Once upon a time, a startup could issue a press release and get the word out.
If it were only that easy today . . .
Now a startup is confronted with an information horde from Twitter to TV to YouTube to Yelp to Facebook and on and on. It becomes a challenge just to rise above the noise, not to mention controlling the message across all these media. Add the need to manage its communications cost-effectively and you have all the ingredients for startup agita.
So what’s a startup to do? Here are seven ways a startup can raise its profile without breaking the bank:
• Take an unorthodox approach. Remember Dollar Shave Club’s breakthrough video that caused the company to get 12,000 orders in the first 48 hours.
Why was it so effective? "The video is irreverent and funny, the CEO likeable and also the chief evangelist sales officer—and is everything an officer could be," says Maha Ibrahim, general partner, Canaan Partners, a global venture capital firm.
Obviously, most startups won't benefit from the initial bonanza of a Dollar Shave Club. However, any startup can exercise creativity and a little boldness in its marketing.
• Accentuate the difference. Take Kabam, for example, a late-stage gaming company that issued a press release detailing its financial performance. Normally private companies shy away from opening the kimono. But by doing so, Kabam sharpened the difference between itself and some of its better-known, yet poorly performing competitors, like Zynga, according to Ibrahim, whose company is an investor in Kabam. Differentiation doesn't mean focusing on some obscure feature that no one cares about. Instead, draw attention to a feature or benefit or expertise that matters to customers.
• Founders need to evangelize what they do. Often lacking the budget to employ a full-time marketing or PR person, founders need to assume the marketing mantle. Marketing and PR must be incorporated into a startup’s culture so they are "talking up the company to everyone they meet and ingesting ideas," advises David Beisel, partner at early-stage investors NextView Ventures. Cross a politician's zeal and charisma with a business person's product knowledge, and you get some idea of what is required.
• Avoid stealth mode. Avoid stealth mode. This can’t be said often enough, according to Beisel and Ibrahim. Startups can’t afford to be in stealth mode where everything is kept hush-hush. Doing that deprives them of valuable feedback, ideas and support when they need it most.
• Time and control the message. Don’t throw a launch party before you’ve launched even one item of product. Who is going to care, especially if three months later the first product launched is a dud? "You need to be sure you have a viable product and a few customers before you launch," counsels Ibrahim.
• Determine who your customer is and how to get the customer’s attention. "There is not one company that doesn’t struggle from the get-go to identify who the customer is and its message, and how to get the customer’s attention," says Ibrahim, whose firm helps its startup companies better define their message. Startups also have the unique challenge of having both to explain what they are today —and their vision for the future. "Specific to startups is a trade-off between what you’re doing today and what you’re doing six months, a year even, 10 years from now, what your grand vision will be. You need to pack all of that into a story," says Beisel. The operative word is "story." You need to excite people with a compelling picture of your company that has the plot elements of a story—a beginning, a middle, and an end with a challenge or conflict thrown in.
• Don’t bash the competition. Startups need to have a compelling enough story to stand on their own without roughing up the competition. "It’s all about holding your head high," explains Ibrahim.
Ultimately, these efforts more than pay for themselves. They become a way for startups to raise their profile among customers, prospects, investors, and the media. Done right, they will be better positioned for success for both now—and in the future.
[Image: Flickr user R Barraez D´Lucca]