Everything an entrepreneur does targets a customer in some way or another. People know they are users and they know they are being targeted. Having showcased interest, people become leads and the attack intensifies.
Marketing bombards people with promises which may or may not be followed by proof. A product that took months and thousands of dollars to design might never find its audience because marketed wrongfully.
We’ll take a look at how marketing and design might work together to achieve startup greatness.
Innovate, market, or leave
The core of any startup is an idea that has to bring results. Results come from a valuable innovation or a smart marketing strategy. Innovation makes people’s lives better that’s what we are willing to pay for.
This is WayRay, a Swiss-based startup that uses any glass surface to redefine driving and navigation of the future. Having raised $108M in funds, the startup is quickly becoming an innovation pillar for car manufacturers all across Asia.
A successful startup seeks innovation to gain customers. It may come from a variety of angles but value is the main asset to build upon.
WayRay’s value is AR for something bigger than entertainment. It can actually be useful and WayRay shows it through a visual presentation that is in line with the brand. It almost feels scientific.
This is the marketing you want to pay attention to.
Marketing broadcasts innovative value. That means to sell a product, you have to cover all the stages of its development, advertising, and distribution. Marketing has taken the audience by storm, make them know and trust the brand. But how do you do that if the product does not showcase a lot of innovation?
Then, all you got is marketing. It’s easy to sell a thing that sells itself. However, we can solicit the demand if we chose the right strategy, tools, and words.
‘Unique selling proposition’
A unique selling proposition or USP is often treated as a metric. The more unique features you provide, the better the product or the company looks. True for something like AR driving assistant. Absolutely not true for a coffee shop.
It’s okay to not have a unique product. Not all problems a product solves are unique. Some are very mundane and require a simple solution. In that case, a winning strategy will be to give a client a clear perspective of how a product can solve their problems.
This is where scenario-based marketing comes into play. It does not praise the qualities of a product but simply states how it can be used in the world of a client.
If you run a pitch deck builder: “Startup owners use our service to design decks for their presentations.”
A donut shop: “People drop in to get a coffee and a donut in the morning.”
A blockchain advertising platform: “Advertisers use our platform to communicate to publishers directly and pay with cryptocurrency.”
After that, add facts and proof that you are good at what you do.
Don’t always be unique. Be useful.
This is a medical startup that tries to be unique and dissolves its tangible value:
And another startup which is not trying to be unique but right away voices it’s use:
The point is no matter how unique the startup is, the customer value has to be expressed.
To attract the right kind of customer, a startup business has to build a special type of funnels. Since a startup is starting out and has zero momentum, it has to build awareness, then generate interest, make people consider the offer, make them grow to believe their intent is right, help evaluate your offer, and then make a purchase. This is a purchase funnel based entirely on the marketing strategy.
For that, we need a set of data and assets that I first found in Russel Brunson’s book. Here it is:
- 👥 Demographics
- 💌 Offer
- 🛬 Landing page
- 🚎 Traffic source
The funnel has to be targeted at a certain demographic of users. You discover them through research and then apply a set of filters to identify your core audience who will become your “cushion”.
The offer is how you define your value and how you want to help people. Give them real scenarios to relate to. The way to do that is fairly simple – you just honestly tell what you are and what you do. No disruption, no unicorns, no wet texts.
A landing page is a cornerstone of your marketing. It has to be a go-to place about everything you do. To bring people in, you have to rely on traffic sources like startup websites, social media, publications, and promotions. The stronger the brand, the greater the chance to be noticed.
Being a startup, you’ll get featured on websites like ProductHunt where you’ll be put in a row with other companies to compete for a user’s attention. A strong presence in the community is a job branding can pull off.
There is no clear division in a customer’s mind about what is a brand and what is its marketing. If an ad features a character, that character instantly becomes part of the brand. This applies to both the brands that are just starting out and for the established companies.
Companies often treat branding as just a design practice with no particular relation to the performance of the product. However, according to Marty Neumeier, “branding focuses everyone at the company on customer perceptions. It’s not enough to find out who your customers are, but help them become the people they want to become”.
To pull that off, brand teams combine knowledge from multiple disciplines like history, psychology, design, philosophy, marketing, and linguistics. A brand is not just colors and images. It’s an experience. And identity is only a part of it. Branding communicates value directly to those it matters to the most.
As we said before, marketing is all about promises. We can illustrate those promises with real-life scenarios and examples but the heart of the promise has to be truthful. That means the brand has to emphasize truth and target the alignment of perception and reality. If a brand is based on half-truth, it won’t be effective in the long run.
“You’ve told everyone that you’re ‘this’ but really you’re ‘that.’ Eventually, they’ll find out, and then you’re done.”
– Marty Neumeier
The source of truth is the customer. If we can study their needs, learn what they value, and create an identity that aligns with the perception we are looking for, we can build a brand that is truthful, sought-for, and desireable. In Neumeier’s words again, customers are running the company.
However, in the startup world, how do you listen to your customers if you don’t have any yet? The answer is inside the startup itself. How did this company start? Why does a brand exist and does it stand to what it promotes? Once these questions are addressed, a startup gets its strategic edge, a difference-maker.
Package the value of the brand into its identity.
Sometimes the value is just being different. You can do the same thing everyone else does but if you zag where everyone zigs, you are creating a difference. Find it and present it in a good way. Neumeier’s formula to stand out in the industry is “We are the only <insert product> that <insert unique value>”.
A brand you create for the startup has to either speak innovation or be different. Both of these qualities are not finite and they have to follow the development of the industry. An identity has to grow for the future and change along with a customer.
A brand is always a twofold structure. There is an internal brand culture, and then a customer experience. The internal culture is the foundation for all the brand markets. It’s the basis of all the promises and the truthful core of the brand.
To build this culture, everyone in the company has to put themselves in a user’s shoes. The value the startup sets to bring has to be a value within the company. Like a fashion icon, Mike Amiri who only wears his brand’s clothes.
When the company culture is strong, it will transcend to the customer as well. A brand that starts inside will be relevant outside. So, deliver tangible value, reward people for trusting your brand, and design the perception you need.
Some startups are focused exclusively on business performance. Because there is no real metric of measuring culture and perception, except for the “engagement” one borrowed from social media, companies rely on the general ways of doing things in the industry.
No matter how small the startup, it has to represent a culture that has been designed, prototyped, and iterated around the customer.
A successful brand launch depends on a bunch of factors beyond just hard data. It is art and science, experience and intuition, talent and skill. The combination of these helps build a brand. So before you create a team line up for the product, make sure you have someone to balance out just the business vision of the project.
Neumeier’s biggest lesson I’ve learned is any business exists to serve the people and somehow make the world a better place. The innovation is nothing without those willing to accept it. A brand only matters if it helps people reach what they want to have or become who they want to be. Target happiness first, and the money will come.