Dave Kellog on Startup Branding - Deepstash
Dave Kellog on Startup Branding

Dave Kellog on Startup Branding


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Dave Kellog on Startup Branding

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The Branding Mirage for Startups

Branding is a potential marketing rathole for startups, particularly early-stage ones. Startups who prioritise branding are putting the cart before the horse. Focus should be on product and business first - the real work to prove product-market-fit.

Branding comes after PMF. "You don’t need a brand before you have PMF."

Even when branding makes sense, a startup usually focuses on the wrong elements, eg: the logo instead of the targeting. Targeting matters, the value prop matters, positioning matters. The visual identity and brand values not so much. 


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Do want to build a brand? Go sell some software. 

Want to improve your brand perception? Go sell some software. 

Want to have a distinctive brand visual territory? Go sell some software. 


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6 elements of Branding

Branding may seem a hairy topic but it can be broken down into: 

  • Brand targetingWho Do We Sell To?
  • Brand promiseWhy Do They Buy From Our Company?
  • Brand positioningWhy Do They Buy Our Product?
  • Brand identityDo We Look Like Us?
  • Brand valuesWhat Do We Stand For?
  • Brand voiceDo We Sound Like Us?


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This is brandspeak for figuring out who you’re selling to.  Think STP (segment, target, position).

  • Figure out a mechanism to segment the market — e.g., by company size, by vertical industry, by adjacent systems
  • Target one or more of those segments. For startups, fewer is better.
  • Position your product to those target segments.


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The high-level expression of why someone should buy from your company, often more simply known as the value proposition. For tech startups they tend to fall into a few patterns:

  • We are you (e.g., Mosaic, we built it for ourselves at Palantir).
  • We fixed it. We took the last-generation leader and made it better (e.g., Cube to Adaptive, Pigment to Anaplan)
  • We rebuilt it.  We run on the modern stack with modern technology (e.g., OnPlan to Vena)
  • We verticalized it (e.g., Plannuh for marketing, Place for SaaS)


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Positioning comes down to answering one of two questions:

  1. Why buy one? (Benefit oriented)
  2. Why buy yours? (Differentiation oriented)

Startups who are alone in defining their category need to focus on the first question. Those in crowded categories (either a new market with several nascent entrants or a more developed category with the usual suspects), the emphasis needs to be on why buy mine.


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Life-long learner. Passionate about leadership, entrepreneurship, philosophy, Buddhism & SF. Founder @deepstash.


Focusing on the logo and brand values before having a business is like putting the cart before the horse.