March 31, 2014
What Startups Need To Know About Branding

I was at a dinner recently where an accomplished entrepreneur said the brand “didn’t matter.” I almost popped a blood vessel.

He wasn’t referring to the brand, actually, just using the term indiscriminately to refer to what was really a kind of tagline. But it’s emblematic of an ignorance about the nature of brands that is stubbornly common in Boston. And if anything threatens to restore our second tier status, I believe it’s this.

So what is a brand, to people who know better?

As I recently tweeted, your brand is the world’s collective emotional response. It’s the envelope for your product’s rational benefits, the emotional value proposition that guides people toward or away from whatever it is you’re selling. And if you think it doesn’t matter, you don’t understand how people make decisions.

If you do, and you want to do a better job building your brand to support your go-to-market effort, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Be thoughtful and explicit about the emotional response you want your brand to elicit. For Actifio, it’s Freedom. You won’t see that word in any of our marketing. But it’s the idea underneath our messaging, our visual identity, and our customer engagement model.
  2. Craft a simple story that inspires that response within your target audience. We are hard-wired to love and to respond to stories, which is why stories are the most effective way to communicate. At Actifio we work hard to help our prospects understand that we can liberate their data from the siloed infrastructure that hinders their ability to advance their most urgent priorities. In the process we liberate them, from the excess cost, complexity and stress of managing exabyte-scale application data sets on the infrastructure designed (at best) in the era of terabyte computing.
  3. Tell that story, consistently, at every point of contact with the marketplace. It must be where you begin. Everywhere, by everyone, every time. We do this pretty well. And the beauty of a great story is that others can pass it along.
  4. Measure the response of your target. How do they feel? What do they think? What do they do? We use lots of tools for this, one of my favorites is called TechValidate.
  5. Adjust, refine, iterate. Evolve over time. Make small refinements while you give your idea time to take root, and after you get to something that works make larger adjustments no more frequently than once a year.

I’ve spent my whole career thinking and learning about brands, and I’m still learning every day. Brands are as richly nuanced and as fascinating as the people they inhabit, so to be a student of branding is to be a student of human response.

But if you don’t have time for that, and you just want to do something now to help advance the interests of your business on this dimension, do the above. It will at the very least provide you with a sensibility about brands that gives you an edge over the persistent corner of our community that just doesn’t get it. And it just might make the difference between winning and losing.

Mike Troiano is the Chief Marketing Officer at Actifio.  You can find this blog post, as well as additional content on his blog called  You can also follow Mike on Twitter (@miketrap) by clicking here.