Brand Life Stage 1: Brand Conception

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Willoughby Design



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Brand Life Stage 1: Brand Conception

6 Key Strategic Considerations when Inventing a New Brand

Brands, like people, move through life stages. One of the first steps in the care and feeding of a strong brand is determining where it is in its lifecycle.

First in our Brand Life Series, we begin at the beginning: Brand Conception (aka Invention).

So where do you start?

Before a brand is born, it’s just a glint in a founder’s eye. Whether it’s a start-up or a new addition to a larger brand family, this is where big ideas of happiness and world domination are translated into products and services that people (investors, employees, consumers) want in their lives. Even if they don’t know it yet.

But as much as one might like to jump into a catchy name and flashy logo, the Hall of Failed Brands is littered with wannabes that didn’t have a clear idea of who and what they were and simply vanished. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 45% of new businesses fail during the first five years and only 25% make it to 15 years or more. It’s a shame really. As with people, it’s the preparation and the planning that sets up a brand for success.

The Brand Strategy space is mired with a mind-boggling amount of marketing speak, branding lingo and trademarked “methodologies.” No matter what you call the foundational elements, they are all designed around a few key questions that must be answered to test drive viability and begin the process of defining a new brand.

Brand Life Stage-1: Brand Conception Word Graphic

1. Who

Above anything else, the most successful brands are the ones that know how to form deep connections with customers. You should know without a doubt who is going to need, love and support this new brand. Identify and study your Target Audiences. Life Stage? Values? Passions? Frustrations? What other brands do they surround themselves with? And just as critical, identify who your customer is not. The best brands don’t try to be something to everyone. They work to be something really special to a select group of people.

2. Opportunity

Every brand starts with a Big Idea that identifies the problem you are trying to solve by offering something that is better than what is currently available. Study influential trends. Brands like Hello Fresh and Stitch Fix make meal planning and personal styling more accessible. Doggie daycares have seen a resurgence for people who have to go back to work and are worried about pets being home alone for too long. What you are setting out to accomplish often informs your Mission and should anchor your brand. Get too far away from it and you might find yourself in icy waters.

3. Why

This is the emotional side of branding. Often the basis for the Core Purpose or Reason to Believe and is tied closely to Core Values. It’s about what the brand stands for and answers, “Why will people truly care?” Patagonia makes outdoor wear but their “Why” is centered on protecting our planet. To quote the ethnographer and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek, “The best brands start with the Why and that Why should live at the center of everything you do.”

One caveat here: If you say you stand for something, make sure you really do. Authenticity is irreplaceable and people can be unforgiving.

4. How

From a strategy perspective, the How is often the most challenging piece of the puzzle and provides the biggest opportunity for differentiation from your competition. Insomnia Cookies would just be another cookie bakery, but How they do it, by offering late-night delivery, sets them apart for people who like to stay up late. It’s no coincidence the company was founded by a college student. By honing in on their How and sticking to it, Insomnia found a sweet spot (pun intended) in the cookie marketplace and their revenue grew 24% in Q4 of 2022.

Think of your How as your secret sauce and the baseline for a distinctive Brand Positioning.

5. Competition

The most successful leaders study their competition backward and forward. This includes other brands with similar offerings and brands that fulfill a similar need. For example, if a brand lives in the frozen veggie aisle, consumers might also consider the fresh aisle, the farmer’s market, a delivery service or even juice, powder or vitamins. You can save a lot of pain and suffering by learning from the mistakes of others. And never be so self-centered to assume you’re the only game in town. You’re not.

6. Goal

Consider your BHAG, a clunky acronym for your Big Hairy Audacious Goal, coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras and referring to the 10-20 year goal that is guided by all of the above. What is a goal that is so crazy it might be really embarrassing to say out loud? JFK pledged to put a man on the moon. Henry Ford set out to democratize cars. Did people think they were dreaming too big? Yes. Did they achieve their BHAGs? Yes. The best brands are created with a clear and tangible goal that gives the entire team something to work towards together.

Whew! There’s a lot that goes into a Brand’s Conception before it even graces the shelf, rack, street or URL. Getting it right will put you on the path toward the next step in your Brand’s Life.

The good news is that conceiving a new brand is completely doable. The better news? Willoughby has been helping brands live their best lives for 45 years. From start-ups to established brands, we are there to guide them along as they work to stay relevant and top-of-mind through every stage.

Where is your brand in its brand life? Visit our Brand Life page to learn about all of the stages.