10 lessons for start-up marketing. How can a start-up with a few employees and a tiny marketing budget get its name out there?
The question appeared perfect for a panel that included blogger and Twitter star Chris Brogan, Hubspot’s CEO and Inbound Marketing author Brian Halligan, and this blogger, who has worked on the launch of numerous companies and brands including Lotus, Monster.com, and Lending Tree, not to mention another dozen that never made it.
Interestingly, while we all agreed in principal with what a company should do — embrace social media, take advantage of the platforms available, connect with influencers, and allow the community to play a role — we disagreed somewhat on how much time it might take and who should do it.
Chris suggested that you could achieve a version of what he’s done – build a following, mobilize a community, turn content into business (my interpretation) — in a couple of hours a day. I contended it would take a lot more time than that if you planned on generating quality content. Brian argued that anyone could easily start a blog, post something daily, learn to be Google friendly, and let search take care of the rest.
We each answered quickly and moved on to another question. But if we’d had more time, this is what I believe we may have collectively suggested that a start-up do to market itself:
1. Craft a brand position rooted in a customer benefit.
An awful lot of young companies do a good job of describing a product’s features rather than synthesizing them into a single benefit. A simple handle, either expressing what a brand stands for or declaring its point of difference, will serve you well in everything from appearing in search results to being remembered.
2. Take your message and content to your consumer. Engineer your presence.
You may want a website where you fill orders, capture data, or simply demonstrate your product, but you shouldn’t assume your customer will instantly come to you. Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, and YouTube are all basically free tools. You need to go where your consumer lives online. If your customers, prospects, and influencers are there, you should be there: listening, engaging, sharing, and helping them.
3. Find inventive ways to create or gather content.
For starters, make your website into a blog. Fresh content, the ability to post comments, and pages that get linked to will add to your online visibility. No doubt it’s challenging and time consuming to generate enough content to populate your network and blog, but there are smart ways to go about it.
First, whatever you’re doing, write about it. Report on your progress. Second, come up with a daily question you’d want someone to ask and respond to it in a blog post or video. Third, save time by collecting content from others. Place your product or service, even in beta form, in front of people willing to blog, make videos, and tell stories about it. Aggregate this content to your blog or video channel. Fourth, conduct polls or ask questions about a related topic and turn these results into future posts as well as “news” you can release to both Bloggers and press.
4. Get on Twitter and use it actively.
It takes time to build a large Twitter following, but it’s a quick way to connect with industry influencers, Bloggers, and press that might matter to you.
No matter what you sell, someone on Twitter is having a conversation about it. It’s your chance to listen, respond, and engage with potential enthusiasts. More importantly, on Twitter there’s a willingness to help each other that you just won’t find anywhere else. Perhaps it’s because re-tweeting information is virtually effortless, or that people practically vie to share new finds, or that users feel a sense of obligation to those who follow and promote them, but for whatever reason, you’re likely to find people who are willing to help promote your brand on Twitter, presuming you learn Twitter protocols and give more than you take.
5.Connect your customers and prospects to each other.
One of the best things you can do as a young company is to foster word-of-mouth conversations among your earliest customers. Whether you do it on Facebook or on your own site, it’s important to invite your customers to talk to each other and share ideas. Allow them to guide one another on how they use your product or service. Not only will you have the opportunity to learn what people like and don’t like about your product, you may end up with a bunch of people you can ask to help you.
6. Develop relationships with the right Bloggers.
Every start-up in the world wants that article in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. But the fact is, the right Bloggers might be more influential for a number of reasons. They have loyal readers. Their references or links to your site will drive up your search results. And these days, it’s more likely that ideas will bubble up from the blogosphere to the mainstream press than vice versa.
7. Start Crowdsourcing.
There is no shortage of services – companies like crowdSpring (design) or Tongal (video) — to help you source affordable content from designers, videographers, writers, and others. But there’s an even better reason to crowdsource. You allow your customers to participate in the creation of your brand. If you want a great example, take a look at how HBO seeded True Blood. Instead of advertising, HBO shipped samples of synthetic blood to popular videographers and Bloggers, who, of course, couldn’t resist making videos or posting pieces about the mysterious liquid. You may not have anything as cool as fake blood, but you can still learn to think this way.
8. Read Brian Halligan’s Inbound Marketing Book.
Even if you have a product with enough mainstream appeal to justify paid advertising, consumers today spend more time searching than watching. You want to be found. Inbound Marketing covers all of the basics you’ll need to know to make your content Google friendly.
9. Give stuff away for free.
Take a look at what HubSpot does: free tools (Twitter Grader and Website Grader); free webinars (How to use SEO, Blogging for Business); free eBooks (Facebook for Business, Getting Found Online). If you sell food, give away recipes. If you’ve invented a sleep monitor, offer free tips on better sleeping. Free content generates awareness, builds loyalty, creates newsworthy topics, and spreads word-of-mouth. Remember, in this day and age, what a brand does is far more important than what a brand says.
10. Make the time, build in the role, or hire the right partner.
As folks like Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk have proven, you can do all this yourself if you have the right time, energy and commitment. If you can’t muster that, give this role to one of your first hires. If you’re less than comfortable identifying that person within your own company, (hint: it’s not an intern or a kid right out of school; Digital Natives may know all the technology, but they often lack the strategic chops and the ability to create truly compelling content) retain the services of a public relations agency with real experience in social influence. Make sure that if you go this route, you ask for case studies as evidence that the PR team assigned to your business actually practices what it reaches.
When I started in this business, launching a brand was costly. You needed a significant marketing budget that covered an oversized booth at a trade show, a direct sales force or a Super Bowl commercial, and a good hunk of your money went into advertising and promotion. Now you might be able to get away with a laptop, an Internet connection, and some well-focused social media. This is why it’s called start-up marketing.
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