Marketing Your Startup

with Alice Lankester

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Ways to build awareness for your brand

Alice Lankester

Startup Marketing Executive, Silicon Valley Veteran, Entrepreneur Enthusiast

Lessons Learned

There are many ways that you can build awareness for your company without spending a lot of cash.

Mine partnerships with large companies, and seek out analysts that are covering your industry.

Establish yourself as a thought leader by writing about the trends, patterns & issues in your space.


Lesson: Marketing Your Startup with Alice Lankester

Step #7 Awareness: Ways to build awareness for your brand

The, “I've heard of you” phase is really interesting. When you have an emergent brand, and you can look at Zana as an example of an emergent brand, you've already done a ton of market-testing. You're pretty clear on what you want to do. You've decided you're going to be initially helping. You've done a really good job of focusing, “I'm going to be helpful to technology startups. I'm not going to be helpful to people wanting to open a chain of fitness-wear. It's just not what I want to do right now. Eventually maybe, but right now I'm going to be focused on that.”

If you have decided correctly to focus on that particular user-set and you want to have somebody in that user-set say, “Oh, yeah. I've heard of you.” So how is that going to happen? The first and most obvious thing you do is where are you going to get articles written about you that are going to be read by those people. This is really like, “Duh.” But that's actually quite difficult to do.

PR agencies don't get out of bed, as the supermodels used to say, for less than 10,000 a month and it's usually 15,000. It's a lot of money. I could talk for quite some time about how you select PR agencies and we should probably cover that. Then, do they get the right stories and are they the right people? Are they in the right places? I can't afford maybe to hire a PR agency so what can I do? Well the business I am in, say, is distributed learning. Say that's the business I'm in. I have as the head of this company a lot to say about the trend of distance learning; distributed learning, distance learning, flipped classrooms, and all this kind of stuff. I could write four or five really great articles about this because this is something I've thought about a great deal. I could write those articles and also establish my brand as a thought-leadership company and get those placed.

There are so many blogs out there and so many companies. The Huffington Post is a perfect example. PandoDaily is another one. You can get guest blogs on the Wall Street Journal blog as well. If you write really well and you have a really good story there are any number of stories that you can get written about your industry trend. It's not self-serving, it's educational, and people who read about it say, “Boy, this person really understands what I'm talking about. They really understand that I want to learn how to be an entrepreneur. I'm going to go call them.” So that's one way of doing it.

You can also mine partnerships for everything they've got to offer. Maybe you have a partnership with another organization and they have huge budgets and you're a small company. Is there some way that you can mine their budgets and then you can get yourself found that way? You can put yourself up for speakers at all kinds of events and get found, get heard about that way. That usually is something that you don't have to pay for and there are a lot of them that you have to sponsor but you don't have to pay for them. So lots of ways that you can build awareness for your company as in, “I've heard of you” without having to spend a great deal of money. It helps if you have some money but not that much.

So mine partnerships. Look for people who are writing about you and market to those influences. Who's writing about your industry? Go and reach out to them, educate them on what you do. Find analysts that are covering your space. In the technology space there are wonderful analyst writers at Altimeter and Forrester and Gartner. Big companies spend a lot of money to become clients of them. Small companies can't begin to afford it. But if you do it right, those analysts really do want to learn what's going on in the space out there so you can go nurture relationships and you can get yourself listed in the foot-notes. Then suddenly somebody will say, “Wow. I saw you. You were listed in this incredible report.” So there are lots of ways to do that.

Particularly when we have such an incredible level of change in the way people are behaving and new industries getting created all the time and collaborative economies with Airbnb and Uber and all this kind of stuff. People look to leaders and visionaries to help them understand how that change occurs. This can occur in a very global way or it can occur in a very local sort of individual technology way. So in distributed learning Salman Khan is a leader in thinking because the Khan Academy has been an incredible pioneer in this. When somebody can step up and say, “I have something to say that explains how this change is occurring,” or, “I can see patterns and trends and how this particular business is changing.” That is a really useful skill to have and whether it's thought-leadership, which is kind of a kooky term, or not it doesn't matter it's a worthwhile exercise.

The great thing about it now is that compared to the old days, the old days, where really you would write a book usually, there's nothing wrong with that, it's great you can write a book. You don't have to write a book now to be a thought-leader. LinkedIn is building it's whole platform around content. Long-form content, that allows industry leaders and visionaries say, “Here's how to make sense of what's going on. Here are the trends I see. Here's how I've connected the dots. Here's what you should be thinking about.”

I'm not talking about this thought leadership in terms of the kind of link-bait stuff that you get with “Ten Steps to a Great SEO Campaign” which is, yeah that's great, but that's okay. I'm talking about really thoughtful analysis of how things are changing that even startups and CEOs of small companies can offer from their perspective. They quit their job and they're working out of their garage because they really believe that there is a difference going on and they want to say something about it. So there are lots of ways to build those but thought-leadership I think is extremely important.

When a customer comes to your site or uses your product they kind of want to believe that you really know something about it. When they can see that you have written about it, that you're thoughtful, and that you've really spent a lot of time discussing it they'll respond to that. I love listening to Dyson, the guy who invented the fabulous vacuum cleaner. Not just because he's a British inventor of the perfect eccentric sort but because he clearly really cares about innovation and product-building. He has written about it, talked about it, he's in the ads, and all this kind of stuff. I consider him to be a thought-leader in terms of innovation and invention. He's fantastic. He's a perfect example of that and he has become the thought-leader.

Dyson, you always think of them as being the people that will figure out something really amazing when it comes to inventions. This is something even small companies can do. They can really establish themselves as something that somebody will go after, they'll listen to them, they'll talk about their project, talk about their product, and be thoughtful about it.

How can you do that? That might be a question that you would ask. How do I become a thought-leader? It's not something that you can do overnight. No good things really happen over night. You have to just start out and you can start out with your personal brand. Like what is your brand and how do you present yourself? Do you have a blog? Maybe you don't have time to tweet but you do have time to think about it and you could write articles about it.

I've ghost-written articles for CEOs of companies that I've worked for and consulted for. They have a lot of things to say but they don't write very well for whatever reason. So you can interview them, you can write articles, and it's under their byline. It's okay and it's all fair game. When you Google them they start to become somebody that shows up in search results as writing about their subject and that's all legitimate stuff. So that's some of the things that startups can do to get themselves known and talked about.

Influence in marketing. It's likely that you already know who are the people that are influencing thought in your industry? It's probably the people you're already reading. If you were, for example, in the social media marketing space you might follow certain, like Jeremiah Owyang, if you were in the collaborative economy or Sharlene Lee. There are various kinds of analysts who really establish thoughtful commentary about your industry and they may write regularly on that. Those are people who actually want to know what's going on in their industry.

If you approach them in a way that says, “I'd love to tell you about what I'm doing because I think it's relevant to you, it's relevant to your interest area, I've read everything about what you've said, and you speak to that in a very personal way. I'd like to tell you about what we're doing.” More often than not they will say, “I would like to hear.”

Then if you can hook them with that, then you can give them a great pitch. You're now on their radar. Once you've done that you can keep updating them and eventually you're going to appear in one of their blog posts, you're going to appear in one of their analyst reports. Or they could be writing about your particular area and they call you up and say, “You know, what is your opinion on this particular acquisition?” or, “What's your opinion on this particular piece of news?” Then you can start inserting yourself into their articles.

Identify who they are, make sure you know intimately what they're writing about, and what is it that you do that you think they would be interested in. You pitch it to them and you say, “Would you like me to tell you more about it?” They may say yes and then you better make sure that you use that time wisely, they'll give you 15 minutes of time. What are the three things that you want them to learn about you? Be very efficient about it and then keep updating them afterward.

Your goal here I think, is to get on their radar. Maybe they'll want to give you some advice and that's a bonus. But I think your goal there is to try and appear in one of their reports, articles, blogs, or maybe they'll do these infographics. Infographics on everything. Right? They'll have these infographics on an industry landscape and you want to appear in the right quadrant as being a leader in there, how do you get your logo in that quadrant, and is that important to you? So identify, pitch, update.

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