Brand Building 101

a dark room with a light

I could use some help with a difficult project. I’m taking an honors business marketing class this semester, and it’s been a real struggle. I have a couple weeks left to wrap up an assignment about digital marketing. 

Everyone in the class was given a scenario to explore in the context of what we’ve learned so far. My scenario involves launching a smart product in a foreign market. My older brother helped me come up with the product idea, which is a smart drone that can shadow its owner. 

I have most of the business plan drawn up, but I’m struggling with the marketing and branding stuff. I was originally under the impression that this would be the easier part, but now I’m not so sure. 

What best practices should I be including? Any illustrative examples would also be really helpful. 


This certainly sounds like a compelling assignment. You’re also in luck, because much has already been written about the subject. New startups are emerging every day all around the world. Indeed, globalization has brought with it some tremendous possibility and extreme competition. That means business owners have to gain an edge somehow, especially if they want their product and the enterprise to both flourish sustainably.

Since you already have a specific product in mind, the next step is familiarizing yourself with relevant best practices. Lauren Maillian Bias published an informative article on Forbes that highlights a five step-primer for entering an international market. She emphasizes how essential it is to educate yourself on the prevailing customs and business etiquette in the target market. Fail to do this and you could risk alienating prospective customers before they bother trying your product in the first place. Another key takeaway is becoming an expert on the laws that govern business and commerce in the target market. The repercussions of neglecting that suggestion could be catastrophic.

Nate Vickery at Startup Nation also put together a thoughtful piece explaining the challenges one can expect to face when launching a startup in a foreign market. Nate again reinforces the importance of having a thorough understanding of the regulatory ecosystem. Avoid breaking international commerce laws at all costs, but that should probably go without saying. He also draws attention to cultural subtleties and language barriers, which should always be taken into account. Those who underestimate the influence of those factors almost always encounter customer adoption issues.

The best advice aside from the obvious is Nate’s third pointer–finding a reliable partner. According to him, “one of the most powerful ways to integrate your business into a new environment is with the help of local artisans, experts, and the overall workforce.” Bijan Khosravi, another Forbes contributor, are much more vocal about the value of forging strategic partnerships. In his eyes, any startup older than a year with no strategic partnerships is making a big mistake. Despite what you might immediately assume, these mutually beneficial relationships are about much more than revenue, too. The combined power of two mutually invested stakeholders is much better for business overall. That means streamlining processes, updating systems, sharing industry knowledge, etc. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how those advantages could be more influential in foreign markets as opposed to domestic ones.

These are all approaches you could easily apply to your project example. Let’s say, for instance, you decide to target the Asia Pacific (APAC) market. That would include countries as far north as Japan and as far south as Australia. Smart products, however, are typically only attractive to a small subset of customers with a specific mixture of lifestyle preferences and disposable income threshold. In other words, you’d want to market your product to increasingly wealthy and cosmopolitan cities (e.g., Hong Kong, Tokyo, Brisbane, Wellington, etc.).

First, reflecting on what Jayson DeMers wrote on Entrepreneur about building your startup brand from scratch. You should have a firm grasp of the basics before approaching potential business partners. His suggestions revolve around doing the right due diligence and exercising sound judgment while investigating different competitors. The last recommendation is to get help, which we’ve already covered.

It’s no coincidence that the geographies most likely to have the highest concentrations of your target customers will also have the highest proportion of viable business partners. Ancillary business services thrive by supporting the industries that serve customers directly. For instance, tapping into a Brisbane SEO company would not only advance your digital marketing efforts, it would also afford you access to local knowledge. A partnership like that would let your team focus exclusively on incremental product refinement instead of learning about what an NPS calculator is and how you can improve it.

You should also realize that partnerships don’t necessarily guarantee success. Every business has a core competency or a handful of them at most. Don’t enlist the support of a partner that doesn’t admit to any limitations. In other words, always remain skeptical of those that say yes to everything. That simply isn’t possible. While it might sound appealing to have a single partner, or a “one-stop-shop,” for all of your business needs, the reality is that you can’t simultaneously do everything and be an expert, too. Quality is compromised somewhere along the way.

Chuck Cohn at Entrepreneur has much more authority concerning what it takes for a successful product launch. He encourages startups to test thoroughly before launch and prepare systems to gather user feedback retroactively. Other major points include taking the time to invigorate your team and to remember your core competencies. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to stray from your origins, especially when you experience rapid business growth. Unfortunately, at the early stages of a business venture, such detours and departures can have a disproportionately negative impact.

There’s no shortage of avoidable mistakes that could spell disaster for a promising upstart. While it’s true that some things are unpredictable and totally unavoidable, most startups don’t fall victim to those types of circumstances. Many instead become architects of their own untimely demise. Kathryn Minshew, the founder of The Muse, released a video sharing seven of the most common mistakes made by startups. She’s done a superb job of introducing each mistake and then explaining how people can effectively elude them. Her checklist definitely isn’t exhaustive, but it’s highly informative and easily digestible.

At the end of the day, launching a new product business is no trivial pursuit. There are countless moving pieces and a lot of competing variables to consider carefully. Completing your assignment should make that truth abundantly clear. Yet that being said, it’s also quite possible to launch a product successfully without requiring the upfront investments of earlier periods. Globalization and the relentlessly evolving technologies around us are making these things plausible. It’s also crucial to remember that the lessons you learn while spearheading one startup aren’t necessarily applicable to another. Suffice it to say, then, that successfully launching a product doesn’t mean you can successfully launch a service–and vice versa. There will always be caveats, exceptions, and nuances to negotiate.


“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.” — Sheryl Sandberg