Executive Education

4 Questions to Help You Think Like a Startup Even if You’re an Established Brand

Whether you’re a fledgling startup or an industry giant, ask yourself these key questions about what your brand represents — and where you want to go. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re launching a startup, at the helm of a family-run small business, or working for an established corporation — hitting roadblocks as you scale your business and adapt to changes in the industry is inevitable. What truly differentiates you from your competition is how you respond to these challenges.

While startups may have the agility to adapt at a moment’s notice, older companies should try to think like startups if they hope to weather the highs and lows of a dynamic, shifting economy. From thinking outside of the box to leaning into team collaboration, applying startup values to your workflow can help you re-energize your team and carve a niche for yourself in your field.

Begin by asking these four questions of your brand. The answers may just guide your business into exciting, uncharted territory.

1) What makes us unique? 

If you don’t know what makes your company unique, your customers won’t know either. Brands change over time; this progression is natural. But if your business has evolved and your messaging hasn’t, it might be time to realign your organization around your mission statement.

Make sure that your entire team, from leadership down to entry-level employees, knows your brand’s story and is invested in its mission — just like they would be if you were a scrappy young startup. That way your whole team can better work together to bring that story to life.

2) What’s our strength in the industry? 

It’s okay if your company isn’t the lone pioneer in an emerging sector of the digital economy. If you’re in a crowded, competitive industry — or one that’s been growing in recent years — it is essential that you understand what distinguishes your brand, from the consumer’s perspective.

Identifying these differentiators is something that young companies prioritize: after all, startups are continuously negotiating their place in the market and anticipating how new business decisions will affect the way they fit into the landscape. Once you’ve identified your unique strengths, don’t keep them to yourself! Whether you pride yourself on sourcing high-quality ingredients or providing speedy same-day shipping, make your strengths known to your target audience — through social media, innovative marketing strategies, and referral programs.

3) How do we want to be perceived by the public? 

How the public sees your brand plays a crucial role in your long-term success, and this perception extends beyond whether consumers like or dislike your products or services. Instead, it’s about shaping public awareness of what your brand stands for — something that startups have to do on a daily basis.

For example, is your brand committed to sustainable business practices? Do you donate a portion of your sales to a local charitable organization on a regular basis? Publicizing these aspects of your mission will help you build stronger relationships with your existing customer base — and attract new customers who may have otherwise been on the fence.

4) Where are we headed? 

While it’s important to look back at past successes (and failures), startups don’t rely on outdated business models for guidance — because they don’t have them. Instead, they have to continually reinvent themselves through a process of trial and error.

If your brand has grown in the past several years or you are looking to reassess your place within the industry, ensure that your current branding — from logos and website design to your mission statement and social media presence — support your vision for the future. While it may be difficult for more established companies to move on from business practices and branding that have served them well for so long, it’s essential that you be willing to adapt in order to thrive within an ever-evolving market.

Whether you’re a small business or an industry heavyweight, thinking like a startup can breathe new life into your organization. By asking questions that get to the heart of your brand identity, you’ll be in a better position to make strategic decisions that can guide your brand going forward.

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Allison McGuire
Allison McGuire, Director of Marketing at Paper Mart, has an accomplished history of building online marketing and ecommerce programs. Under her direction, the company has launched a variety of new marketing channels that have taken the 97-year-old business to the next level.