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4 Steps to Successful Startup Marketing

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4 Steps to Successful Startup Marketing


People ask us all the time “How do I start or do better at marketing my business?” So since it’s easier to direct them to a post on our site than kill the mood at a dinner party with marketing jargon, we thought it would be good to give the basic answer here. First, we need to agree that traditional advertising, at least for small businesses, is dead. Where once repetition via the monoliths of TV, radio and the newspaper would drive people to your door, now there are a plethora of avenues for competitors to get their messages to your customers first. So since you can’t outspend them, you have to outsmart them to stand out in what Seth Godin calls “The Connection Economy” which he says:

“…rewards the leader, the initiator, and the rebel. The Internet wasn’t built to make it easy for you to watch Lady Gaga videos. The internet is a connection machine, and anyone with a laptop or a smartphone is now connected to just about everyone else.”

So how do entrepreneurs even begin to leverage the Connection Economy model? Well, we’ve come up with four basic steps to do that. And ironically, it doesn’t start on the Internet.

Step 1
:  What, how, who and why

First, you need to understand what you sell, how it’s different and better than the competition, who’s buying it and why. Sounds basic but this is a crucial step that many gloss over because they think since they’ve started a business or run one with moderate success, so they MUST know the answer. Many times these answers are quite different than what clients initially think. Other times, they simply get the steps out of order. For instance, a potential client came to us to create a brand and website for an online clothing business. She felt that since her day job allowed her to travel and attend fashion shows while in various cities, she had the ability to get advance views of the latest trends and wanted to sell these hot, new items online first. Her target was professional women who don’t have time to shop in brick and mortar stores. Sounds like a good idea. The first issues we noticed were:

  • She had a company name, but no business plan or definition of her Big.
  • While the “fashion forward” angle is interesting, she didn’t have a story that made her stand out from the plethora of other online fashion boutiques yet.

Step 2
: Discover your story

Once you understand “what, how, who and why,” you have the beginnings of a story. Story is very important as it gives you a unique hook that your competitors will be hard pressed to replicate without looking derivative. This story also needs to tie directly to your definition of Big. For example, when Blake Mycoskie started TOMS Shoes, he defined his Big as the creation of a for-profit business that was sustainable and not reliant on donations. The story he created was “If you buy Toms shoes, you can look cool and help kids in need. ” Simple, straightforward, unprecedented and hard to replicate now that he’s done it. A story like this gives you something to talk about. It get’s people excited about what is essentially a commodity with a sea of competitors at all price points. Our potential client, didn’t have her story. She felt that since her concept made sense to her (as a professional woman) it would make since to other professional women and therefore sell itself.

Step 3
:  Gain trust and awareness by consistently promoting your story

Once you have your story, it’s easier to walk up to potential customers, investors or strangers on the street and give them your elevator pitch. It’s easier to sell what you do via the sound bite approach of Twitter and Facebook and allows others to share it and thereby do the selling for you. But you must take the time to thoughtfully develop and consistently apply of your story throughout your marketing and operations for it to work. Without this initial work, your story will be just another headline or jingle and you’ll never stand out in a world inundated with advertising messages. You can send as many email blasts and buy as many ads as you like, but you’ll be broke long before you reach your Big. However, if you take the approach we advocate, at some point, early adopters will start to share your story and larger groups of people will trust and buy from you. If you provide a quality product and live your story, you will gain the trust of these growing numbers of customers and, over time, that trust creates fans with those fans becoming your highest value, lowest cost marketing assets.

Step 4:  
Build on your story and reach your Big

Look at it this way, when Blake Mycoskie started his company in 2006, no one had ever heard of TOMS much less bought the first pair of shoes. With a consistent story and a quality product, he sold 10,000 pairs by end of the first year. By the end of year four, he sold his millionth pair and had given away an equal number to kids in need. He had reached his Big, but he didn’t stop there, Blake has also added eyewear to the TOMS mission and is funding medical treatment for blind and visually impaired people throughout the world. Obviously, there’s much more to this concept than four paragraphs and tons of other examples we could share, but it gives you the overall premise we use with clients every day. Any entrepreneur can reach a TOMS level of success but many don’t because it takes just a little more effort to figure out the story that separates them from the pack. Our potential client wasn’t interested. She had all her startup capital tied up in boxes of inventory becoming more outdated by the minute and didn’t have time or money to do the extra work. Maybe someday she’ll figure out her story and reach her own Big so we can say we knew her when. Ready to take the first step toward your own Big? Click to send us a note and one of our strategists will be happy to follow up with you.


Image by Donna Marijne via Flickr.

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