In the absence of deep pockets, we entrepreneurs must be extraordinarily innovative in order to get attention for our products and services. Particularly when you're starting out, it's important to pick a few high-impact avenues for generating positive buzz. The key is to pick a manageable amount of tactics, those that you can financially support on an ongoing basis. Know your strengths, and capitalize on what you excel at. Need inspiration? Consider these tactics:
1. Vault.com was started in 1996 by Mark Oldman, 31, Samer Hamadeh, 31, and H.S. Hamadeh, 29. The New York City company's mission is to help professionals advance their careers through "insider" career information, online networking, online courses and job listings.
Vault.com saw its hits double to 5 million per month when the founders pulled off a stunt that got them more than just ink in the national media. When a New York investment firm banned its employees from accessing Vault.com, the founders dispatched a billboard truck to Wall Street that read "Bitch about your boss," and the media was alerted. The company saw its hits double within the span of one week. The total cost: $2,100 to rent the truck and billboard for three days. Their new billboard truck will say "The truth is in the vault."
The three partners have become masterful at creating low-cost publicity by using workplace research and surveys. After employees at major companies were fired for improper Web surfing and e-mailing, Vault.com conducted an in-depth survey to gauge reaction to the issue. The survey has landed the company more than 200 mentions in some of the world's largest media. Talk about ingenious advertising.
2. Ramon Ray, a 27-year-old small-business technology analyst and consultant in New York City, has built a successful business with zero spent on advertising by creating content for his own Web site and nine other business-to-business sites (that number should be 15 by late summer). Ray's first site name was less than inspiring-it was a long, generic address that was a subset of another site. A simple domain name change-to www.smallbiztechnology.com-made all the difference for Ray and his hit count. "I was thinking how stupid it sounded to say [the previous] domain name," he recalls. "It was way too corny and unprofessional. When you're getting serious, you've got to have a serious name, not some Mickey Mouse/Jiminy Cricket thing like I had."
So how does Ray promote his site with no money? He writes content for non-competing small-business sites that are complementary to his business interests. The sites get to add fresh content from an expert, and Ray gets massive exposure for his own site. He also calls into radio programs that discuss small-business issues and participates in online discussion forums to garner lots of hits and free publicity.
3. Impressions on Hold International, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, advertising and marketing franchise that produces customized on-hold sales messages for 17,000 clients nationwide, saw its profits jump to $12 million in 1999 after 34-year-old founder John Bersin implemented low-cost marketing techniques.
One of them is a lunch program targeted to business professionals and current customers. "Testimonials and positive communication are very influential," says Bersin of the interaction that's generated at these luncheons. "Customers are your best allies!" The lunch programs cost about $2,000, which includes food and printing and mailing the invitations. Impressions on Hold closes just about 20 percent of all attendees, and the average cost per lead is $20.
Fax-blasting has also worked well for the company. Bersin likes faxes because they're cost-effective, offer immediate results and allow for message-testing to different segments. One such fax-blast program cost $2,000 for 45,000 fax numbers.
4. In my own consulting business, I've found a combination
of techniques to be powerful: direct mail, my Web site, community
involvement, article placement and targeted ads in
business-to-business publications. Of all my tactics, it is the least expensive (albeit the most time-consuming) method that works the best-keeping in touch with my clients and other professionals in my field.
So whether you've got a budget that inspires guffaws or awe, remember: creativity + positioning + rabid follow-through = marketing home runs.
Kimberly McCall is the president of McCallMedia & Marketing Inc., a marketing, public relations and business communications agency in Portland, Maine. Contact her at (207) 761-7792 or visit www.marketingangel.com.
Get To The Point
Briefme.com is a tremendous resource for the ultra-busy entrepreneur. Subscribe to dozens of e-zines on topics ranging from advertising and marketing to computer software. Each week you'll get a "brief" that encapsulates the high-points of Web sites and their services. It's all free, and you can also apply to become an editor in your area of expertise. If your article is selected, you get a byline, a link to your site and the princely sum of $5 (for those high-powered biz lunches!).
To The Extreme
Since marketing is not a hard and fast science, views on the elements of success and failure are as varied as the consultants who offer up their advice. Aida Mayo, president of MAYO Communications in Los Angeles, is less than enthusiastic about the ever-more-popular tradition among dotcoms to blow all their advertising dollars in big venues such as the Super Bowl. "I believe the dotcoms must have been sold a bill of goods to put that much money on the Super Bowl," says Mayo, 35. "The return on investment has to be next to none, and the cost . . . whew!" Whew is right: some firms spend upwards of $3 million on a 30-second spot.
Indeed, many experts claim the long-term profit potential from such a costly venture is questionable, adding up to too great a risk for start-ups to take. Mayo, whose marketing and PR firm works with many pre-IPO start-ups, says dotcoms can get much more mileage out of their advertising dollars by sponsoring business-to-business functions or placing full-page, four-color ads in high-profile national publications.
MAYO Communications, (818) 340-5300, fax: (818) 340-2550.