Starting a brand, baby, starting a brand

The Bakers

Last week an Aussie and an American came to visit – sounds like the start of a dad joke, I know, but it’s true. They were part of an amazing programme our other high energy Have-big-ideas-and-make-them-happen American friend Chad runs every year called Zebra Crossings which brings top young basket-ball players out to meet Cape Town and play some ball with local kids. It’s far more awesome than that, of course, but it warrants it’s own post in the near future so I’ll just leave it there for now.

Anyway, this particular lanky Aussie and rock-steady Mississisipian posed a question during the preparation of the group’s final farewell braai (barbecue in American speak), and between all the bread-baking, salad-making and meat-cooking I never got through the full answer.

The question was, I think, designed to try and understand what I do on a daily basis, but also perhaps to find one or two nuggets which might help some day, who knows!

Having thought through the answer, though, it’s now been lodged in my head and needs to be shared so I’m going to inflict it on everyone via this months’ blog.

The question:

What are your top 5 tips for someone who starts a brand or a new business they have to market?

And so here, in this very particular order, are my answers using the example I started with James & Lorenzo:


  1. Be clear on what makes you different from everyone else. You need to think carefully about what it is that makes you most likely to be interesting to people – interesting enough to spend money on. Is it how you do things rather than what you do? Is it why you’re doing it in the first place? So if Lorenzo & James decided to open a Bakery in Austin, the fact that a young Aussie student and a b-ball coach from the South have come together to bake is a story worth telling! What is the core of the story in this business and brand – the things you take for granted are often the most powerful places to find your own differentiation.




  1. Pick a name carefully. There are many things to consider when you choose a name and much has been written about it, but a good starting point is finding the balance between something clear and self-explanatory; and something broad enough to allow the brand to grow and expand. So instead of “James & Lorenzo’s Cup-Cakes”, call it “Jay & Zo’s Delicious Things” so that when they decide to bake corn-bread in a few months time, it all still works. Also, ideally your name should be easy to read, easy to say, not spelled oddly or trying to be too clever – if people are not sure how to say it, they won’t say it, and that’s bad for business.



  1. Create a simple, clear “selling line” (ie. The sentence that goes with your brand name) that tells people what you do in your own style. So “Jay & Zo’s” could play on their stereotypical ways of talking and sell “The most delicious things you ever done found, mate.” And then the real trick, when you start a business is to stick one message (ideally your selling-line when you start out) single-mindedly long after you’re bored of it because by the time you’re sick of it most people have still never heard of it or your brand. It takes a long time, much longer than you think or would like, to get a single message to stick in the heads of your target market, so keep focussed and keep saying the same thing until you meet someone new from a different town and they say “Oh, you’re Jay & Zo – the most delicious things you ever done found, mate”!. And then you’ll know you have started a brand.




  1. Think through the future just enough to make sure you’re not painting yourself into a corner. Create a brand product hierarchy that helps you understand how the different categories and products you have now or could have in the future fit together so that you’ll always know exactly where any new products or categories fit in the future. So when James & Zo start out and are only planning to make cup-cakes, they should still think about whether they might want to make macarons in the future, or maybe even chocolate brownies and how those all fit in – are they all new categories? How will they fit with the brand? How will they be displayed in the online shop? How will the individual products be named? Should they all have names relating to the person who created them (eg. James’ Friggin Amazing Peanut Butter Cup-cakes) or is it better to give them all a human name based on their personalities (eg. The peanut butter cup-cakes could be called Charlie?). There’s no way to know that in 6 months Zo is going to have a dream and wake-up to create Zo-nuts that take over where Cro-nuts left off, but you can think through the structure of the brand well enough to accommodate them easily and not have to re-do everything when they suddenly appear in all their deliciousness!




  1. Keep it simple. Always, in branding as in science, Occam’s razor applies – all else being equal, the simplest choice is usually the best. Don’t over-design your logo, just the name in a good colour and font is often enough. Don’t over-develop your website – unless you’re an e-commerce start-up, you really just need a few clear pages with great photos (invest in those!) and simple, direct explanations of who you are, what you do, where you can be found and what makes you different to everyone else. And don’t over-spend on stuff that isn’t adding value right now – get good business cards, have good photos, choose one interesting promotional tool or idea that will help set you apart but not cost the earth, and then just tell everyone you know, and use one* social media platform to reach beyond them. Jay & Zo can hand out branded cup-cakes at the traffic intersection closest to their store dressed in their chef whites and big hats and they’ll probably get more social media coverage and local support than they know what to do with. And later, when the Zo-nuts arrive, the queues will be out the door.



So really, in one sentence: when you start a brand just focus on telling your story simply, clearly and consistently. The rest will come when it needs to. And Jay & Zo, we’re all looking forward to those “Zo-nuts”. Just sayin’.




PS. As an appendix, James wanted to know why I recommend only one social media platform as a starting point, so here is the low down on that too:

  • Social media fatigue: people often start all enthusiastic and sign their brands up for every possible social media platform forgetting that it actually takes a fair amount of time and especially energy to have a good thought-through flow of relevant, engaging, brand-appropriate content. It can get exhausting trying to generate content and images for multiple platforms. Actually it gets that way even just for one, but if you only have one it’s a little more manageable.
  • Platform specific content: And adding to that requirement is the fact that you may well have overlapping audiences across platforms which means you don’t want exactly the same content on every platform you have. Ideally you want to tailor the content to the focus and emphasis of the platform – so FB is much more copy heavy, can allow you to explain a bit more and give some insight into why and what you’re doing behind the scenes, or give advice etc. Instagram is entirely visual, and should be populated with immensely compelling images, not just ordinary snaps. Twitter should be used for instant comms and newsworthy content – eg. quick special between 12pm and 1pm today only!  So while there are great tools for sharing one piece of content across several platforms, I don’t advocate that as the best approach to social media when you’re starting out.

Ideally you want to choose those social mediums that both talk to the right target market and lend themselves to the right kind of content for you, and you want to make sure they are sustainable and dependable – if you start a social media schedule it doesn’t have to be a hundred posts a day, but it does have to be consistent. And that is easier theory than actually kept to amidst the slog of daily business!



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