This article was originally published on Limitless.
Branding is an integral part of building a business. It is everything that helps people recognise your unique identity as a company. A distinct identity not only makes you stand out but, if done right, also lowers your CAC. Events, customer testimonials, website, and logo, all go into building powerful recall. SaaS companies have been investing and reaping the rewards of good branding as they scale and expand.
There’s something interesting about Tudum. That sound Netflix created was so iconic that it changed the way people viewed the platform. It became a sound that exemplified excitement and intrigue. The sound became so popular that it became Netflix’s audio logo. Netflix as a brand, and as a company, has grown since its humble days of shipping DVDs to its customers. It is now a $190 billion company with not just a streaming service but also games, events and merchandise. The success of the platform is not just a credit to its execution and curation of content, but also its logo and sound, which played a pivotal role in its ascension to being one of the largest companies in the world.
Netflix harnessed the power of the brand so that it was known for premium content across the globe. Several competitors have come and faded into obscurity (the small caveat of Disney aside), and only a few have been able to battle the behemoth.
For younger businesses, the Netflix story is interesting and aspirational. Everyone wants to build a brand so iconic that the recognition evokes the emotional response that Netflix can. For founders who are wading into new markets, such as the US, building a brand can be even more imperative. Building a brand saves not only capital but also time for a founder when they’re trying to sell their product, hire key talent or reach out to new stakeholders. Sahil Aggarwal, co-founder and CEO of Rattle, a revenue automation platform, has built a distinct identity for his company among customers and the larger SaaS market. We spoke to him to understand the essence of building a brand in the US.
“Brand is how people perceive you. It’s your name, logo, colours, website, writing style and everything in between,” says Sahil.
Think of all the iconic businesses you know. Chances are, their logos, colours, or some aspect of their branding will be interlinked with how you think about them. Google? The iconic four-coloured “G”. Apple? The half-bitten Apple. Meta? In spite of the name change, most likely the “f” from the Facebook logo.
It may not be something you think of consciously, but as a consumer, a user, a business, or an observer, you are constantly soaking up different brands. When you run a business, that is how you should be thinking of presenting yourself to the market. As someone who wants to have recall and association with a great product when someone looks at your branding.
“Brand is how people perceive you. It’s your name, logo, colours, website, writing style and everything in between,” – Sahil
Rattle’s logo is a T-Rex with a jetpack. It ticks all the boxes the founders wanted. The website colours are fun — bright green, muted yellow, and light blue. And a website revamp is on its way as Rattle caters to more enterprise customers who prefer a more “serious” look.
This is another important lesson to learn early on: keep refreshing your image according to your business and market. This is why Apple went from having a rainbow-coloured logo to a more classy monochrome and later glassy-looking logo as its products became more sought-after and a mark of luxury.
Branding is important in any geography, but especially more so in the US market, says Sahil. Consider the very famous “50 shades of blue” experiment Google did to find out just which shade of blue will make users click more on online ads.
And it is not just your own brand, but those that you associate with as well. Rattle understood this early on and worked on onboarding customers that were respected brands in the US market.
What is the benefit of branding?
In the early stages of business, founders naturally focus on perfecting their go-to-market strategy and achieving product-market fit. An important piece of achieving these, which doesn’t get spoken about as much, is building your business’ brand.
“Brand is a key long-term moat of your business,” says Sahil.
In the early days of Rattle, the founding team identified its three pillars as people, product, and brand. Being intentional about the brand from day one helped immensely, Sahil says. But at what stage should a company look at brand building as a separate exercise?
“We started thinking of a brand only when we got to a point where the product really worked. And we knew it can add a lot of value to customers. So when we began thinking of firing up our marketing engine, we knew we should focus on the brand,” he recalls.
There are subjective and objective benefits to having a good brand:
- The subjective benefit: “There are ten touches that someone needs to have with your company before they can recall what your company does. If you have a distinctive insignia or name or something about your marketing that is distinctive, you can reduce it by half,” says Sahil.
- The objective benefit: Good branding will lower your customer acquisition cost (CAC). With a distinctive identity, you are more likely to get noticed. “In a sea of LinkedIn or Facebook or Instagram ads, you stand out, and it’s easier for you to attract someone,” he adds.
Ways to do branding right
Apart from social proof and logo, which make your brand recognisable on the relevant platforms, marketing campaigns are an important part of branding yourself well.
Rattle adopted two strategies. The first was to spend heavily on events.
For events, positioning your booth well is important. “We got big booths at events with other larger companies. Just by being next to over $100 million ARR companies, you appear bigger. Someone passing by the booth will think and take a look. Don’t target an immediate ROI on such conferences but think of them as a brand play,” Sahil says.
He recalls how someone at a conference took notice and posted a picture of Rattle’s booth on LinkedIn, impressed with its positioning.
The second strategy was to ask their users, or champions, to post about them on LinkedIn. Sahil says most of them were happy to do so, and that helps build credibility in the industry and faith in the brand.
Branding and marketing require a budget. Sahil recommends setting aside $50,000-$100,000 on your initial identity and website.
As your business and brand grow, events are the second big investment. Here, Rattle’s overall budget was “just shy of half a million” for a year.
“We did thought leadership events early on, but now at the stage that we are at, it’s more about smaller events,” he adds.
The ROI from these smaller events, he says, is higher. Think roundtables, partnership webinars, and happy hours. Have a more focused group of 30-50 people instead of 5,000 or 10,000 people at a large event. It adds a personal touch, costs less, and you get better responses.
The only difference at this stage is, he adds, that you need a dedicated person to hold these smaller events. Unlike large events that take place once a quarter or every six months, these smaller events can be held once every month.
Beware of the traps
Doing things right takes time and patience, and it’s often tempting for people to fall into marketing or branding traps that promise instant results.
“Ideas can change a lot. You should pick a name that will not pigeonhole you.” – Sahil
- Don’t fall for hype trends
Sahil says it is wise to steer clear of hyped-up trends. It may serve to increase interest in your business in the short term, but will have a detrimental effect in the long term. The right way to do things is the way Zoom built itself up. “There was no hype about Zoom. It hit its moment (during the pandemic) but the CEO just kept quietly building with his team,” he adds.
- Be thoughtful about your name
A common trap founders fall into is naming their business and describing what they do. “Ideas can change a lot. You should pick a name that will not pigeonhole you,” Sahil says.
Branding your business right is imperative. It is a way to build curiosity and excitement about your product to the right audience. But it is not something that gets done as you go along. It has to be a thoughtfully done exercise. It requires some amount of investment, and certainly some degree of patience. Not all branding exercises will yield immediate results, but over the longer term, will bring you more recognition and business like Netflix’s ubiquitous appeal.