Big Challenges in Branding
Developing a new startup brand in a market with entrenched behemoth players is a daunting task, but was great fun in the case of the EquaShip startup.
The company was created to provide small and medium sized ecommerce shippers far lower prices. You could take the easy route and focus your brand on price, but in my opinion price is not a great foundation upon which to build a startup brand. Although our prices were 10%-70% lower than UPS & FedEx for the millions of ecommerce companies we targeted, I believed that we needed more than price to differentiate and to build a compelling position, brand promise, and identity. It was unfortunate, but we could not credibly differentiate on UPS and FedEx's percieved high reliability, or their convenience with the daunting number of drop-off or pick-up points.
What's in the Making of a Brand?
Lots and lots of research. In all our prospective customer discussions and market research it became obvious that FedEx and UPS could be positioned as taking advantage of small shippers in a variety of ways. In addition to unreasonably high base shipping prices, there were:
- Lock step annual increases at several times the consumer price index
- Outrageous price increases in accessorial (extra) charges
- Insurance practices that could cause reasonable people to become raving mad at the injustice of it all
- The Department of Justice opening a probe into UPS & FedEx, some say due to price fixing and identical rate tables from the duopoly
- Outrageous amounts of money spent on lobbyists to protect their positions against other competitors
It quickly became obvious that the best opportunity was to use the rebel/hero archetypes in branding ourselves against UPS and FedEx. We were the fair and honest underdog David, to the shipping duopoly's powerful ugly two-headed, money grubbing, and unfair Goliath.
The Naming Problem
Much has been written about cybersquatters sitting on millions of .COM domain names so I won't get into that. Suffice it to say, we couldn't spend $1 million ransom on a name.
Our problem in finding a name was compounded by the fact that "ship" is a noun and a verb. Shipping also often refers to delivery by a ship, which did not fit with our services. To add an additional layer of complexity, we as a "carrier" had "shippers" as our customers. But shippers (our customers) saw "shipping companies" or "shippers" as UPS & FedEx, and of course us. Holy mixup, Batman!
We spent weeks and came up with hundreds of names, some of which might have worked, but frankly did nothing as a foundation for a brand. For a month I resisted my co-founders' demonic urge to settle on a name ("any name" is better than none they kept saying).
Eventually, the name EquaShip came into focus for me as being the best choice upon which to create our brand. My co-founders were glad we waited for the right name when the eventual decision was made. Our CEO was a big proponent of crowd-sourcing, so we crowdsourced a pretty fair logo, and became EquaShip.
See the videos I created for branding and positioning EquaShip at right.