Think Big, Act Small #2. Defining What Your Business Stands For



Startups will commonly talk about “the idea” that is at the center of their business plan.  Typically, the idea focuses on the product offering and go to market strategy (e.g., we will sell X to Y consumers via Z channels).  Meanwhile, the branding, and how the idea is brought to life for consumers, can be treated with short shrift in the excitement of going to market.  Indeed, the idea needs to be more robust than a simple “elevator pitch,” and to encompass an insight-driven understanding of how to bring the offering to life for the consumer, with focus on both product and brand.  As such, there a few lessons in building and shaping the idea that start-ups can reapply from best practices at leading packaged goods companies to make their ideas bigger and more appealing to consumers.

  • When you define what the business offering is, also define what the brand is in the eyes of the consumer, as the brand may well transcend the initial product line-up. Too often, ideas can be too product-centric.  Oftentimes, defining what the offering and brand are to the consumer is treated as “understood,” when it may not be that clear to him/her.  It’s important to drive clarity on the branding for two reasons: 1) it will help focus marketing efforts at launch and 2) it will provide a definition for the team to refer back to as both the business and the idea grows.


  • Explicitly define the offering and brand and how it’s meant to come to like to the consumer. One helpful exercise is to define (and visualize) what the brand “is” and what it “is not” to drive clarity.
  • Document the definition and the visual vocabulary of how the brand will appear (e.g., design elements such as logo, font, color, look & feel, etc.).
  • Ensure that the work is shared and understood across the team as well as with key partners, such as agencies.
  • As you define your offering in the competitive landscape, be sure to understand where you will be differentiated and where you will be on par with the competition (and also when you might be vulnerable).  As you dive into your target customer understanding, it’s important to have an understanding of the competitive set, especially as the target may define the competition differently than your team does.  With the customer’s competitive set in mind, evaluate your offering and assess strengths and weaknesses.


  • Identify points of difference (PODs) which are elements of your offering that differentiate you vs. the competitive set.
  • Identify points of parity (POPs) which are elements desired by consumers which you will deliver on par to other players.
  • See if there are any features you are offering that do not resonate with the target customer and assess the upside from eliminating these to focus on other elements.
  • With this customer-focused understanding of your brand in hand, link it back to your plan. By getting to better understand the customer, hopefully the idea is better honed and the surrounding marketing will be more impactful.  Use this understanding to assess where there are opportunities to invest (or divest) resources to better serve the needs of the target.


  • Determine if sufficient resources are allocated to deliver against a POD, as well as to bring it to life in marketing and communications.
  • Ensure the POPs are appropriately prioritized (and not a slopped “laundry list”) and that resources are appropriately prioritized against delivering them.
  • Identify any excess elements in the offering, especially ones that drive significant cost, and assess the ability to cut these elements to save costs and/or refocus investment elsewhere.

Implicit in this process is shaping and iterating the idea with consumers.  Here, big companies will invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in concept testing research.  Start-ups need similar insights but don’t have big research budgets.  However, engaging in some small scale qualitative research, or small quantitative surveys online can be especially fruitful in helping get the idea right and to understand what the brand means to the consumer.  Then, with a strong customer-defined idea, the team can approach selecting tactics for the marketing plan, which we will visit next week.

Note: This article builds on a previous column, “Understanding Your Target Consumer.”  Next week we’ll talk about how to connect with him/her in “Selecting Tactics for Your Marketing Plan.”

Image credit: CC by Jason Trbovich

About the author: James Black

James Black is a marketing and insights consultant and freelancer based in New York.  He has 10+ years in marketing and sales experience across P&G, McKinsey and L’Oreal.  Most recently, he founded and led a retail start-up, Black & Puryear Ltd., in the U.K., where he served as Director and Chief Curator.  At L’Oreal, James was head of shopper insights, where he identified and shaped shopper insights to drive greater connection between consumers and L’Oreal’s portfolio of beauty brands across channels.  At McKinsey, he worked in the firm’s Marketing & Sales practices, advising clients on marketing topics across B2B, packaged good and retail clients.  At P&G, he working in both traditional brand management roles as well as in the company’s marketing centre of excellence, studying best practices.  He has an AB from Harvard in Government and an MBA from the Darden School of Business (University of Virginia).

You are seconds away from signing up for the hottest list in New York Tech!

Join the millions and keep up with the stories shaping entrepreneurship. Sign up today.