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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.

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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

Canada 3.0: Creating Engagement and Collaborating With Digital Tools

During this week’s Canada 3.0 conference in Stratford, I was asked for my thoughts on how ORYX uses digital tools to collaborate with other individuals across our company as well as how we use these tools to engage our external audience. I’m not sure if it was simply a lack of preparedness on the topics or the on-the-spot nature of the video interview, but I feel like I gave a terrible interview – Hopefully it doesn’t make it off of the cutting room floor! I’m going to provide additional thoughts around these questions since I don’t feel that I was able to articulate my thoughts clearly and the possibility of you seeing my performance in this video worries me.

How does your company use digital tools to collaborate and share information?
With offices in Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo, and clients from Vancouver to Miami, connectivity and collaboration are two important keys to ensuring our projects are kept on track and our clients are kept informed. We use Skype’s Video chat feature to hold weekly status meetings between offices to discuss current projects and deliverables. We also use Skype to hold regular update meetings with clients who are out of province or out of country. With gas prices soaring higher each day, Skype not only enables us to feel like we are meeting face-to-face, it also helps us control our travel expenses.

ORYX has deployed Salesforce.com internally as well. We use this cloud-based solution to stay on top of our new business leads, opportunities and to manage all of the contacts that flow into our business. Salesforce mobile enables us to keep a finger on the pulse of our sales pipeline and the stages that our clients are in within our sales cycle on the go. We have access to more timely information and can assign specific tasks to individuals across our organization no matter where we are.

At ORYX, we are also very heavy users of Google Docs. Google docs help us to collaborate on client projects, create and work inside project workflow documents in real time, create status updates and more. With Google docs, we not only feel like we are more connected on specific projects, it also helps us to keep on top of document versions, update in real-time and reduce our paper usage.

How does your company engage external audiences using digital tools?

The point I was trying to get across here during my video interview is that we are huge advocates of using social media platforms to engage our external audience. Through our personal and company blog and twitter accounts, we extend the marketing and advertising conversation to a wider audience, listen and respond to individuals who have questions or are looking for information on specific communications topics. As a company, our goal is to engage in conversations on twitter with at least one new person per day, and responding quickly to those who have questions for us individually, or as a company. The net result of this level of engagement has been increased awareness for our company, referrals, leads and even new business. Comments and questions on our blog have even resulted great conversations, and have led us to explore new segments of the market that were identified as being under-served.

How does your company use digital tools to collaborate across your organization and what tools do you use to engage your external audience? Keep the conversation going and visit our blog and Twitter accounts:

Matt Duench’s blog: mduench.wordpress.com

Matt Duench on Twitter: @mduench

ORYX Advertising on Twitter: @ORYXadvertising

ORYX Blog: oryxblog.com

QR Code Egg Hunt – Location Four: WeSellIt

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Congratulations to all of those in KW who used their QR code scanner on Thursday to find the fourth secret location, WeSellIt in Waterloo! Krista, Will and Barry at WeSellIt offered up some cool prizes in addition to the hidden Easter basket. For finding the secret location, several people were rewarded with an electric weed wacker! Perfect since gardening season is just around the corner!

Congratulations to Caryn who was the first to find WeSellIt’s store location in North Waterloo by using her QR Code reader to scan the secret clue:

QR Code Easter Egg Hunt

Secret Location

Here’s a picture of Caryn with her prize:

QR Code Easter Egg Hunt
There were also three others who found the secret location and walked away with special gifts from WeSellIt:

The final KWeggHunt location will be revealed on Friday! There are chances to win a Blu-ray player, $25 Visa card from ORYX Advertising, or a signed jersey from the Kitchener Rangers! Happy hunting!

QR Code Egg Hunt – Location Three: The MUSEUM

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Congratulations to all of those in KW who used their QR code scanner to find the third secret location, The MUSEUM in Kitchener! Included in the gift basket was a Nike Golf umbrella from BlackBerry, which proved to be a great prize as it has been raining quite heavily in KW over the past week. The clue was shared at 11:15 AM and was swiftly found and claimed by Jason less than 15 minutes later!

Here is what the clue looked like:

QR code egg hunt

QR Code Clue

Here’s a picture of Jason with his prize:
QR Code Egg Hunt

Jason with his KWeggHunt prize

Here’s a look at all of the goodies inside of the basket:

QR Code Egg Hunt

Easter Basket

Also, Jason had this to say about The QR Code Egg Hunt:

Jason's Status

QR Code Egg Hunt

Response to the promotion has been excellent and people around Waterloo Region are definitely tech savvy, having no trouble finding the secret location using QR code readers on their smartphones.

Friday marks the last day that a #KWeggHunt basket will be found & the secret location will hold a draw where someone will win a Kitchener Rangers Jersey, Blu-Ray player or $25 Gift Card from ORYX Advertising!

When no one does the Wave.

What does introducing a new product or business have with doing the wave?  What lessons can business owners learn from the failed launch of Google Wave?

Have you ever been at a baseball game and tried to start a wave?  Were you successful?  If you were, you likely succeeded in this endeavor due to the following factors:

  • The timing was right
  • There were enough people who understood your value proposition (why you were trying to start a wave)
  • You included everyone

Conversely, if you were unsuccessful, you likely were unable to meet at least one of the above criteria leading to feelings of embarrassment & regret.  This is how you would feel if you were a developer for the now defunct Google Wave.  This is how it feels when no one does the wave.

In early 2009, I bought into the hype.  I did whatever I could to try to get my hands on a platform I really didn’t understand even though I had watched several product demonstrations and read several blogs and reviews on Google Wave.  After several months, I finally received a Google Wave invite from a friend – VIP-like passes that were in short supply and restricted to those who had a Gmail account.  After playing around with the initial version, it was clear that the product was incomplete, seemingly being rushed to market – encouraging users to help improve the user interface.  The more I tried to understand it, the less I understood it making it impossible for me to communicate the value proposition to my friends when asked, “what’s Google Wave”?

Business startups and companies launching new products can learn a valuable lesson from the failed launch of Google Wave.

Timing is key.
When starting a wave, introducing a new product or starting a new business; timing is key.  Starting a wave in the first inning when the home team just gave up 6 runs doesn’t make much sense.  Ask yourself – why are you entering the market now?  What is the immediate need that you are looking to fulfill?

Your value proposition is understood.
You will get more people to do the wave, if they understand what it is, and why they are doing it.  The same is true when launching a new product or business and acquiring new customers.  What is your product/business?  What differentiates you from similar offerings or competitors?  How will you be perceived in the eyes of your customer?  What do you want your customers to tell their friends and family about your product or service?

Include everyone.
A great wave at a baseball game involves as many fans as possible.  Why would you want to restrict anyone who understands and demonstrates real interest in your product or business?  In some cases, establishing exclusivity can create demand but only when the value proposition is understood and easily communicated.  In the case of Google Wave, the value proposition was not widely understood, yet access to the platform was restricted by invitation-only.  Rather than opening up access to the masses to encourage broad use of the platform, access was restricted.  This put the communication of the value proposition in the hands of a few people making it difficult for the brand identity to be cascaded to those who did not have access to the platform.  Establish a communication strategy with your secondary and tertiary target audiences to ensure that you reach all of your potential customers.

An application of getting your customers to do ‘the wave’ can be found in Jim Collin’s book, “Good to Great“.  In this example, Jim compares how mobilizing an idea is similar to getting a flywheel to turn.  An idea starts out with a few people slowly turning the flywheel.  As more people understand your value proposition, the flywheel becomes easier to turn.

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