There is a terrific Jeff Bezos quote that says:“Brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” It is one of the most succinct definitions of brand, capturing the holistic nature of it as a business imperative.

Read it again: “Brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

It is not only about marketing programs, ad campaigns and press releases. Brand strength is driven by people’s perceptions. Essentially, your brand is indistinguishable from your company. What people think and say about it is driven by the sum of their interactions and experiences. As a result, the success of your brand is often more dependent on what you do, and how you act toward your stakeholders, than the specific details of the product or service you offer.

What does this mean for startups?

It means that you have the opportunity to create a brand foundation from day one that drives the perceptions you want people to have about your company. Your brand foundation describes and outlines what you do, how you do it, who you do it for and why you are in business. It helps define your company culture, set customer expectations and identify your strategic brand goals.

Many startups think of brand and marketing as one in the same. They are not. Marketing is a driver of brand perceptions, but it is only one of many things that affect the way people think about your company. It is important to understand that people’s experiences with your brand are not limited to sales and marketing, or through using your product. Every interaction, direct or indirect affect their perception of your brand.

Brands you love and brands you hate.

Consider your favorite brands. Chances are your first thought is not about their latest ad campaign or web promotion. It is probably less a thought than a feeling. Suddenly, your head is filled with multiple interactions that you have had with that brand. Beautifully designed products, great customer service, a well informed sales staff, or even a set of values you believe in strongly. Plus outside influences like third-party reviews, media coverage, and what your friends think. You know exactly what to expect every time you interact with the company or see it in the news. All of those interactions have created a very positive perception of their brand.

Now think about a brand you dislike. Your brain responds the same way it did toward your favorite brands, but your perceptions are negative. The company may have a terrific product, but terrible customer service, questionable ethics, or a corporate attitude that you do not agree with. Based on your experiences with that brand, you have very low expectations. As a result, your perception of their brand is very negative.

How does your company become one that people consider among their favorite brands? One that fills their head with positive memories and feelings? This is where your brand foundation comes in. By using it to define your culture, set your direction, internal expectations, and outward behaviors, you are better positioned to affect perceptions from day one. Investing in a solid brand foundation early will pay dividends for the life of your company.

What are your thoughts and experiences with brands you love and hate? What do you say about them when they are not in the room? Comment below.

If you want to learn more about how a solid brand foundation can help your startup, or drive perceptions of your stakeholders, please send me an email – – or check out the web site – – and let’s talk.

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