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7 Marketing Lessons for Startups

March 12, 2012 6 comments

Some of the most interesting, fun, frustrating and rewarding clients to work with from a marketing perspective are startups. Startups are agile, nimble, passionate and innovative and if the idea is adopted by the masses; extremely financially rewarding. Whether you’re in real estate or are launching the next big social media idea or mobile application, you need to create awareness, in order to generate adoption and ultimately sales of your product or service. How do you create awareness? A good first step is to build a brand and marketing strategy to outline the framework of how your brand should be communicated and how it should be perceived by your customers and the market. Keep these important marketing lessons in mind when building a marketing strategy for your startup:

1. You don’t need to do anything in mass.
Mass media includes TV, Print and Radio. It’s extremely expensive for startups and has a very short shelf life. It might make you feel good to see your commercial running on a local TV network, but is it reaching the right audience? Likely not. It’s difficult to measure and very difficult to precisely reach your target audience. Offline activity drives online activity, but if you’re a startup, forget mass media until you have it in your budget, and even then, only consider ad placement in these medium if you can measure your success and that it truly makes sense for your business.

2. You don’t need to hire a PR firm.
The press LOVE to publish newsworthy stories. It’s their job. The best news stories though are the ones that are awesome and are easily spread by word of mouth and social media. If you’re a startup, you don’t need to pay someone for this. Most good PR firms will charge you upwards of $5,000/month to develop a few stories and seed them across their publication channels for anyone that will run them. Focus on making your product awesome, focus on creating customer evangelists and you’ll create your own news.

3. You don’t need swag.
Unless your startup company is in the swag business, you don’t need it. Your customers don’t care to have another pen with your logo on it, and why are you focused on creating company golf shirts when that money could be better spent investing in your product?! Usually, the companies who think it’s a good idea to have logo’d coffee mugs and golf balls are the same companies who will question you about the ROI of Social Media.

4. Focus on building a strong, engaged community.
For god sakes you’re a startup! Why are you even thinking about doing anything BUT leveraging the free social media tools out there (Facebook, twitter, linkedIn, Youtube, blog)? If you’re bootstrapped (which most startups are), use social media to help you establish your brand. Reach out to your customers, chat with them, engage them, write blog articles that build your credibility and establish you as an industry thought leader. It’s not about the number of followers or likes you have on Facebook, though. Use these channels to help you market test your products and messaging and see what happens when you reward your best customers for helping you spread the word!

5. Make sure your product is an MVP.
You think you’ve got a great idea, you’ve done a little bit of research on google to see who the competitors are and the factors that affect your market. Now, you want to tell the world about it! This ambition is great, but make sure that you’ve measured twice before you cut. Actually, you should measure a whole bunch of times before you cut. Once you launch, that’s it – it’s out there and while it’s hard to establish brand perception, it’s even harder to try and change it once you’ve put something in market.

You do need to get it to MVP (Minimum Viable Product), but make sure that MVP actually solves a market need, that the benefit can be easily articulated by your customers to others and that the market/users/clients/customers are regularly using your product because they think it’s an awesome idea. Survey your base. Listen to what they say. If they think your product stinks, they’ll tell you. If your app sucks, they’ll tell you. Don’t focus on implementing every piece of feedback, but do focus on making something cool. Give them a reason to tell their friends about why they need your product in their lives and how they can’t live without it.

6. Bring your development in house.
I see this too frequently with new tech startups and entrepreneurs who perhaps aren’t the most skilled of developers – they hire a 3rd party development company to help them build their website or mobile app. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, however, if your business idea is 100% a new social media platform, mobile application or web-based service, you are at the mercy of the development company where your project may not be a priority. Want to change the font color on one of your pages? File and pay for a change request. Want to add a page to your site? File and pay for a change request. Want to integrate your blog or social media into your site? Well, you get the idea.

If you’re a startup company whose business idea relies solely on the success of your web or mobile platform, you should hire a developer, and more importantly, a UI/UX specialist. Your great idea will be lost if the look and feel of your site does not match what you’re communicating. Also, since this interface is how people will actually use your product, it’s important that it’s intuitive and visually appealing to the user. No one will recommend a product that is clunky, or one that they don’t know how to use to your friends.

Finally, on the issue of brining your development in house – do this. Talk to people, developers, find the good ones and hire them. You will be able to make changes 1,000x quicker, be more agile to customer requests and implement your changes more quickly with someone on staff that is 100% dedicated to your product and your product only.

7. Advertising will kill a bad product fast.
The easiest way to kill a bad product is to start advertising it in mass and attracting customers. They’ll find out pretty quick that your product doesn’t stack up to what you’re telling the market and guess what? They’ll tell a lot of people about it. They tell people on Facebook. They’ll tweet it. They’ll write blog posts about it. They’ll leave negative and sometimes nasty reviews on the application stores where your product is featured. But most of all, they’ll tell their friends to stay away.  As a startup, the #1 thing that you can do from a marketing perspective is make a cool product. No matter what your startup budget is, nearly all of it should be invested in the product.

I recently asked a bootstrapped startup entrepreneur how he heard about Pinterest. Did you hear about it on the radio? Did you see a print ad for it? Did you see a TV ad? No. Someone you know shared a link – shared something cool and it spread.

Focus on making a cool product, focus on building a strong and engaged community and make your idea easily shareable through social channels. With a proper brand and marketing strategy in place, the rest will take care of itself.

Practice Safe Googling

November 23, 2011 1 comment

What is innovation? Is it defined as creating something awesome that doesn’t yet exist or finding a way to do something faster, better, cheaper? Can you find innovation? How are new ideas created? The ones that lead to new products or new ways to do things? If you’ve ever had a spark of genius or a flash of inspiration, chances are the first thing you did was run out and Google it to search for possible competitors and what the market potential might be.

If you have a blog and post regular content, you already know that Google indexes that content. You know that  SEO helps to rank your posts higher based on relevancy for certain search terms (long or short tail). You may even notice that some commonalities exist between your most popular posts and what keywords are driving repeating traffic to these posts. SEO Tip: if you contribute to your company’s blog (or have a personal blog), examine your most popular keyword terms and write subsequent posts around them. It will help to elevate your company’s search ranking based on the keywords that are already driving traffic to your site.

I’m intrigued by the keyword terms that drive traffic to my blog. I check them regularly. I check them to see how they’re trending and I regularly write posts around these keywords to see if doing this increases readership & attracts more traffic. It does. I’m most intrigued by WHAT people are searching for. I write about mobile, I write about advertising. I write about emerging technologies like Augmented Reality and Near-Field Communications (NFC) and how they could impact POS marketing, retail and commerce. Because of this, I notice a lot of long tail keywords driving traffic to my blog related to these topics. I often use these keywords as a source of inspiration. Because, if someone is searching for it; they may be looking to start a business, or substantiate an idea or concept – but the end goal is that they’re searching for information & are looking to learn.

I’m sure you’ll agree that Google is a much more than a massive search engine. They drive revenue through countless channels most famously, display advertising & pay-per-click advertising. The power of Google is housed in their millions of server farms and databases placed strategically across the world (locations mostly hidden from public knowledge). The real power of Google is in every bit of data they keep. I sometimes think that Google knows more about me that I do myself. It remembers. It anticipates. It suggests.

In much the same way that I use keyword terms on my blog to think about new ideas and write new content, Google does as well. Obviously on a much larger scale. Think about the keyword terms that you enter into Google’s search bar. Think about what you’ve entered. Google even goes as far as recommending long tail keywords and results as you enter these terms. This is based on an algorithm that is older than many college freshmen. So, Google is great at recommending search results and keywords but it also keeps a database of these keywords. It scans them regularly to improve search quality, ranking and provide you with better search results. It also logs these keywords in a massive keyword term database which it combs, searches for trends and – even goes as far as registering certain keyword terms and phrases as Intellectual Property*.
*see “Concerns with Google” on Wikipedia 

What does this mean for a startup or a small business? Well, a large part of your success is going to depend on how well you’ve researched the market. It’s going to depend on how well you’re positioned against competitive solutions. Your success also depends on timing. No doubt, the first thing you did to research your company or opportunity is turn to Google. You entered keywords which Google logged. You clicked on competing sites which Google also keeps a record of. Then, you returned and entered other terms that Google has also tracked. Not only have you introduced Google to a new idea or concept, you’ve also helped them to research competitors & the overall market!

It’s not impossible. Nor is it out of the realm of possibility. And I’m not suggesting that you NOT use Google to research your market, your business or your opportunity. It’s a critical market research component. It’s also fast, and you can gain volumes of data and information quickly. But in the days of predictive search results, patent infringement, IP lawsuits and stolen business ideas, be mindful of WHAT you search as Big Brother is always watching..and tracking.

Finally, I just finished watching a segment on Global National in regards to bad passwords. The segment discussed some of the most common passwords used today which can leave you vulnerable to hackers, identity theft and fraud. I’ve been somewhat guilty of this too over the years. I had used relatively weak passwords for quite sometime and only recently changed several of them to obscure assortments of lower case letters, numbers, upper case letters and special characters. They’re so completely random that I have trouble remembering them from time to time and often need to have them reset. What disturbed me by this segment was the concept of “Googling” your password to see if it shows up on a list of passwords or if it’s easily found in search results. Based on everything I’ve mentioned above regarding keyword term indexing – PLEASE, do not ever do this. This is a sure fire way to GET your password(s) indexed and added to a database that could increase the likelihood that your accounts or computer get hacked down the road.

Again, I’m not suggesting that you NOT use Google to research business ideas, market potential, new ideas or new concepts. You absolutely should. It’s an important source of information and presents a wealth of knowledge quickly and efficiently. Just…Please… Practice Safe Googling.

What’s a Twitterment?

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

We came. We planked. We golfed. We Twittered.

The 1st EVER Golf Twitterment has come and gone but not without a lot of conversation, amazing memories and hilarious stories from participants, sponsors & organizers of the event.

You might ask the question, “What’s a Twitterment” or “Why a Twitterment”. Two fun questions that I love answering. First the what.

Twit·ter·ment/Twih-Tuhr-Mehnt/ [1] A non-traditional Golf Tournament that creates powerful conversations & lasting memories through social activities, challenges and the sharing of unique business and personal stories through social media.

The Why.

Because social media makes it possible. The Golf Twitterment was born out of a conversation between 5 individuals on twitter. We asked, “What if we were to create a Twitter-only golf tournament? One that breaks the mold of a traditional golf tournament with sponsors, participants & stuffy receptions. What if we gave sponsors the opportunity to run a fun, unique and interesting challenge at the hole they sponsor that connects directly with their brand and the products/services they offer? And finally, what if we we further ‘Gamified’ the tournament by assigning point values to each challenge, developing bonus challenges that teams can complete on to accumulate points & be proclaimed the winning Twitterment team?”

Giftopia Twitterment Twitterment Twitterment

At first we thought we were crazy. Fellow organizers initially thought that securing 100 golfers much less selling out the tournament would be challenging and take considerable effort & resources. With good reason. Not only was it the first time this was ever going to be attempted anywhere in the world, we had just over 6 weeks to put everything together. That meant finding prizes, securing sponsors, inviting attendees and scheduling volunteers to assist during the day.

We had all of the pieces of the puzzle – and we used twitter to help us reach our audience and create interest and awareness for the event. Within one week of promoting the event we had 10 teams registered and 10 sponsors confirmed. We knew we were on to something.

The sponsors kept coming and so did the participants & networking dinner guests. By the time August 22nd rolled around, we had nearly 25 sponsors, 20 reception-only guests and just over 100 participants for golf!

Special thanks to our GOLD Sponsors: ORYX Advertising, Charcoal Group, Groundhog Divers and Galt Country Club. You and our silver sponsors helped to make the event an unbelievable success! Just check out some of the quotes overheard from the day:

“This is by far the most fun I have ever had at a golf tournament” – Katie C.

“I’ve been to a lot of golf tournaments before, but this is by far the best” Avi M.

“The sponsors’ challenges were so much fun! It was great to meet so many business owners in Waterloo Region.” Max S.

“Whoever thought of drinking the grape juice as a challenge from The Wine Expert is genius. Sick, but genius!” Brittny S.

The list goes on. A local tech startup, GooseChase Adventures helped us keep track of all of the points with their mobile application (For BlackBerry & iPhone) GooseChase. Here’s a video that they put together from all of the pictures that were submitted during the event:

We awarded prizes for atypical ‘winners’. Individuals who tweeted the most. Teams that tweeted the most. Highest GooseChase score and most sunburned. Our amazing sponsors helped us secure great prizes such as Diving lessons from Groundhog divers, Gift Cards from the Charcoal Group, Home Theater System form Gibson’s Sound & Vision, brand new smartphones from Wind Mobile, and so much more. Participants not only walked away with great memories from the challenges and the event, but they actually walked away with something of value as well!

Of course, no Twitterment would be complete without recording every golfer’s attempt at re-creating the famous Happy Gilmore golf swing. Here are some of the top videos:

Here is a look at Scott M’s #WINNING Video:
Scott M. ID# 227 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happywinner
Here is the runner up Top 5 list:
Brent F. ID#234 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happy2nd
Avi M. ID#174 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happy3rd
Alex K. ID#239 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happy4th
Krista H. ID#198 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happy5th
Robert S ID#247 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happy6th
Celebrity appearance by:
MOOSE W. ID#212 http://bit.ly/wrgt11MOOSE

As you can imagine, we heard a lot of comments such as, “I can’t believe I missed this” and “Count me in for next year”. Count you in is exactly what we intend to do. Now that the First Golf Twitterment to take place anywhere in the world is in the books, we have no doubt that it will be bigger and better next year. Make sure you don’t miss out on this next year as we’re already starting to plan the #WRGT12 to see how we can top this year’s event. Follow us on Twitter and visit our fan page on facebook so you don’t miss out on the action! (if you have pictures from the event, post them on our facebook wall as well!)

Cheers!

Your Waterloo Region Golf Twitterment Organizers
(Matt, Michelle, J.R., Karl, Alex, Greg, Amanda

Are Your Search Results Being Censored?

August 4, 2011 1 comment

 

A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

This is one of my favourite TED talks. Eli Pariser discusses Online Filter Bubbles and how this concept is being used by search engines to predetermine and tailor your search results. Searching by relevance is an interesting concept. Interesting and scary.

Forget browser cookies. That’s so Google 2005. Even if you’re not signed into your Google account, it’s estimated that today there are 57 signals that search engines like Google use to personally tailor your search results. Your location, browser, version, ISP, operating system and several more factors are criteria that the algorithm uses to predict what it thinks you want to see. (source: Eli Pariser)

If you’re aware of Google’s real-time search bar, this should be familiar to you. It’s already trying to predict WHAT keywords you’re entering in the search bar & working hard in the background to customize your search results based on those terms. The reality is, you and I can search for the same thing and receive very different results from Google. For example, I cleared my browser’s cookies and history and typed in “golf” in Google’s search bar. Here was my result:

Golf Search ResultAs you can see – based on my location, Google is showing me Golf North as the first search result. Kitchener-Waterloo golf course listings are also showing. What do you see when you search for ‘Golf’?

I mentioned this is both interesting and scary. Having the ability to control what I see on the internet is very ‘Big Brother’ to me.

Why this is interesting:
Adwords & paid search is more efficient. If I’m a golf course in Waterloo, Ontario, running an adwords campaign, I would want my PPC ad budget to be spent on targeting customers who will actually play my course. Based on location, tailored search results could theoretically help focus your adwords budget more efficiently by targeting these people more directly.

Increases more relevant search results. The amount of time you spend looking through pages of less relevant search results is reduced.

Why this is scary:
It blocks the flow of information. Through customized search results, your experience on the internet is effectively being censored. Some information is shown to you based on determined relevance and some is not. The search algorithm determines this.

It can hinder innovation. To stimulate continued innovation, we need to be introduced to new people, new ideas, new concepts and locations. The internet is likely the best and most powerful medium to accomplish this, however personally tailored search results could limit the breadth and depth of information, ideas and concepts you see.

+1 For Google+

June 28, 2011 7 comments

Update July 11, 2011: You can now circle me on Google+ here http://gplus.to/mattduench

I recently received an invitation to try Google+ – the new social networking site from google. I was immediately impressed with its simplicity in design as well as the ease in creating an account. Seamless integration across android devices makes this a powerful social networking tool for the mobile-connected generation. Check out my review of the service here:


ORYX Advertising Website

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QR Codes on Buck n’ Doe T-shirts

They’re sometimes called Buck n’ Does, Jack n’ Jills, Stag n’ Does… but if you’re not familiar with them, they’re basically just a big engagement party put on by the wedding party and close family. Typically, a hall is rented, bartenders are hired, booze is served, games are played – all in an effort to raise funds for the bride and groom for their upcoming wedding. My brother’s was this past weekend.

To separate the wedding party from the rest of the guests, often t-shirts are made that also identifies that person’s role in the wedding (Groomsman, Best Man, Bridesmaids, Bride, Maid of Honour, Groom, etc.). If you’ve read a few of the other posts on my blog, you know that I am a big fan of using QR Codes in interesting ways. What better than to add a layer of interactivity to the standard buck & doe shirts?!

QR Code T-Shirt

What does this QR Code link to you ask? Well, we ended up capturing some embarrassing video of my brother from my wedding last August, so I decided to create a QR code with the video embedded behind it so that whomever scanned it would be able to watch the video on their smartphone.

QR code

There some great analytics built into the code as well. I can track where it was opened, when it was opened, browser that opened it and what device. Not that it has much demographic relevance for this particular activity, but you get the point. Integrating QR codes into an existing campaign activity is a great way to increase interactivity of your platform be it print, billboard, retail, POS, brochures, etc., etc.

My brother and his fiancee? Our friends and family were very generous and we had some great prizes donated that helped them raise a good chunk of change to put towards their wedding. And, well, sure – he was a little red in the face but it’s all in good fun. Fun we can continue to enjoy for the life of the t-shirts and beyond.

Why Mobile Marketing needs to be a part of your mix – Now.

If it’s not currently a part of your company’s marketing mix, start now. Start thinking about how you will stay ahead of your competitors by reaching the increasing number of smartphones & tablets being carried by your target audience. Is your website optimized for mobile? How about your blog? Is there a customized application you could develop that would provide additional value? How can mobile marketing be integrated into your existing marketing mix?

“Consumers are 25% more likely to respond to advertising, (print, billboards, bus shelters, etc) if they are able to do so via a mobile response” ~ BusinessWorld

“Based on 74 campaigns during Q4 2009, and with a huge 69,854 respondents, the research revealed that on average, 22% were aware of a mobile advert — leading to a purchase intent rate of 5.4%” ~ Brandchannel

Together, these two data points indicate that consumers are not only responding favourably to mobile advertising from an awareness standpoint, but that this technology is translating into genuine purchase intent and sales. It comes down to making it easy for your customers to buy your product/service. Each step in between your customer and that customer purchasing your product decreases the likelihood that they will buy from you.

So, what can you do now to improve your mobile marketing efforts and increase your conversion rates in print and traditional advertising? Try playing to a person’s curiosity by adding a QR code to your ad. Link it to a customized mobile landing page. Provide them with a means of discovering what makes your product or services, awesome. QR Codes are very robust and can be used to store links to websites, videos, audio files, images and even SMS messages, so think about how you could integrate these into your existing advertisements.

Recently, we ran a small, local promotion designed to raise awareness for QR codes, local businesses and most importantly, to have some fun with mobile marketing & communications! Over the course of 5 days, we hid prize baskets at 5 different businesses across the city. Using social media (Twitter, facebook and a customized blog), we shared a QR Code clue as to where the prize basket was hiding that day. The first person to arrive at the secret location, claimed the prize. We also installed ‘digital ballot boxes’ at each location in order to reward subsequent visitors for playing along. This ballot entered them into a draw to win some amazing grand prizes including, VISA gift cards and a Blu-Ray player.

After the promotion, we analyzed the data and developed a report that outlined the success of the mobile campaign and how similar campaigns could work in the future. Here are the results of the case study:

QR code

QR Code Project

We learned that not only is awareness for QR codes high, integrating them into existing marketing and advertising activities is an excellent way to add a layer of interactivity on top of your ads.

Adoption of smartphones will increase exponentially in the next few years so you need to begin allocating resources to mobile marketing. Email me: matt@oryxadvertising.com to chat about how we can work together to develop a successful mobile marketing strategy for your business. For starters:

  • K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, SIMPLE. It’s not just about making a QR code link to your Web page or your Facebook page. Even if those pages are optimized for mobile, chances are the content isn’t. Mobile content needs to be easy to access, to appreciate and to easy to share. If it fails the user on any one of those counts, it won’t create the reaction you’re hoping for.
  • See. Scan. See you later. I’m a big fan of integrating QR Codes into existing activities because taking a picture is faster and easier than looking up a twitter handle or keying in a URL into your mobile browser. Other technologies will arrive making things even easier (See NFC), but right now, QR Codes are king as they’re readily available & easy to use.
  • Let context dictate content. Make sure your mobile content is useful to consumers in the same location you expect them to experience it in. Don’t offer them videos in a location where they won’t be able to watch them right away.
  • We’re still early in the cycle. People won’t buy anything or fill out long-winded forms via your mobile site. It’s just another touch point in a series of consumer touch points designed to keep your message consistent. Great mobile sites serve up awesome content and create a means for your customers to connect with your brand through their desired platform – later if they wish. Your mobile site is a powerful medium for you to wow your audience, raise awareness and keep your brand top of mind for when your customers are ready to buy.

Content from list derived from “How to blend mobile marketing with Social Media” article. Credit: Jesse Stanchak, June 15, 2011

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