3 Important Branding Insights for Minority-Owned Businesses and Founders of Color

Few people see the sleepless nights, long hours, and frustration small business owners experience when they launch and attempt to grow their businesses.

If being an entrepreneur wasn’t already hard enough, imagine starting a business as a founder of color or a minority founder.

Founders of color and minority founders face many additional challenges and must overcome established stereotypes that create obstacles at nearly every turn.

According to the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship:

  • Over the last 10 years, minority-owned businesses accounted for more than 50 percent of the two million new businesses started in the United States.
  • Minority-owned businesses have created 4.7 million jobs.
  • There are more than four million minority-owned companies in the United States.
  • Minority-owned businesses in the U.S. have annual sales totaling close to $700 billion.

But, although minorities make up 40% of the U.S. population, minority-owned business ownership represents only 20 percent of the population.

The numbers are equally mismatched for women business owners. Women are 51% of the U.S. population but only 33% of business owners with employees.

And, the numbers are even more troubling when you look at venture funding.

Black founders receive less than 1% of venture capital, only 8% of venture capital-funded startups founders are women, and fewer than 0.4% of startup founders are Latina.

Underrepresented Founders & VC Funding Raised

credit: Transparent Collective

As if those disadvantages weren’t grave enough, studies show that during periods of economic turmoil, minority-owned businesses fail at a much higher rate than other businesses. This happens, in part, because systemic racism at financial institutions makes it difficult for minority-owned businesses to obtain debt financing.

Despite those challenges, the opportunities for minority-owned businesses are enormous.

By 2044, more than half of all Americans are projected to belong to a minority group.

So, while racism, stereotypes, and economic uncertainty make it tougher for founders of color and minority founders to start a business, minority business owners and founders of color do bring a unique perspective that over the next several decades, can help them create a strong brand identity and build successful and sustainable businesses.

Here are 3 important branding insights that can help founders of color and minority founders build a successful business:

1. A brand is more than a company’s name and logo

A brand is a set of features that differentiate one organization from another.

Your company’s brand is defined by its business name, logo or symbol, design, brand voice, and everything visual about the company.

The visual elements of your brand form the brand identity – what you, customers, and prospects can see.

But a brand is more than its brand identity.

A brand also includes the sum total of the experiences customers, social media followers, fans, and prospects have with your company. Your company’s reputation, the way products and services are advertised, and your company’s values are all part of your brand.

In fact, every decision your company makes and every action that it takes affects the brand.

Leaving your brand identity and brand to chance will hurt you and your business. You must be proactive in creating a memorable brand identity and in building a strong brand.

Founders of color and minority founders who created brands like Harpo, FUBU, Black Girls Code, Bevel, and Zumba Fitness understood the importance of building a strong brand when they started their ventures.

They knew that the goal of branding is to tell a company’s story in a way that creates loyalty, awareness, and excitement.

And they managed to successfully do so by building an effective brand strategy.

You can do the same for your business.

2. Create a brand strategy for your new business

Start with a blank sheet of paper and fully define your company’s vision, mission, and values.

Once you’ve done that, articulate your brand positioning.

Brand positioning explains how your company differentiates in the marketplace and how you are different from your competitors.

Brand positioning will be especially important when you write a  business plan. Lenders and investors will want to understand how you will differentiate and why those differences will help you succeed.

You can build a race-neutral and/or sex-neutral brand while still embracing ways that you and your brand are unique.

Or, you can use your unique perspective to build and articulate a unique identity – one that lenders and investors don’t often see.

As a founder of color or a minority founder, you have a unique perspective. It’s not unusual for minority business owners and founders of color to observe different problems or to offer different solutions than business owners from other groups.

This unique perspective gives you an opportunity to bring innovative products and services designed for everyone, or to pick a segment of your target market and create products or services for that market segment.

For example, Bevel founder Tristan Walker launched products through Walker & Company to help Black men who faced unique problems while grooming.

At the time, many companies made razors for a broad market audience, by Walker was frustrated that those products didn’t meet the needs of Black men.

Walker could have started a new razor company with a broad audience, but he chose to focus on an audience he believed wasn’t being effectively served by any existing products.

And, he clearly articulated from the very beginning, what Bevel did better than anyone else for Black men.

What can you learn from the way Walker approached positioning for Bevel?

Often, your positioning can be summarized in one or two sentences to explain what you do better than everyone else.

And, rather than targeting a huge market in which you’ll face huge competition, consider, like Tristan Walker, finding a market that large competitors don’t understand because their marketing and leadership teams don’t look like or think like the target customers.

Once you understand brand positioning, you must articulate your unique selling proposition.

Ultimately, a company’s unique selling proposition (“USP”) is what your business stands for.

For example, you could say that Apple’s USP is found in “user experience”: everything they do is meant to have the user at its core.

For minority founders and founders of color, the USP can focus on the specific needs of a smaller group within a larger market, or on the unique innovations your products bring to the broader market.

As noted above, Walker focused on products for Black men because he understood them well and because nobody else was offering good products for that audience.

But you can also innovate and target your products and services to the broader market like Apple does but thinking of ways you can innovate and create unique solutions that don’t exist.

Apple creates innovative products that are appreciated, loved, and valued by many people across different cultures, languages, races, and demographics.

Once you have defined your USP, it’s time to create your core brand identity assets.

You’ll need a good business name for your new business, a unique logo design for your company, a business website, and other visual elements that will reflect your brand.

You’ll want to work with experts who can help you name your business and with graphic designers who can design the visual assets, but you should give yourself an advantage – read this complete 20,000-word brand identity guide that covers everything you need to know about building a strong brand identity.

3. Execute your brand strategy

Once you’ve completed discovery and developed your core identity, you must find the right way to communicate about your brand through marketing.

Execution is crucial to put your business on a path to success.

And, here too, founders of color and minority entrepreneurs face numerous obstacles and a scaling gap.

For example, only 19 percent of Black-owned businesses and 20 percent of Hispanic-owned businesses grow to 10 or more employees, compared to 25 percent of companies owned by founders from other groups.

If you’re a celebrity like Rihanna, you can help create a powerful brand like Fenty by offering substantially more shades of foundation and other products that include all skin tones, targeting women of all ethnicities and body types.

Prior to Fenty, most beauty brands focused on a segment of the beauty market. Few brands, for example, offered shades of foundation for all skin tones. Most popular brands offered shades of foundation only for Caucasian women.

But after Fenty’s successful launch (in 17 countries on the same day), other beauty brands had to quickly reflect on the lack of diversity in their products and marketing.

Not everyone is a global music superstar like Rihanna.

But, you don’t need to be a global superstar to differentiate your business.

Fenty succeeded, in part, because of Rihanna. But, it also reimagined how a beauty brand can serve ALL women and not just a small subset of women.

Inclusivity, and not merely celebrity, was Fenty’s unique selling proposition.

What’s your unique selling proposition and are you ready to create a brand strategy for your new business?