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MOVING FROM STARTUP TO SCALEUP: 7 things brands need to know

Featured press: first featured in Startups Magazine.

Polly Roberts, Head of Strategy and Planning at ethical advertising agency Media Bounty, looks at the seven things brands need to know about moving from a startup to a scaleup.


Moving from response comms to brand comms means you need to know exactly who you are first.  Hopefully you’ll have done all this already, but it’s a crucial step to take before you start brand advertising. You need to be more than just a product; you need to speak to people’s emotions.

Go back over the brand identity work you’ve already done to make sure it’s still relevant and appealing to a broader consumer base.

Identify who your competitors are, then offer something different. Create a brand that has a clear point of difference, that defining reason why customers and consumers should choose you over a competitor. 

To build a strong brand you need to lay out your brand vision, your values, and your place in the world.  Use this as the jumping off point for creating your brand identity. 

But a well thought out brand isn’t all you need before you start brand advertising.


Work out who you want to appeal to, and make sure there are enough of them to make your existence in the market worthwhile.

Do the maths when you identify your source of growth; make sure the size of the potential customers is big enough for you to meet your ambition.

Brand advertising allows you to build demand from outside your existing pool of customers and potential customers. If you leave it too late, that pool will become saturated, and you’ll just be shouting into the void, while your cost per acquisition goes up and up and up.

But don’t do it too soon. Can you actually meet the demand you’re about to start spending money drumming up? You’ll need to make sure you have a strong enough distribution network to support it.

Know what makes these people tick. How are you going to get noticed? Importantly – do NOT make ads for yourself. Put any vanity aside. Just because you want to see your brand in Bake Off, it doesn’t mean your target audience does.


Many brands will start off with performance marketing focusing on sales. Brand advertising requires an increase in media investment to cover off the upper end of the funnel. Don’t expect this to be as easily measurable to track to sales unless you can afford to do robust econometric modelling. You (and your leadership team) have to be comfortable with the fact that you aren’t going to see immediate sales attribution. Be clear on the KPIs of each line of the plan. The idea of upper funnel activity is that people will know your brand and be more inclined to choose it when they’re in the market. They are not going to pause in the middle of their favourite TV show to buy your product.


Don’t skimp on the quality of your advertising. But equally, don’t spend all your money making a beautiful 60 second film if there’s no money left for media.

Will you cover off brand and performance with the same single ad? If not, how many creative executions are you going to need? This might vary depending on the number of products you have, the different target audiences, the length of the campaign. But to save make everything you need in one go and ensure it will be useable for at least two years.

Your media agency should come to you with suggestions for ways you can make your media budget go further. This might be by being incredibly single minded about your target audience. Maybe creating a majority illusion so they feel like they are seeing you everywhere. Show up in the most relevant contexts. Target a select group of people who you’ve identified to be the best opportunity to convert. Better to make an impact with a small group of the right people, then being invisible to a larger group.


Think long term. Brand advertising is usually about creating awareness (ideally spontaneous) and consideration. This isn’t going to happen overnight. Awareness will come after a sufficient frequency of views, and consideration is the result of a whole load of brand interactions, many of which sit outside of advertising. Give it time. It could well take months for things to noticeably shift, and that’s OK. This is about building a profitable brand in the long term, not chasing cheaper and cheaper ROIs. Although they will also come in time, if you hold your nerve.

This will be the most difficult conversation with your senior leadership team. Performance marketing has made many businesses accustomed to measuring every single click across the customer journey.  But brand marketing is a different beast.

It will be up to the marketing lead instil confidence to senior stakeholders in the business that brand advertising is worth the investment.


The founders, and other board members may not have experience in brand communications, as it’s a very different beast to performance. They will rely on their marketing lead to take them into this unchartered (for them) territory, the steady hand on the ship, with experience of briefing and working with agencies, who has a strong understanding of advertising theory, Binet & Field, Byron Sharp, and how brand and performance advertising differ. 

If you’re scaling up, it’s unlikely you’ll have the budget for robust econometric modelling. Is the board ready for this? They’ll need to understand the different KPIS you’re going to be reporting, and they’ll need to be comfortable that it’s more difficult to measure.

For them to sign off the budget, it’s likely they’ll need to be comfortable with this. If they haven’t signed off brand budget, don’t put out an RFI into the market and get agencies to do a load of speculative work on pitching if it’s not going anywhere. That’s just not cool.


When you’re thinking about who to brief, don’t just look at the biggest or the cheapest. Look for the agency who you think will be the best fit.

The best client-agency relationships are built when both sides treat it as a true partnership. Who do you want by your side helping you grow for the next couple of years? Someone you can trust, someone who feels like an extension of your team. Someone who will help you solve problems by bringing expertise you may not have internally.

Does their vision and values align with your own? Will you be an important partner for them? Do they have experience working with other clients of a similar size, or at a similar point in their journey?


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