Emily Heyward is the co-founder of Red Antler, the brand company behind Allbirds, Casper, Away, Birchbox and Brandless. Here, she outlines the importance of getting brand positioning right from the beginning – and how to go about defining yours.
Why is developing a brand positioning so important for a new business?
A. ‘Every entrepreneur needs to be aware that, in 2021, if you have an idea, there are at least three other people thinking of the same thing. A huge differentiator becomes brand. What we mean by brand is how you make sure you’re forming a connection with people beyond just the functional and the rational, and putting something into the world that they’re going to want to embrace and make a part of their life.’
Has that changed in a post-Covid world?
A. ‘Everybody is evaluating the choices that they’re making and people have found that there are things they can’t trust that they thought they could. So I think it’s all the more important that you’re really driving for simplicity. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the things your business does, but if you can do the work for people and cut it down, that’s what’s important to an audience that doesn’t want to have to work so hard to figure things out.’
How early in the process should you consider this?
A. ’As soon as you’ve fleshed out your business idea, you need to start thinking about your brand identity. One thing I hear from first-time founders is, “I know that brand is important, but I’m bootstrapping and I can’t afford to do it now.” My feeling is that you also probably can’t afford to wait. We see so many businesses kind of fizzle and fade, and the ones that people look to as great successes are the ones that invested in brand from the start. You want that baked into the business from the beginning, because ideally it’s influencing decisions on what you’re putting out into the world.’
And how can a business owner initially develop that?
A. ‘Go deep into the people who you’re trying to reach and understand the core need that you’re solving for them. The mistake that a lot of founders make is to think that the need they’re solving is simply that their business doesn’t exist yet. You need to go deeper than that if you’re going to build a brand that resonates and gets to a more human truth. What is something that is missing from these people’s lives that your brand can be an answer to?’
Should competitors play a big part in the thinking?
A. ‘You do want to be aware of what your competition is doing and you certainly want to carve out new space. But I also think sometimes people can be so obsessed with being different that they end up surrendering territory that’s actually really important to own in their category. So just because someone else is saying it, it doesn’t mean that you can’t say it, too – but you obviously want to say it in a clearer, more exciting or more original way.’
How should it be articulated?
A. ‘It should be a sentence. You can have a whole paragraph for an elevator pitch, but I think that, ideally, you should be getting your brand positioning down to just one sentence. That sentence is not just a description of what your business does but why people should care that this business exists. That would be my prompt. And if you can’t answer that in a sentence, I think you need to work harder.’
This article was first published in How to Start a Business 2021. To become a subscriber or purchase our newest guide, head to our webshop.