With tiny media budgets at their disposal, many startups have instead chosen to focus on brand experience. What can other businesses learn from these experience leaders?

Startups are often inherently personal. They’re the product of someone who's gone into business because they've seen, firsthand, a gap in the market. They've thought about what would work for customers and approached the challenge from the start with this point of view. The end result is often an incredible brand experience.

For brands establishing themselves as a disruptor in new markets, the imperative for the experience to drive advocacy becomes vital. Start-ups don’t have the marketing or media budgets of their larger competitors – the experience is the marketing tool.

The role of brand in defining a fantastic customer experience is to seek out how your experience differs from your competitors. Assuming a startup will have a functional level of purchasing through to fulfillment mapped out, the challenge is how to create advocacy, organic acquisition through word of mouth and ultimately sales through a fantastic differentiated brand experience.

One such example is mattress company Koala. They own the end-to-end experience from three-hour shipping to the product itself which is nothing like traditional mattresses. Koala has cleverly managed to disrupt a classically dull purchase, and they’ve done it with a distinct tone and personality.

The key to achieving this is a customer-centric lens, something a lot of businesses say they have. While it’s not impossible, legacy brands rarely manage to put the customer first because of one difference in the way the business is run: shareholders. For many large companies, shareholders are often the number one priority. Putting customers first may well have a flow-on effect to the share price if the brand delivers an exceptional experience but few have managed to pull it off.

Another factor working in the favour of startups is having the agility to respond. When you run a small, nimble organisation that isn’t encumbered by legacy systems, setting up three-hour delivery is a much easier feat.

That’s not to say large corporations shouldn’t take a leaf out of the startup book to tailor their brand experiences. They absolutely should. Experience is the tangible proof of the brand and so investing in getting it right is well worth it.

But startups can also learn from more established businesses. Often for these organisations, brand is the last piece of the puzzle. The product or proposition comes first with experience following. A lot of startups, amazingly, manage to succeed for some time without a brand strategy.

It’s very much the opposite for heritage brands because brand is integral to what they do. Larger corporates regularly use brand as an attraction tool relying on the heritage of the brand even if this is to the detriment of the experience. How many times can consumers forgive a brand for a terrible experience because they either believe in the brand's purpose or they have such a long-term connection, dare I say even nostalgia for a brand?

Regardless of the size of the business, a great experience can help propel the brand to the next level through word of mouth. This is great for startups which often have miniscule media budget. But it will also benefit larger organisations with shareholders reaping the rewards of reduced marketing spend and a customer-centric culture driving value for the organisation as a whole.