I was recently invited to address a group of start-up CEOs and boy-o-boy was I thrilled after talking to them! It always energises me to meet people who have the courage to become entrepreneurs, especially the new breed of young start-up (25 to 30 years old) promoters. To me they represent the young & confident India and their raw energy, enthusiasm and optimism rubs off on me. As someone who took several decades to venture on my own, I respect them and their zeal to take risks. They are truly the torch bearers of entrepreneurship in India and I hope that their breed continues to grow.
I had to address start-ups on how to use marketing and communications to achieve their goals without spending a fortune. There are four areas where they can save money by being smart about their time and monetary investments.
- Help market the product or service
- Attract and retain the right talent
- Build the corporate brand
- Build the individual brand
On the first area, which is focused primarily on the customers and/or consumers, I had written about the See, Think, Do model, so I will not discuss it again. Every start-up should look at this model and try and rationalise their marketing spend – they are bound to make get a lot more bang for their buck.
Now let’s look at another set of audience that are often not adequately addressed by the start-ups in the first few years as they focus on getting more sales. These are potential investors, financial markets, and business media. Their thought process and information needs are very different from what the customers are looking for. They are interested in ROI, sustainability of the business model, and whether the person at the helm will be able to lead the company from its current position to its rightful potential. There have been several examples of exceptionally talented founders who had to leave the companies that they founded as the investors felt that they were not the right leaders for the next wave of growth. The investors are interested to know where are you today, where is the market headed and what’s your company’s future. Hence you should customise your messaging and your channels accordingly. Building the corporate brand and individual brand becomes important to reach out to these sets of audiences. Good old Public Relations could be your primary choice to focus on thought leadership activities that provide pay back in the long term. Though these investments will not lead to immediate sales, the three big direct benefits are
- Creating a differentiation with respect to your competitors. Many times start-ups are in their own ‘happy place’ as the funds are coming in and the focus is on expansion. They do not question their business model and their assumptions hard enough to see the gaps. However, media persons are very sharp and they challenge you on your storyline and your assumptions, when they meet you for media interviews or when they write critical pieces on your company’s business model. The more you interact with them, the clearer you get about your own positioning and your USP. An additional benefit of media meetings is that you will build lasting relationships with some key journalists.
- Improving your brand value with the investors. Every time you sit in front of a journalist two things happen. First, you get a chance to tell your story and if it interests the journalist, they cover it in their outlet. This is obviously a great outcome as a third party endorsement of your company helps you improve your credibility in the eyes of the investing community. The investors want to validate their investment decision and good coverage helps in reducing any doubts that they may have. The second outcome is exchange of valuable information. The journalists meet several companies, including your competitors, the government, and industry experts. During informal meetings the discussion they have with you is based on information they have collected and distilled from these important sources. An hour spent with a journalist will help you get a better idea of what other players are thinking about the market, how the policy makers think and also help get critical feedback about your company.
- Strengthening the employer brand. One of the key hurdles early stage start-ups face is attracting and retaining good talent. Getting a good team in place can be a make or break moment for a start-up. During the initial phase of the start-up experienced and skilled resources are extremely hard to get as the risk of failure is very high. Relevant and sustained visibility, especially focused on building thought leadership can help build a pull for the company and help the start-ups attract good quality talent.
However, as far as building a reputation of being an employer of choice is concerned, the current and prospective employees consider a number of other factors such as employee policies, the company culture and their own growth prospects. Internal communications, which can help strengthen the employer brand is often neglected by the start-ups due to several reasons. I will take it up in detail in one of my future articles.