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Branding Is Indispensable. Are You Using It to Your Advantage?

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In the language of the Ancient Norse, “brandr” meant “to burn” — a word that was ultimately adapted to “brand” in English. At that time (and as far back as 2,000 BC at least), it meant marking cattle in a distinctive way, but in the early Industrial Revolution, the word came to also encompass the process of uniquely marking and marketing a company. Today, it’s virtually impossible to read a business book or article without happening across it, and while most execs and other leaders have some idea of what’s involved, far too few have a comprehensive awareness. Now, a fuzzy idea of branding as a concept is one thing, but having an unclear idea of your brand is flatly dangerous — not least because it will diminish your recognizability and credibility in the marketplace and be detrimental to a marketing strategy.

What is branding?

According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, a brand refers to “the set of physical attributes of a product or service, together with the beliefs and expectations surrounding [it]… A brand is a unique combination which the name or logo of the product or service should evoke in the mind of the audience”.

Strong branding creates customer beliefs and expectations. It includes your story, its value proposition and its mission. While the product name or logo is important, they are not the brand itself: they are simply helping potential customers identify you and distinguish you from competitors.

Related: Start Your 2022 Marketing and Advertising Planning Today

Why it’s essential for businesses

Branding is not an afterthought, one to be put off until things are “not so busy”. First, this mythical time is unlikely to come. Second, it is the foundation of a company’s identity: You simply cannot afford to operate without being able to show your target audience who you are. And there are other (and almost equally obvious) benefits to creating a strong brand from the beginning: According to Statista, well-known and well-executed brands are more likely to generate growth funding.

Naturally, a strong brand will help you stand out from your competitors. Especially if you are operating in a crowded marketplace, this can make the difference between growth or failure. Having a well-crafted one from the moment your business starts operating will be a huge help in building loyal customers.

How the process works

Even if you have never done any formal branding exercises, your business has one already: Any and all snippets of information about it in the public domain contributes to potential customers’ or investors’ perceptions. If your company is new, chances are there is limited information available — you are a bit of a blank page — whereas if you have been operating for a while, the amount may be substantial. Experienced marketing consultants start by collecting and analyzing it all: They look at your website and social media presence, and also listen to your customers and competitors to understand what your corporate identity is. Based on that data, they will report on perceived personality, voice, and how you are being received by target audiences. In many cases, without this formal processes, honing a clearly-defined brand is impossible. And rest assured: a fuzzy one is almost as detrimental as not having any at all.

Related: 4 Branding Tips From Gary Vaynerchuk and Entrepreneurs Who Built Brands the World Can’t Ignore

The “brand book”

For a new business, it’s natural that graphics, fonts, and other branding elements are experimented with and periodically adapted. As a company grows, however, it becomes important to have defined reference points and a degree of formality. This is where brand books are invaluable, which ensure that everyone who works for you as an employee, contractor or supplier has the same understanding of what the company is all about. Many such books also include company history, mission and vision, and target customers. While its information (both visual and written) is formalized, it is also living document that will change as the brand matures.

How branding relates to other company departments

A well-crafted brand becomes the anchor of the entire marketing department, to be sure, but much public relations strategy and activity will also be focused on raising its awareness and promoting its credibility within target markets. Without clear branding, your PR team can only do so much. With it, messaging becomes more coherent, resonant and ultimately successful. A deep dive into the social media virtual space is an excellent way for PR to build a fan base and otherwise grow a brand community. These fans, whether they have already bought your products or not, will be increasingly instrumental to growth, in part because the credibility they generate means you can reach out to more potential followers and further accelerate growth.

Related: 5 Common Challenges Entrepreneurs Face When Creating a Brand Name

Branding is far more than just a marketing category. It is an indispensable tool for startups, new businesses, and entrepreneurs to set themselves apart. In defining values, visuals and voice clearly, they leave a lasting impression with markets, inspire loyalty and create memorable experiences.

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With Pickme, your neighbor can receive your packages for you • TechCrunch

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French startup Pickme has raised a $3.7 million (€3.5 million) funding round to build a new network of pick-up and drop-off points for e-commerce retailers and logistics companies. With Pickme, a customer can order something and let their neighbor receive the package directly. It’s something that many people already do, but with a more formal relationship. Customers can then collect the package later when they have time.

OneRagtime is leading the funding round with Founders Future, FrenchFounders, Kima Ventures and several business angels participating.

If you’re usually not a home during the day, chances are you get a lot of missed delivery notifications. That’s why many people choose to receive their packages to a pick-up point near their home.

Pick-up points tend to be regular stores that want to increase their revenue by becoming tiny logistics hubs. Popular pick-up point carriers in France include Mondial Relay, Relais Colis and La Poste’s Pickup division. Some of them also operate automated lockers.

These networks have been thriving for several reasons. In addition to a growing volume of online orders, peer-to-peer marketplaces like Vinted, eBay and Leboncoin have also been doing well.

Pick-up locations can also act as drop-off points. Delivery persons can collect outgoing packages as they hand off some packages. As a bonus, using pick-up points reduces CO2 emissions as delivery trips are shorter and more efficient.

Pickme wants to offer a third way. Instead of choosing between home delivery and a regular pick-up point, they could choose to get their packages delivered to their neighbor’s home.

So far, 96,000 people have created a Pickme account and the startup has signed partnerships with DHL, GLS, Colissimo and Geodis. Individuals decide when they are at home so that they can handle packages. They can also define a maximum limit of packages depending on the size of their home — for example, it can be 25 packages or 50 packages.

When a customer collects a package, the neighbor receives a bit of money (less than €1 per package). Right now, Pickme processes 30,000 packages per month. It competes with Welco, another startup with a similar positioning.

In dense urban areas, there are already plenty of retail stores that act as pick-up points. But startups like Pickme and Welco could be more useful in rural areas where there are fewer shops. Right now, 30% of Pickme’s network members live in rural areas.

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Down rounds are still rare by historical standards • TechCrunch

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If you thought that the recent venture capital market was tough, let me tell you about 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

With the first week of December under our belts, we’re not too far away from the end of the year. And that means that 2022’s venture capital story has largely been written. It’s not a single narrative; instead, this year started on a high, with momentum from the monstrous 2021 funding period persisting into the new year. From that point, we’ve seen a slowdown accelerate into what some consider a downturn.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on TechCrunch+ or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Startups raised lots of capital this year. Less, yes, than last year, but more than in nearly any year in recent memory. It’s still a good time to build a tech upstart.

Does that perspective feel too sunny when we hear so much doom and gloom on Twitter regarding startup prospects in a more conservative investing climate?

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Howie Mandel gets a digital twin from DeepBrain AI

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Howie Mandel is stepping into the metaverse. DeepBrain AI has created a pretty realistic AI version of comedian and actor Mandel.

Deepbrain AI, based in South Korea and Palo Alto, California, calls its creation “AI Howie,” and it’s an interactive virtual human and digital twin for immersive and personalized fan experiences. AI Howie mentions VentureBeat and talks to me in the attached videos.

Unlike the “deepfakes” of Tom Cruise and other actors, the real Howie Mandel cooperated with DeepBrain AI to create the virtual human AI replica of the famous comedian, actor, host, and technology enthusiast. We used “virtual Paris” AI character at our recent MetaBeat event in San Francisco.

“I am equally thrilled, excited, and terrified to finally have the ability of showing up and doing things without going anywhere or doing anything,” said Mandel, in a statement. “Thank you, DeepBrain.”

DeepBrain AI applies deep learning technology to create hyper-realistic virtual humans through its AI Studios and the AI Human platforms. These virtual humans are digital twins of the real person, with the same appearance, voice, gestures, and subtle mannerisms. The AI Studios platform enables script-to-video software that synthesizes dynamic video content in seconds, producing the quickest and most
realistic AI-generated videos. The script-to-video editor makes it easy for customers to select a model and then make it say something based on a script. Within a minute or so the video is made.

This is a powerful communication and marketing tool for celebrities, professional athletes, news anchors, and even politicians. Before working with Howie Mandel, the DeepBrain AI team created digital twins of Premier League soccer superstar Son Heung-Min, multiple news anchors across Asia, and South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol.

Joe Murphy, business development manager for DeepBrain AI, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the virtual Howie is a conversational model that you pepper with questions. DeepBrain AI designs and develops these virtual humans for the purpose of creating digital twins (like Howie Mandel), digital people, and avatars.

It takes about four weeks of machine learning work to create a Howie Mandel digital twin.

“We create models of real people,” Murphy said. “We also have completely synthetic virtual humans. That is what we’ll call digital people. And then avatars are just the basic Roblox type of avatars. But where our technology comes in with the digital twins is we go through a deep learning process to clone the person’s voice, their mannerisms, their face, the way their eyes move, the way their lips move.”

He added, “So we create what we call the digital twin of the real person with all the uniqueness of that person. Our mission is to use this technology that we’ve developed throughout Asia and bring it to America.”

In addition to the script-to-video capabilities, the company provides fully conversational experiences with its AI Human software. The AI Human solution enables fans to interact and engage with AI Howie by simply asking questions. For example, when asked, “What was your favorite act on AGT this season?” the AI Howie model responds in real-time to support interactive, fun, and engaging fan experiences.

AI Humans are available within mobile apps, web browsers, or voice-activated kiosks.

“Our vision is to humanize digital experiences and empower creative teams to generate immersive content at scale,” said Eric Jang, DeepBrain AI CEO. “Working with Howie Mandel was a fun experience, and we are excited to see how the AI Howie collaboration will connect with his fans worldwide.”

DeepBrain AI, (formerly Moneybrain), a conversational AI startup based in Seoul, South Korea, has raised $44 million in a series B round led by Korea Development Bank at a post-money valuation of $180 million. The company started in 2016 and it has raised $54 million to date. The company has 130 employees.

The AI is being used for AI news anchors in South Korea and China at four different television networks. The networks flag that the anchor is an AI avatar so that no one gets confused.

The real Howie Mandel spent about a day shooting video with DeepBrain AI.

While multiple companies are working on virtual humans, DeepBrain AI’s avatars are hyperrealistic. One of Asia’s largest insurance companies is also using it, as is a “brand ambassador” for a soccer team.

“When we worked with Howie Mandel, we went down to his studio in Los Angeles, we provided a script, and fed our training data into our neural network,” Murphy said.

It took about a day to do a video shoot with Mandel and about three to four weeks of machine learning time on the computers to generate the first AI model.

Back in January, DeepBrain AI opened its office in Palo Alto, California, and it is talking to partners in Silicon Valley and the rest of the U.S. Over time, Murphy said that the hope is to create AI avatars in realistic 3D for the metaverse. In South Korea, kiosks are appearing in places like banks with both 2D avatars and 3D avatars.

Over time, Murphy said the avatars have gotten better at mannerisms, lip sync, and subtle gestures. The speed of real-time responses in conversations has also gotten faster. The company is talking about doing more with game companies and major brands.

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