When you first launch your company, it’s just a baby—your baby.
It’s starting to find its footing in the world and needs a lot of help to survive. And like a child, your company grows and changes rapidly in its early years. For example, my superfood company, Four Sigmatic, is just nine years old, yet we’ve already changed our brand name, logo, packaging, and website—some of these things multiple times.
As your brand grows into a teenager, it becomes a little more autonomous but easily swayed by trends. An adult brand is wiser and more discerning, if a bit stuck in its ways. And in the uber-competitive startup world, you don’t want to risk losing touch as your brand matures.
No matter what stage your company is in, the best way to stay ahead of the curve is to constantly re-evaluate your brand identity—how your brand looks, how your customers respond to it, and what messages you’re sending.
First, you need to be open to change. It’s the only constant in life and in business. Then, follow these steps to keep your brand current for a lifetime:
1. Engage with your industry, competitors, and customers every single day.
With any branding exercise, the market research phase, target groups, and stakeholder interviews are incredibly important. They also tend to take the longest time. Therefore, I think any company should engage in these activities regularly, versus only when updating your branding.
For me, it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in the market and collect data on a daily basis. For example, I go into stores pretty much every day to see what my competitors are up to. I also try to spend an hour a day on Instagram, just to be extra aware of what’s going on in our industry.
My goal is not to sell, but to look for:
- Products people are posting about.
- Our customers’ pain points.
- Posts people are tagging us in.
- Hashtags people are using.
- What our competitors are posting.
View your brand through the eyes of your consumer and let them inform any changes you might make.
2. Start with just one aspect of your branding you want to update and go from there.
Considering how many moving parts there are to a brand, updating it can seem a little overwhelming.
That’s why the best way is to update it is bit by bit.
If you’re contemplating a brand refresh, start small. Focus on one element at a time, and then methodically do a brand audit.
Even if you think you’re “just” updating the website, there are so many aspects to look at—layout, design, copy, consumer behavior. Instead of rehauling the entire site at once, break into smaller tasks.
Look at one single important page (such as the Home Page or About Us) carefully, and ask yourself, “What’s the goal of this page? What is it trying to achieve?” Often, you’ll realize there is a lot of unnecessary content. The required changes typically just have to do with clarifying the messaging for the target consumer. Then once you’ve clarified one page, make those changes consistently across the other pages.
But keep in mind that even the smallest tweaks can be a serious undertaking. For example, it can take up to a year just to change one element of your packaging.
It’s all about taking baby steps. After the first one, the rest aren’t as daunting.
3. Don’t be scared to make scary decisions.
Entrepreneurs are usually pretty emotionally invested in their initial vision, and they’re scared to stray too much from it.
Some changes, like packaging and your website, are easy to tackle if you work methodically. Others are more emotionally charged.
In the early days of my company, we were met with a lot of confusion about what, exactly, our product was. And it’s not surprising, given that we were trying to sell drinkable mushrooms into the U.S. market.
Adding to the confusion was the fact that our initial brand name was Four Sigma Foods. But we sold beverages, not foods. It’s no wonder people were scratching their heads. So our first major shift was to change our name to Four Sigmatic—a science reference to represent the quality of our ‘shrooms.
We also had a lot of education to do with our superfoods products. Why should you drink mushrooms or adaptogens? What is each of them good for? What is the flavor? How do you prepare the drinks? The list goes on, and there isn’t enough space for all the questions. We learned we have to simplify our messaging a lot, and basically say no to most branding elements to make sure we deliver on the most important one.
The more involved changes are the scariest, but they ultimately allow you to represent your brand in the best way. You have to be willing to give your brand what it needs to thrive—just like you would for your child.
4. Listen to feedback—but know when to ignore it.
When you’re a founder, you’ll encounter a lot of opinions—from your team, your investors, and your partners.
During the early days of your company, when your brand is young, you’ll be more susceptible to these opinions, just like a teenager trying to fit in with the “in” crowd. But as you mature, you’ll be more sure of yourself and more likely to stick to your gut feelings. In other words, as your brand grows, you’ll have to be more discerning.
This means listening to feedback without necessarily acting on it. Keep your ears open, but stay true to your brand vision, mission, purpose, and direction.
This also goes for customer feedback.
You should always listen to what your customers are asking for, but take their advice with a grain of salt.
For example, a lot of people who’ve read about the benefits of mushrooms see our packaging and say, “Why don’t you just say it improves your memory?” Or “Why don’t you just write that it helps with diabetes?” They don’t realize these types of health claims aren’t legally allowed under the FDA or FTC.
In these cases, instead of doing exactly what they are suggesting, I dig into the root of what they are truly expressing. If they’re asking for a specific health claim, it probably means we aren’t doing a good job of expressing the benefits of the product in an easy-to-understand way.
No matter who the advice comes from, you have to be careful about which to take and which you should leave. It’s up to you to discern which types of feedback you should act on, and which pieces you can leave on the table.
If you’re a founder, your brand is an extension of who you are as a person. So it can be scary to contemplate making any major changes. But these growing pains are a necessary part of the process. Ultimately, they are what you need to do to keep your brand strong.