The 3 Essential "Ps" of Branding for Startups: Positioning, Purpose, and Personality

Performance Engineering

Every brand is built on a set of foundational pillars - what you do, why you do what you do, and who you are. These are your Brand Positioning, Brand Purpose, and Brand Personality. They are each necessary on their own, but in combination, they are the bedrock of presence, trust, and success in the marketplace.

  1. Brand Positioning: What you do, articulated through simple, memorable statements. This is a handshake that helps to plant and differentiate your business in the mind of the customer.
  2. Brand Purpose: Why you do what you do, beyond driving profit. This is a manifesto and commitment that can align customers and unite team members around an aspiration.
  3. Brand Personality: Who you are, shared through nuances like tone, colors, and shapes. This is what gives your brand humanity and distinctiveness that shape how people perceive and desire to interact with it.

Think about it this way: if your brand was a product, these would be your function, use, and design. Or this: if your brand was a person, these would be your handshake, calendar entries, and style.

Miss one of these three elements, and the brand is incomplete, hollow, useless, and somewhat naked. The three pillars are equally important. It's likely one or two will be easy for you to develop, articulate, and use - and that others will be more challenging. Brand positioning is more like 'hard' skills (specific, often technical) whereas brand purpose and personality are more akin to 'soft' skills (critical to success and nuanced).

With these differences in mind, it should go without saying that a brand is more than a logo or a catchy tagline. It is the strategic expression of your company, its offerings, its people, and how it exists in the world. As contexts (market, competitive, economic, etc.) change, your brand is a firm tentpole. As people join your team, they become part of its living expression. (It's a great way to observe who fits and who doesn't in your culture.)

And as is the case with your personality, once you have established who you are, you're more able to adapt to new places and people without losing your authenticity. For fast-growing startups, in particular, staying consistent with positioning, purpose, and personality is critical. It is how you grow recognition and affinity in your market, and how you resonate with the audiences that value you the most. As time goes on, you can (will) iterate the expressions of your brand. That only works if your foundation is solidly built.

Brand Positioning: Who are you, really?

Brand positioning establishes your brand identity and answers the question of why your business matters. It works as a stand-alone introduction to the organization and positions you in the context of the marketplace and competitive environment. In fact, your positioning statement is step one of the larger effort to write value propositions and differentiation statements.

As you craft your brand positioning statement, think about your unique niche and the needs and desires of your ICP (ideal customer profile) and target audience(s). Al Ries and Jack Trout (the authors of "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind") aptly describe brand positioning as the strategy to own a concept in the consumer's mind. For a technology startup, this could mean positioning yourself as the most user-friendly professional scheduling platform for healthcare workers or the most accurate athlete performance data provider. This strategic positioning is at the heart center of every communication and marketing effort. It conveys and aligns them around the central, unchanging, unique value proposition the brand offers.

brand positioning worksheet

Brand Purpose: What lights your fire?

Brand purpose is the why - the soul - within the 'what and how' of your business. Unless you're a charity, generating a profit must be the first 'why' of the business. But purpose is bigger. It's the problem that nagged you enough to take the leap to found a company. It's what gives the late nights a strange sparkle even when you're exhausted. It's what inspires your team, attracts the customers you want, and makes you stand out.  

You might be familiar with Simon Sinek's 'Golden Circle' from his beloved book "Start With Why" and TED Talk. Since he introduced the value of purpose in 2009, more businesses, academics, and pundits have tracked its impact. From rising standards around business ethics to heightened expectations from mission-minded consumers, a clearly stated purpose may be your most powerful magnet for loyalty and engagement. (In fact, it's on the top list of marketing priorities in 2024 for almost every executive surveyed on the topic.)

Most of the technology startups we support are drawn to big problems that impact society. They see vexing challenges as opportunities. And they do the real work required to bring them to life. That kind of drive and grit doesn't happen for money alone. Your brand purpose statement should be honest and embedded in company operations, culture, and communications. If it is, your brand will be more relatable, inspirational, and memorable.

sinek golden circle

Brand Personality: What makes

Brand personality is exactly what it sounds like. It's the set of human characteristics that people associate with your brand. It's what draws people to you when what you offer is otherwise comparable with another option. The process of building a brand personality can be complex or very simple. You can engage a specialist to take you through Jungian archetypes. You might do the "if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be" exercise. Or you can hand your team a stack of sticky notes and ask them to write down how the brand sounds and acts, then look for patterns as they stick them to the walls.

The outcome is what is important. If you're not a fun brand, don't try to wear that mask. Embrace your buttoned-up, intellectual personality. If you're an ed-tech company for preschoolers, don't shy away from your whimsy. Establish your personality, consider how it sounds and acts, make sure it's honest - and then go forth and live it out through your words, visuals, and culture.

brand personality woksheet

Integrating Positioning, Purpose, and Personality

The interplay between fully-built brand positioning, purpose, and personality shapes your brand strategy. Positioning ensures you stand out among the competition, purpose offers meaningful direction, and personality makes your brand relatable and memorable. Particularly for complex technology startups striving to build traction and grow in a fast-moving, competitive, uncertain arena, this strategy offers critical solid footing.

This three-piece brand foundation should inform your GTM approach and determine how and where you engage with your most important audiences. It should provide a shared songbook your team can use for messaging consistency and inform your design language. And it should help to determine the right channels.

If you do it well, this foundation will convey authenticity and consistency that earns trust and loyalty. That is the chasm that transforms customers into advocates. And when that happens, you know you have something special.

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