External branding starts with developing a consistent, internal message first. When you think of branding and positioning, remember that your first line of offense and the most important representation of your company comes from your employees. Make sure you have a succinct, crisp and clear 2-3 sentence pitch on what you do and that everyone from the CEO down to the engineer or QA can repeat the same mantra. Whether your employees are doing sales pitch or at a conference or cocktail party, they should all be starting with the same message. The more it is said the easier the message spreads. We live in a sound-byte generation with information overload so if you can cut through the clutter with a powerful and succinct message, you will not be forgotten.
It reminds me of the old kids game "telephone" where one player starts with a message and passes it down the line and in the end the last player repeats what they heard. Many times the message is completely different from the initial version. Obviously if you think of messaging in terms of the game "telephone" you will quickly recognize that the crisper and simpler it is, the harder it will be to get lost in translation. You want the next degree of relationships to be able to explain just as easily as your employees - this is how great buzz builds.
At Cisco, it was "we network networks" or at Tableau Software which went public today "we help people see and understand data" Obviously what goes into sentence 2 can provide a little more detail on how or why you are special (see my blog post from 2007 on why vision statements matter and how to craft one). In Tableau's case, it is "we help anyone quickly analyze, visualize and share information." And sentence 3 is the build and ah-hah moment - "More than 10,000 organizations get rapid results with Tableau in the office and on-the-go." Yes, that is strong messaging to the outside world and in the written word but it can also be simplified for strong messaging from employees in the spoken word.
So remember when it comes to messaging and positioning, keep it simple, easily remembered and to the point. What is your message and does everyone on your team know it? When your startup is out in the market meeting with customers and VCs, will everyone you meet be able to say the same message - "yeah, i met this cool company today and they do "x". If so, you off to a great start!