Well-known startup speaker and doer, Paul Singh, shared some interesting words of wisdom recently in a Washington Business Journal article. According to Singh, there are two reasons why startups have difficulty getting past the seed stage. The first is that there’s a lot of competition between companies to get the next round of funding. The second:
They get lost in the noise.
Quite simply, they don’t do a good enough job of grabbing–and holding–the attention of their potential customers. There are likely a lot of competitors out there, many with bigger budgets, who can drown out others in the field.
So, how does a startup cut through the noise so they can get to the next stage? The answer is one part ingenuity, one part elbow grease, and one part stick-to-itiveness.
Terms like innovation and creativity get thrown around a lot (too much) in the business world, but we think a better term to focus on is ingenuity. Today’s marketing takes being a little clever as well as inventive. Not in a sneaky or under-handed way, but in a way that can quickly grab, hold and engage your audience for a good reason. Being clever in your marketing is important, but it also can apply to your product development (this is especially important as you iterate). Zig when others are zagging. Tell your story in a way that helps people feel the problem you’re trying to solve, so that they can feel the relief your product brings them. Think hard (see elbow grease below) about what makes your customers tick, what makes them pull the trigger, and find interesting and fun ways to get them to pull that trigger. Of course, you can burn those triggers out, but that’s o.k. If you have a little ingenuity you will come up with something new when that happens.
Did your parents ever tell you when you were a kid to put some “elbow grease” into it? Ours sure did, especially when it came to household chores. Marketing and public relations is hard work. It takes a keen mind for both strategy and attention to detail. It often requires long hours, hunched over a computer, a spreadsheet, a media list. It takes constant vigilance of your social media accounts to make sure you respond to every tweet. But, as you may have found out when you were younger, the more work you put into something oftentimes the more rewarding it can be (unless, of course, that something is doing household chores). Take the time to do some market research. Take the time to hone your message. Take the time to get to know and interact with your customers.
Like elbow grease, marketing and public relations takes an on-going and sustained effort. This is particularly challenging for startups who may not have the longest runway (gotta keep that burn rate under control!). And while we offer one-off, tactically-focused PR packages for startups, it’s not unusual for the results of these efforts to resemble blips on a radar that come and go. In other words, the results get out there, the company picks up some users (or 40,000 in one case), and then user growth and sales die as soon as the attention shifts away from their product.
So, if you’re a startup and you can’t afford to hire a PR or marketing firm, or even an intern to help you, here’s how you tackle stick-to-itiveness: Spend 15 minutes/day sending email introductions to reporters and editors in your industry. Spend another 15-30 minutes just scanning Twitter or other social platforms for relevant hashtags. And, perhaps most importantly, spend 15 minutes/day staring out into space (we know, this seems counter-intuitive, but trust us–this works wonders for your ingenuity).
Don’t be worried about failure or rejection (of course won’t–you’re an entrepreneur!). Stick to it, even when the clever thoughts aren’t coming or you feel like what you’re doing is hard. By committing these relatively small amounts of time, you’ll find after a few months, you’ll have actually achieved some results.