TO THE 2022
APPROXIMATELY 20% OF BUSINESSES FAIL WITHIN THE FIRST YEAR. AFTER FIVE YEARS, ABOUT HALF FAIL.
AFTER TEN YEARS, ONLY ABOUT A THIRD OF BUSINESSES REMAIN – A 70% FAILURE RATE.
The Beat Failure® Report considers thousands of data points collected during conversations with global brands.
We conducted Beat Failure® sessions with 90 early stage, mid-stage, and late-stage companies across 28 industries, using our proprietary platform Priio®. We asked, simply:
WHAT WOULD CAUSE YOUR BRAND AND/OR BUSINESS TO FAIL?
WTF IS THE
BUT FIRST, WTF IS THE BEAT FAILURE® METHODOLOGY?
ONE OF THE MOST VALUABLE METHODS IN STRATEGIC DECISION MAKING.
The Beat Failure® Methodology was inspired by the Premortem. In 1989, The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania found that imagining that an event has already occurred increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%.
HOW DOES BEAT FAILURE® WORK?
- Identifies potential failures and maximizes clarity.
- Creates prioritization based on likelihood and impact.
- ASSIGNS CLEAR DIRECTION TO LEADERS, TEAMS, AND INVESTORS.
- INFORMS ACTION PLAN FOR RESILIENT COMPANY GROWTH.
EARLY STAGE BRAND PROFILE
Typically have low awareness in the market (Pre-seed to Series A).
EARLY STAGE BRAND REVENUE
Generating revenue but pursuing additional capital from institutional investors to invest in customer acquisition and business development.
EARLY STAGE BRAND PRIORITIES
Focused on raising funds for product development and preparing for a broader market launch to prove product-to-market fit.
Early stage companies have a lot on their plate—from optimizing their product to building a loyal customer base. But what needs to be prioritized in order for a company to continue their growth trajectory and frankly, survive? The early stage companies we spoke to identified failure points that included everything from competition and recruiting to messaging and product. What follows are three key failure points when it comes to brand building that early stage founders are thinking about today—and some considerations to help Beat Failure®.
EARLY STAGE COMPANIES
EARLY STAGE FAILURE POINTS
The right name is a big differentiator for an early stage company, and a powerful storytelling tool during big inflection points. Nailing down your name and making it part of your IP is important to consider before you begin scaling. The more a company grows, the harder and more costly it is to change. Naming is becoming increasingly competitive across all markets, and it's only going to get harder.
A rigorous naming exercise will consider a multitude of factors: personality, feeling, look, availability, accessibility, pronunciation, language, culture context, history, URL potential, cost, translation to design and identity, employer brand usage, customers, and competitors. The result is a brand name that’s ownable in every sense, that considers where you came from and where you’re going. If you’re debating between keeping or changing your name, weigh the current brand equities against the opportunity to reintroduce your company in the market and inject freshness into your touch points across the brand, business, and product.
HOW A NEW WINE BRAND BEAT FAILURE
A renowned winery in Napa Valley came to us with an exciting opportunity to launch a new wine brand that would appeal to a younger audience. They knew that the name for this new brand needed to stand out in a crowded landscape and also create distinction in their portfolio so that the core, legacy brand would maintain its premium reputation among high-end wine drinkers.
By examining the failure points associated with a new name, we were able to craft a naming brief that outlined key criteria and considerations, ultimately supporting the choice of a new name that built on brand equity and that the company felt confident in.
Early stage companies may have quickly defined their target audiences at a high level, which offers a good starting point to create messaging to drive marketing and sales. But as they prepare for a broader market launch, they may feel unsure about the audiences they’ve identified and how they’re speaking to them.
This was a refrain in our conversations with early stage companies—10% of conversations with early stage companies mentioned audience as a potential unknown.
You can never know too much about your audience. Early stage companies may begin with assumptions about who their audience is, but they’ll need to quickly validate those assumptions with data. The strongest approach is iterative: establish a baseline understanding of your audience based on data, then go deeper to reveal sweet spots, sharper segments, and behavior insights. These details spark new approaches for creating conversations and relationships and new ideas and channels for better conversion, which bring more—and more nuanced—audience data into the cycle. Make audience understanding a core practice for your company, and reinforce its value to your team. Always be in test mode: it’s the key to creating products and services with genuine value.
Make audience understanding a core practice for your company, and reinforce
its value to your team.
HOW A CYBER INSURANCE STARTUP BRAND BEAT FAILURE
We worked with a company in the cybersecurity and insurance space. When coming out of stealth mode, they had a hypothesis about who their customer was and launched the brand with a focus on targeting companies directly that could benefit from cyber insurance for their businesses.
But as the company grew and approached their Series A, they realized they needed a stronger focus on the business insurance brokers who already have established relationships and trust with the end customers.
Properly identifying the key target audience helped us evolve the brand identity and messaging to speak to the right people and set the brand up to have nuanced messaging for the primary customer as well as other decision makers—in this case, brokers.
IMMATURE BRAND IDENTITY
Early stage companies are often more focused on building their product than developing their brand identity. But as they prepare for their next stage of growth, they may feel like they need to mature to “look the part,” especially as they seek more ambitious rounds of funding.
Early stage companies don’t often consider identity because their primary focus is on product/service development and creating a path to market and revenue. Companies understand that they need a strong identity, but the process of understanding the diverse and ambiguous offerings of brand agencies and partners, choosing the right one, and embarking on an expensive identity process can be intimidating. To simplify things, companies should think about establishing a foundation.
That foundation is usually a great brand strategy, which builds into a great brand identity. Brand identity is actually one of the biggest keystones to a startup's success. It impacts every touch point with a customer, all marketing and advertising, how talent perceives the company, the product experience—the list goes on. The right creative partner is willing to go on a growth journey: starting with a brand identity that is built to scale and flexible enough to layer in campaigns, activations, and experiences as the brand matures.
HOW A LEGAL BRAND BEAT FAILURE
A client partner in the legal tech business recognized the need to evolve their brand in order to better communicate their services to customers. In their business, it was incredibly important that their identity represent a level of sophistication that would emphasize trust and empathy for claimants looking for legal support, which can be an emotional, stressful, and confusing journey to navigate. The identity also needed to be highly effective in the digital space, where UX and product design also needed to convey confidence and trust.
Failure Points Shared by Early Stage Leaders
MID-STAGE BRAND PROFILE
Have a strong client base with their initial market and insights into other growth areas (Series B-D).
MID-STAGE BRAND REVENUE
Have established a sustainable revenue stream, with funds raised going toward deeper market studies and technology.
MID-STAGE BRAND PRIORITIES
Focused on scaling existing numbers either by growing consumer interest, increasing sales, or breaking into an underserved market.
Mid-stage brands have a strong sense of who they are—and more importantly, their core customer base does too. Internally, the focus is on strengthening foundations with better technology, expanding departments, and more highly skilled staff. Externally, the focus is on expanding awareness and launching initiatives that make noise and increase sales. In industries ranging from legal to SaaS to health and wellness, digital experience, messaging, and content were prominent concerns for mid-stage companies, as well as identifying new audiences, optimizing performance, launching PR campaigns, and recruiting top talent.
Before deciding what to build, companies should conduct an audit of existing brand elements, processes, goals, content, and considerations. If there are any gaps in brand or business fundamentals, these issues should be addressed and resolved before jumping into a digital project, because they should profoundly influence what is built. If these fundamentals are missing, build time and budget in the project to address them first. It will save you money. And don’t underestimate the role of content consideration early in the project—you don’t want to launch with an empty vessel.
Building a thoughtful and cohesive digital experience can play a huge role in preventing failure, but only if it’s a culmination of confident brand thinking and expression. Otherwise, you’re doing it again in six months.
HOW A FITNESS BRAND BEAT FAILURE
COVID-19 forced nearly every business to face challenges that altered their company cultures, business plans, and even product offerings. One of our client partners in the fitness space, who was dependent on live, in-person experiences, took COVID as an opportunity to rapidly accelerate their digital strategy. They dismissed the reactive instinct to release an athlete training app similar to other fitness brands, and partnered with Butchershop to conduct deep user research to truly understand the athlete journey and where the brand could uniquely deliver value with their digital experience. This led to a connected fitness experience concept that would set the stage for the brand’s transformation into the digital age and beyond.
Without unified messaging, it’s difficult to build connections with customers, grow brand awareness, and transform brand perceptions. As early stage companies mature into mid-stage companies, it’s important to establish a foundation to communicate messages with consistency across environments and audiences.
HOW A REAL ESTATE TECH BRAND BEAT FAILURE
One of our client partners came to us with a concern about how to evolve their messaging to align with the transformation of their business from rental property management to an end-to-end solution enabling a more accessible real estate investment experience. As their product portfolio expanded, the breadth of their audiences also grew, adding complexity to the brand story.
To solve for these complex messaging needs, we developed a narrative-led approach to strategy that considered every audience segment and their common motivations. We were able to introduce a new point of view on the real estate investment landscape with distinct messaging themes that emphasized the value and benefits the brand could bring to everyone from aspiring wealth builders to tenants, vendors, and institutional investors.
NO PLAN FOR CONTENT
As companies grow, content plays a crucial role in increasing brand awareness. Companies should treat every piece of content as a brand extension: a way to layer more character, nuance, and targeted messaging onto the existing brand, and create more personal connections with the customer and other audiences.
Mid-stage companies can be guilty of chasing the moment. CMOs might be hyper-focused on growth, ABM, cost-per-click, and demand generation, which can lead to content that skates past eyeballs without even generating brand awareness. Remember, increasing brand awareness is not the same as marketing. When brand awareness increases, your marketing spend goes further and gets less expensive.
Brand should be at the core of content. Look at your overall content strategy and tie it to your runway, and your big spends for the year. Prioritize content that expresses the brand, then find the multiple streams that the content will support. Let people know who you are before moving into features and benefits.
Keep brand and marketing teams in lockstep, and use the “evergreen” brand content as inspiration, and a filter, for future pieces of content. Companies that focus on brand awareness first, then layer on targeted marketing in multiple touch points, see the best and most enduring ROI.
HOW A GROCERY DELIVERY BRAND BEAT FAILURE
Campaign content became a core driver of how we helped a grocery delivery service gain more awareness and expand their footprint into new markets. In the crowded landscape of countless competitors all claiming fast delivery and high-quality food, the brand needed to find a different way to get loud and stand out.
Inspired by insights from customer data, we developed a creative concept that served as the launchpad for new video content, out-of-home advertising, social and email content, and more— all in service of differentiating the brand, building awareness, and ultimately, increasing traffic by 25% to their ecommerce site.
Failure Points Shared by Mid-Stage Leaders
LATE-STAGE BRAND PROFILE
Generally have a well-known product with a strong market presence (Series E, IPO Ready, Enterprise).
LATE-STAGE BRAND REVENUE
Positioning themselves for the next big inflection point: IPO, M&A, new product launch, or global expansion.
LATE-STAGE BRAND PRIORITIES
Raising funds based on performance and liquidity.
As companies mature, the foundations they’ve established allow them to pursue ambitious new initiatives. However, late-stage companies have more executive layers, competing priorities, and logistical dependencies to consider. We’ve worked with late-stage companies in industries from beauty to cybersecurity, and we’ve found that the best foundation for growth is clarity. When the stakes are high, alignment, discipline, and data-driven decision making are more critical than ever, making performance data, thoughtful M&A strategy, and stakeholder alignment key concerns. As in earlier stages, late-stage companies were also often grappling with failure points like brand strategy, messaging, or new audience segments.
LATE-STAGE FAILURE POINTS
Performance data doesn’t just yield insights for conversion—it can point to bigger issues at the top of the funnel, including the core brand. Companies that have hit a sales plateau may consider a brand performance study to understand if the brand (or brand awareness) are the real problems. Brand, marketing, sales, and digital teams must break down silos and facilitate curious, non-judgmental conversations about performance data to shift the conversation from one-off campaign successes to category leadership.
HOW A TRAVEL BRAND BEAT FAILURE
In the online travel booking business, conversion is everything, so performance was a top priority for one of our clients in this space. It couldn’t be a post-launch afterthought. Performance and optimization had to be fully integrated within the brand evolution process. This meant that conversion research, analytics, usability testing, and heuristic analysis of the user journey throughout the entire existing pre-booking, booking, and tourism experience needed to be the core driver of our discovery process in order to arrive at strategic, data-driven recommendations for the new digital experience.
As late-stage companies look to expand into new markets, increase capabilities, gain a competitive edge, or diversify their products or services, many turn to M&A. While mergers and acquisitions help accelerate growth, they also involve significant challenges. Company leaders must understand what new possibilities mergers and acquisition will open, as well as analyze the risks and identify exactly why they’re participating in a merger or acquisition, to avoid the high rate of failure.
Not every merger is the same, but they all share an obligation to present a confident identity in the market.
HOW A HEALTHTECH BRAND BEAT FAILURE
Bringing two companies together in a merger of equals not only presents a unique brand identity challenge—it fundamentally impacts everything from company culture, to the product roadmap, to the customer experience. We worked with two companies in the healthtech space as they formed a new brand to redefine the future of healthcare.
As their creative and strategic partners, we needed to anticipate potential failures at every point of the brand rollout (introducing the new name in the market, generating employee excitement, maintaining SEO performance). The key was open dialogue between our team and leaders from both businesses, leading to a successful launch and more potential for growth as they continue to mature.
As companies become more mature, stakeholder teams tend to expand with more senior leaders and stronger voices from investors and board members. In later stages of growth, it’s not uncommon to see Founders shift into new roles as they appoint more experienced CEOs or invest in filling out the C-Suite. While new stakeholders often bring fresh ideas and perspectives, they can also present more challenges in making decisions, gaining alignment, and moving things forward.
Leaders come to the table with competing priorities. What’s needed is a clear definition of success and an honest conversation about failure. Identifying failure points lays bare the real obstacles that are often waved away during a conversation focused on success. It helps teams understand where the common ground is, and often, how collaborative the solutions must be. It creates a clear hierarchy of priorities that serve the goal, not the department.
HOW A TECH BRAND BEAT FAILURE
As one of our client partners began to map out their path to IPO, the executive leadership team knew their brand and marketing needed to better reflect their maturity and readiness to go public. However, most of these stakeholders had no experience in branding or marketing and had very different ideas from one another on how far to push the evolution.
In situations like this, to avoid the pitfalls of stakeholder misalignment and endless spinning with no decisions, we engage the full stakeholder team in a clarity session to understand their fears, rank and prioritize the potential failure points, and assign a responsibility matrix using the DACI model. We also create strategic points of collaborative alignment during the process to bring stakeholders along the journey, and develop focused feedback questions to guide more actionable decision making.
Failure Points Shared by Late-Stage Leaders
THERE ARE A THOUSAND WAYS A BRAND CAN FAIL, BUT THEY USUALLY TRACK BACK TO ONE ISSUE: A LACK OF CLARITY.
The Beat Failure® methodology helps companies establish clarity during inflection points, especially during moments of growth, evolution, or transformation. This approach has been key to our work with client partners across industries and growth stages, including 30+ unicorn-status brands.
Please reach out if you’d like to schedule a conversation with Butchershop, or to facilitate a Beat Failure® session for your business.