come up with a lighthearted yet bold billboard idea for my company using straightforward language – with an edge – that has been extremely successful for building a brand that matches our unique company persona.

Boost your brand and achieve customer centricity with help from partners

Don’t underestimate what partners can do for your branding efforts. At a high level, they can fill in elements that your company is lacking. Strong alignment between partners creates joint value propositions for the customers. These, in turn, help with building brand credibility, expanding your brand’s reach and achieving “customer centricity.”.

My company forged several partnerships with well-known companies early on, not only because they made sense for our business and product, but also because they helped drive credibility in our marketplace. There was – and continues to be – real substance to these partnerships, and our target audience took notice. Successful partnerships lead to a “1+1=3” equation, where the whole (i.e., your brand) is greater than the sum of its parts. The result? It’s easier for the customer to be successful.

Incorporate an education component

A big part of branding is messaging, and empty messaging leads to little-known brands. People are looking to be educated when they are in the market for a product or service. And they want to trust the vendor from whom they are going to purchase something.

The way to meet these requirements is to create customer centric, quality educational resources every step of the way – from day one, through every milestone in your customer’s journey. An example from Snowflake is our Virtual Cloud Analytics Academy, which has helped educate our customers globally, while simultaneously building trust. It’s a significant, ongoing effort that involves many of my colleagues, but it is worth it to our long-term branding success. Along with other educational content, resources and customer events, the academy demonstrates that we deeply understand the problems our customers face and genuinely want to help solve them.

Building a brand that resonates with your target audience and spreads into the marketplace means really thinking about what your company’s values are and what makes it unique. Whatever these things are, they must be authentic and a genuine reflection of the people who work there. And, most importantly, they must play a role in making your customers successful. These five pillars have been integral in building my company’s brand, and I am confident they will help you do the same.

Denise Persson is the CMO of Snowflake, where she oversees all aspects of the company’s global marketing efforts. She has more than 20 years of technology marketing experience at high-growth companies, helping lead through growth and IPO. 

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