The Sad Case Of The Just-For-Profit Startup

Entrepreneurial souls may start a business for any number of reasons, each as varied as the startups they produce. Some are driven by a desire to make their mark, or to show the world something it's never seen before. In these cases developing a unique, compelling and effectively differentiated brand is a joy and a privilege, as there is real momentum and a clear vision driving the creative process forward.

Other startup founders are drawn to start a business by the freedom to be their own boss or for the convenience of flexible working hours. This doesn't lend itself quite as well to developing a brand that customers can become invested in, but that's not necessarily a problem. Part of our job as a branding agency is to dig deeper into the impulses that drive our clients to start a particular type of business, and to discover the unique qualities they bring to the market, identifying the seeds of inspiration that can be nurtured into something more profound.

The only circumstance that can be genuinely disheartening is when an entrepreneur starts a business with the sole purpose of making money, with no fresh ideas or passion for their craft. For a branding agency this is like trying to make a sculpture without any clay. The raw material that forms the basis of brand identity is simply missing - the difficulty lies not just in crafting a compelling and differentiated identity, but in finding any sense of identity at all. Where to even begin?

Startups that focus primarily on money at the outset often end up with weak brands

When a sense of identity is entirely lacking, a branding agency has two options. It can either resign itself to producing a perfunctory identity and positioning strategy, perhaps relying on creative design to carry the day, or it can invent a false identity based on an imagined vision that might have been. Neither option is likely to produce a brand to last the ages. The former route is unlikely to engage customers in any meaningful way, and they'll see through the latter when the business owner inevitably fails to deliver on the superficial platitudes of the brand promise.

I would go so far as to say that if a startup founder is truly only interested in profit, then working with a branding agency is a wasted investment. All you need is a satisfactory logo to indicate to customers that you are indeed a real business, and you're as ready to enter the market as you'll ever be.

A well executed brand multiplies the positive effect of the unique and compelling qualities that already exist at the heart of the business, adding value and boosting customer engagement. If those qualities simply aren't there, the best branding agency in the world can't help you. Zero multiplied by one million is still zero.

What just-for-profit entrepreneurs fail to realise is that a business driven by real vision manifested outwardly by a strong, rich and meaningful brand identity actually has the potential to make a greater impact, and therefore reap greater rewards, than a business driven purely by the desire for money. Of course there are many notable exceptions, but generally these are big money businesses in centuries-old global industries where the need to engage with customers simply isn't relevant - oil, mining and so on.

If you're reading this article, you're probably not about to stump up several billion pounds to start your own international fuel behemoth. You're more likely to be starting a small local or perhaps national business with big ambitions. If those ambitions boil down to little more than big profits, you may find yourself being overtaken by those who have a deeper purpose.

Yet all is not lost for the profit-driven would-be entrepreneur. If you're willing to think long and hard about why you care about your business and, more importantly, why others should care, the seeds of a first-class brand identity can still be sown. Think about what makes you truly different from your competitors, and not something like 'quality customer service' - every worthwhile business aims to deliver quality customer service.

Be bold, be heartfelt, be different - then you'll be half way to creating a world class brand.