His words echo even louder today in our complex world. I recently attended the World Mobility Congress in Barcelona. It was an electrifying experience, with each brand showcasing their innovations. The event was a vibrant showcase of innovation, but there was a catch: most companies used similar language in their product communication. Phrases like 'XYZ savings in time' or 'X% more efficient' were rampant. While these statements are true and showcase the products' strengths, they lack uniqueness - at least to me. I couldn't recall a single company that stood out distinctly with its branding and communication.
This uniformity in messaging highlights a common problem many companies face – maintaining a consistent message across diverse audiences. It's a delicate balancing act, ensuring your brand's voice resonates uniquely while still appealing broadly.
As a founder and entrepreneur, I understand these challenges firsthand. We often hear that about 50% to 70% of startups fail within the first three years, a sobering statistic attributed to issues like insufficient capital, poor market fit, and stiff competition. By the fifth year, the failure rate climbs to 70% to 90%.
These numbers aren't just intimidating; they spotlight the crucial role of effective communication in a startup's survival. It's not just about having a great product; it's about how you communicate its value. This is arguably the hardest part – finding the right messages that speak to your audience and convey your vision effectively.
I have a mentor, Jonathan, who is a renowned product designer and a design associate for the Design Council. Since 2014, he has been patiently supporting and advising me. Last year, we met for a beer in a pub, and I showed him what we were working on – our eye tracking based workspace MVP, which truly lived up to its name. He loved it, but when we did a simple exercise to explain what this product was about, I struggled. It was because I wasn’t talking about the value - what the benefit for companies using it is - but rather what it does. Rarely do people care about what your product does; they care about what's in it for them. That’s the point.
This is when Jonathan mentioned to me his peer's company, The Engine Room - a multi-award-winning branding agency based in Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. Darren, the founder of The Engine Room, and Leo, the Creative Director, are two excellent and experienced professionals. Even if you don’t have a chance to meet with them and 'just' visit their website, you can see what they are about:
“You can’t be all things to all people. That’s the first law of brand. We are not a marketing agency or a PR company and we are not digital marketers. Yes, there's a strong connection and we have a deep knowledge of these services. But first and foremost we are designers. For us, it’s all about finding opportunities, designing the change, and designing the difference.” The Engine Room
That’s what we as a company needed. More specifically, I wanted to grow my company from our very first version to a more grown-up version. We're not at the final stage, of course, but we are more mature – the company, the product, all of it. Let's say we navigated successfully through the difficult first three years that kill most startups and are preparing for the next five. Brand communication and communicating our values clearly is the first step. Our alignment with The Engine Room is rooted in a shared belief in design thinking. This approach goes beyond mere innovation; it’s about understanding and empathising with our audience, about shifting from talking at them to engaging with them. Innovation, as Phil Best says, is about creating opportunities for sustained brand leadership and making your market interact differently with your proposition.
Our collaboration, guided by the double diamond methodology, has been eye-opening. It's a journey from understanding the problem to defining, developing, and delivering solutions. This process has reframed our perspective from focusing on what our product does to how it adds value to our customers. The past few months working with The Engine Room have been a learning curve. As we peel back the layers of our brand identity and messaging, we're discovering the essence of what makes us unique.
As Roger Sametz design expert said in his article for the Design Management Review,
"Effective communication evolves from understanding what people value." This is what we're striving for – to understand, connect, and communicate in ways that resonate uniquely with our audience.
While we're still in the midst of this rebranding journey, the experience has been transformative. It's not just about marketing or branding; it's about aligning our values, our vision, and our voice. This partnership has reinforced that at the heart of effective branding lies a deep understanding of who we are, what we stand for, and how we convey this to the world.
So, as we continue to navigate the complexities of brand communication, our collaboration with The Engine Room is a testament to the power of shared values and a commitment to making a meaningful impact through design thinking and innovative branding. It's a journey of growth, learning, and, most importantly, of finding our unique voice in the symphony of the market.