When developing a brand, it’s not always easy to know what’s working and what isn’t. The goal of your brand is to communicate your company’s unique value to your customers. So, in a broad sense, the effectiveness of your brand can be measured in growth. Is there an increasing number of customers who are seeing, trusting, and engaging with your business?
Depending on your model, that growth might be measured by things like volume of customers, their level of engagement, or revenue.
For companies that get massive quickly — like, billion dollar valuation massive — they usually see growth across all those categories (sometimes with the notable exception of profits, but we’ll leave that for another piece).
So, if we want to look at the relationship between growth and brand effectiveness, these rocket-ship companies serve as an interesting sample set.
Lucky for us, the San Francisco based startup accelerator, Y Combinator, has an impressive collection of rockets for us to study. And they recently released an updated list of their most impressive performers.
Since their start in 2005, YC has helped launch more than 2000 companies. In that time, their top 100 companies have generated 50K+ jobs and have a collective valuation of $155B+.
We wanted to take a look at the top 5 companies from YC’s valuation list and see how each one expressed their brand on their website. What’s the first impression they give in their messaging and visuals? What insights can we extract from the way they present themselves?
We’ll start at the top of the list and work down.
Jobs Created: 2000
Class Of: 2009
What They Do: Helps businesses accept online payments and manage their finances.
As a technical backend service for businesses, Stripe has a tricky task when it comes to articulating what they do in simple terms.
Despite that, they do a great job of establishing trust through some key social proof elements — the biggest being that they handle billions of dollars in payments. They’re also smart to leverage their association with Shopify, a service many of their customers will recognize.
The clean, calm visual style keeps the content focused and fits in well with other tech and financial-related products.
While the messaging is easy to digest, the phrase “new standard” is mostly a play on social proof — i.e. “it’s what everyone else is doing”. To take things further, they could use this space to emphasize the benefits or unique value of the service.
The subheadline also leans into somewhat vague language with “best software”. Instead, they could get more specific on how their customers’ lives improve as a result of using it.
With their focus on business owners and developers, it would also be nice to see some imagery of the people they’re serving. It could help ground the brand and keep it from feeling too abstract.
Jobs Created: 6000
Class Of: 2009
What They Do: Allows people to rent out their living spaces and provide local experiences for travelers.
It’s amazing how much Airbnb has transformed our perception of travel over the past decade. They’ve totally shifted not only what’s available in terms of housing and experiences, but also our relationship with the areas we visit.
Their messaging and lead image drive home this key point of value — making travel experiences unique.
Even if you’re not looking to stay in a crazy platform house in the woods, the image sets the right aspirational tone for what you might discover through their platform.
Given the focus that Airbnb puts on experiences, there might be more emotional resonance if we saw some indication of people enjoying one of these more incredible locations.
And while the headline teases at benefits, they could say a bit more on why their unique offerings are more memorable, exciting, fun, etc. than the traditional hotel route.
Jobs Created: 1500
Class Of: 2014
What They Do: A self-driving car service acquired by General Motors in 2016.
Without a clear launch date in sight, Cruise’s brand serves mainly as a promise for what’s to come. What they do well though is to humanize the technology they’re building and the impact it will have for people.
Their intro video sets the perfect tone to show one of their vehicles integrated into everyday life. It’s not doing anything fancy. The vehicle simply picks up a passenger, safely navigates the city, and drops her off.
As we all come to terms with the sometimes scary transition into autonomous vehicles, normalizing the technology and emphasizing its safety is a great way to build trust.
While the video and content are all very thoughtful, the main messaging is a bit too broad to have a real impact.
“Moving Cities Forward” works well as a tagline but is pretty vague as a headline.
Cruise could use this space on their site to say something that speaks more directly to the aspirational factors of the individuals they aim to serve.
Jobs Created: 1800
Class Of: 2013
What They Do: “Last mile” delivery services to connect people with local restaurants.
Given the explosion of delivery service options these days, developing a strong brand is critical to build strong relationships with customers and avoid becoming a commodity.
To support this, DoorDash does an excellent job of focusing on the emotional benefits that they provide for people. In particular, the imagery and messaging highlight how the convenience of the service provides both access to delicious food, and enables people to spend more time together.
These elements reinforce the idea that the service delivers a deeper life benefit beyond an easier way to get dinner.
Again, while the lead headline (which rotates to “…good feelings”, “…good vibes”, “…good spirits”, etc.) does a great job hitting on emotional benefits, it skews a little broad. It relies on the customer to read the message, view the image, see the call-to-action and put everything together.
They could shorten that path and ease the mental heavy lifting by providing an extra sentence or two of what the service does up front.
Jobs Created: 1000
Class Of: 2012
What They Do: Platform to buy, sell, and manage cryptocurrencies for individuals and businesses.
While 81% of Americans have now heard of at least one cryptocurrency, only 18% of those people have bought crypto in the past year. That’s a huge gap that’s fueled in part by a lack of trust in the market and a lack of education in how to make transactions.
Coinbase aims to avoid any confusion by keeping their brand as simple as possible. Their messaging and their visual presence both embody a clean, stripped-down approach.
With such an inherently complex and volatile space, their focus on honest, jargon-free language is a great way to build confidence and trust with users.
The site feels very aligned with an audience that likely skews young and leans heavily into tech and finances.
The opportunity for Coinbase probably lies more with how they can start to evolve into a friendlier, more welcoming presence that would appeal to folks outside that core demo.
By integrating some imagery or graphics and adding a little emotional quality to the messaging, it may be easier to attract that next layer of users that are less “in the know”.
Brands Are Always Evolving
All of these brands have clearly had success in reaching their target audience. And there are tons of great insights to extract from the way they communicate their value.
But even for companies with amazing growth there are always opportunities to strengthen and clarify those communications and build stronger relationships with customers.
A key point to keep in mind is that no matter how big you are, there will always be people discovering your brand for the first time.
As you get comfortable and familiar with your brand and message, try to take a step back and look at it through fresh eyes. Is that first headline clear and compelling? What story does your site convey to new customers?
With a careful look at your visuals and messaging you may spot some easy ways to make your brand more effective and spark more growth.
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