5 Steps for Evidencing Your Brand Promise:
Know your customers’ "Jobs to be Done": Carry out interviews and define a job map that highlights the functional, social and emotional benefits your product offers.
Identify the outcomes your customers most care about, and distinguish between ‘table stakes’ and the opportunity your startup is leveraging.
Articulate your brand promise: “Start with why” you do what you do, and then think about how you do it better than anyone else.
Collect evidence: Develop a set of quantitative metrics and qualitative insights that demonstrate tangible ways in which you deliver on the promise.
Communicate results through stories, and develop a precise connection between your product and your customers’ happiness.
What is a brand promise? And why is it important?
A brand identity is a complex system of words, values, symbols and imagery that might be repositioned or emphasised differently depending on the audience. A brand promise is different. It should never be changed or compromised. It’s not a tagline, or a marketing tactic, but represents a strong and lasting connection to a startup’s purpose.
Our purpose, and why we exist as a fund, is rooted in a belief that there is a better way for founders seeking to build world-class startups. Our promise to them is that we provide a better, faster and cheaper alternative to existing funding options available in the market. In turn, this reflects our founders’ own mission of building better products and services, as well as fulfilling the “job” that VC investors are ultimately hired to do.
Today’s consumers, enterprise customers (and founders) are increasingly discerning, and in a noisy marketing arena, incumbents often have an increasingly tenuous relationship between their brand promise and the product or service they deliver.
For startups, this represents an opportunity, whether it’s taking on an incumbent razor blade’s claim of being “the best a man can get” or an online furniture brand making it harder for the most prestigious homeware retailer to stand by their promise of “never knowingly undersold”.
Defining a powerful and coherent brand promise can be difficult, and startups must be prepared to back it up. We present a 5-step process on how we went about doing it:
Step 1: Know your customers’ Jobs to be Done
It is worth reading up on the concept of "Jobs to be Done" before you get started, but in short, you can think of a “Job” as a task that people hire a product or service to execute. These can be functional, as well as emotional and social jobs:
The first part of the process is to define the job. In the case of Forward Partners, we are hired to help founders “building venture scale businesses”. From there, we broke the job down into a“job map”, which went a follows: a. Discover appropriate funding sources; b. Compare their value add, c. Meet with prospective investors, d. Evaluate offers/term-sheets, e. Validate the startup idea, f. Build/test the product with customers… and so on.
The next stage is to determine the desired outcomes, which could be functional or might have social or emotional benefits that explain why founders select one option over another, or why customers might use a new product or service over existing ones. We gathered insights by carrying out 10 interviews with founders at pre-seed and seed stage in order to understand what they look for as part of this “job”. We have included some of the questions we asked, and the responses we received here.
Step 2: Distinguish between ‘table stakes’ and the opportunity
The next step was to identify at least 5 outcomes (i.e. ‘ingredients’ for a product or service) that founders care most about and assess the extent to which we meet those needs. We mapped these outcomes on a two-way axis showing both the importance of the outcome and the degree to which it was being satisfied.
By running this in parallel with our competitor analysis, and placing responses on an “opportunity map”, it was possible to identify which outcomes are “table stakes” (i.e. expected from customers as a matter of course) and which ones represent an opportunity to add value, as well as which ones to emphasise as part of the brand promise.
As an example, we identified 5 key outcomes that are important to early stage founders, and characterised them accordingly (the first three being functional, and the last two representing more social or emotional outcomes):
3h. Value: “I want to build a valuable business, and hence a solid valuation uplift at each round, and make the most of limited resources”
12e. Speed: “I want to execute at pace, build momentum in getting to market, or getting to the next round quickly”
1a. Foundations: “I want to build my business to scale, develop the best tech, and deliver the best product”
8e. Credibility: “I want an investor who can validate my vision, provide me with a quality stamp and credibility that comes with institutional backing”
9t. Safety: “I want the psychological safety of knowing that I’ll make fewer mistakes by having readily available advice and resources”.
Step 3: Articulate your brand promise, start with why
A good place to start when formulating your own brand promise (based on the research you have carried out in previous steps) is to read up on Simon Sinek’ concept of the Golden Circle, and to start with “why” you do what you do. Specifically, relating back to what customer outcome you are hoping to effect.
As Sinek explains you must ask: “What is your purpose? What is your cause? Why does your organisation exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning, and why should anyone care?” Once you’ve nailed that, then say how you are different and what you do that’s better.
While it is important to communicate features, benefits, facts and figures, the problem is these don’t strike at the core of what drives behaviours. Instead relate to the social and emotional benefits (the part of the brain that drives behavior) and then let them rationalise by communicating the benefits. For instance using Sinek’s Apple example:
“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently, the way we do that is making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly, we happen to make great computers, want to buy one?”
By reversing the order of the information, it speaks to the fact that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. While our brand promise focuses on the functional benefits of why founders raise venture capital, our core message is “there is a better way” for founders to build their startups. Based on interviews with our founders, and research into our value add versus alternative investment routes, we outlined three promise we make to founders:
Better: “We get founders to a better valuation at each round, and build the strongest foundations possible for their business”
Faster: “We help founders reach key milestones faster (e.g. speed to market, to the next round, to the first customer)”
Cheaper: “We give founders experienced tech, growth and product expertise that would be unobtainable at the same cost elsewhere”
Step 4: Collect quantitative and qualitative evidence
Collecting a rigorous set of statistics that you can stand by confidently as well as qualitative insights and human stories that demonstrate your brand promise is the most important part of the entire process.
When we set out to evidence our promise of being a better, faster and cheaper alternative to founders, we listed out a set of quantitative metrics (including comparator sources to substantiate our claims) as well as ideas for qualitative insights we could gather from founders we had backed and the FP team members themselves.
In collecting the evidence, it's important to be objective and open, as well as ensure an appropriate balance between cold, hard numbers and more personal stories from founders, speaking to the social and emotional benefits that they experienced during their journey with Forward Partners.
We've include a snapshot of some of the metrics and insights we set out to collect:
Step 5: Communicate your results through stories
The final step is to communicate your brand promise in a compelling and consistent way. When we got to this point, the entire process actually led us to carry out an entire redesign of the Forward Partners website. By being precise and concrete about the connections between what you offer and how it benefits customers (in our case founders), it is possible to distinguish your value add from the vague promises of competing offerings.
While there are many mediums and outlets to communicate it, we found the most effective way to share evidence of how we deliver on our brand promise was through real-life case studies of helping founders, videos of them sharing their own stories and experiences, as well posting the headline numbers. Confident in your story, and any analysis you have carried out, it is important to share these consistently across all your channels.
Here’s a snapshot of how we featured evidence of our brand promise during the design sprint for our new website:
Campaign Magazine, Does your brand live up to its underlying promise?
Clayton Christensen, “Know your customers Jobs to Be Done”
Simon Sinek, “The Golden Circle: Start with why”