As entrepreneurs, we have managed toconceive the greatest, most transformative and game-changing ideas that the world has known, into business. But like many others, we are on a rollercoaster ride. On one hand, focused on product development and creating a prototype, we found ourselves filled with boundless energy and enthusiasm; on the other, filled with desperation for funding, we chased the bottom-line.
The last thing we want to think about is Marketing and Brand building,and for many reasons that ranges from lack of funds, resources, to too little time to do too many things. In an age where the competition for human and financial resource is global, and time-to-market is reducing with the connected world, startups live and die by their ability to drive customer acquisition. Of course, many startups and SMEs are doomed to failure and can’t grow because they never manage to produce a product that is fit for the market. But even if the product is made market-fit, traction is tough. SMEs are under extreme resource constraints and need to figure out how to break through the clutter, to let their target audience know that they have a solution for a critical problem. Entrepreneurs, of early stage Startups or an SME, often commit the mistake of looking at marketing and brand creation as an afterthought.
Brand building is the keystone of any successful business. SMEs need to understand that brand building is a necessity, not a luxury. While multinationals see branding as an integral part of their business tactics, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) which operate on shoestring budgets, often stand at critical crossroads when it comes to marketing and brand building.
Breaking through the clutter is difficult when larger enterprise have the resources to dominate traditional media channels. The best a startup can hope for, in traditional channels, is to look for few early adapters that are always on the lookout for the latest emerging products.
Only two fundamental truths exist where marketing for startups is concerned. First that a great product alone is not enough to succeed. Second, that no amount of marketing will make a crap product gain a critical mass. Business is about sustainability and growth, and both these goals are achieved by managing to create a great product and a great marketing strategy. Hence, customer acquisition and making your product market fit is paramount for long-term scaling of business.
The most basic of advice that any savvy marketer can give is: First, brand your company and product. Branding is important, because it keeps you on-message, and it helps consumers understand what your company or product stands for. One should be bold, imaginative and not afraid to say what one really means. People like honesty. The second thing to focus on is about what the consumer really needs, and we are not talking about sales pitch here.
While every business is unique, below are some of the pointers that can help most SME businesses become a formidable brand with its own business identity.
- Build on customer experience, better still, think of them as advisors. Make them feel as if they are a part of your team –If you have an outstanding product or service, customers will use it. They will spread the word and in turn will enhance your customer base for you. In my experience this is the best way of creating viral quotient or WOM for your product. Build mechanisms at different touch points of your business, to engage with your user base and learn from their actions and feedback. Act to improve on the experience you're delivering at all times. There is always room to be better than before. Listening to the feedback and engaging with your customers is vital in each and every interaction. You can really raise the bar and make them feel like a part of the team. A word of caution though: don’t just collect feedback but act swiftly or it will backfire.
- Partner with someone who is targeting the same audience – Get that cross promotion exposure by identifying places where your audience congregates - both online and offline. Think about how you can introduce your brand. Business in the beginning is also about making strange partnerships. So, go ahead and identify that ecosystem partner.
- Be present, be visible, be honest– This doesn’t mean just blogging or having a Facebook page or Twitter handle with your company name. In other words, being active on social media. You should be doing that anyways. It literally means to be everywhere. You want to be that brand that people notice when they’re walking down the streets. Even if they don’t know what your startup does, they’ll recognize your name. Establish your brand as a subject-matter expert. Can you identify platforms where your customer is and offer an authentic and relevant point-of-view through added content? (Again, be honest). Help people through your presence, even if it means they are doing business with your competitor. Be an evangelist not a sales person.
- Build the character of your SME – Work to create a personality for your Startup, think of your brand as a person and what it needs to signify to your audience, then create content and communication always thinking of the same.
- Media Exposure – I know, we are startups and we do not have money for public relations but that should not stop us from sharing our story, especially if we are the authors
While it’s easy to see things that worked for me in retrospect, but as we all know every business is unique and has its own share of rules. However, sometimes it pays to break those rules and be the maverick. The journey of building a Small & Medium size Enterprise has its share of ups and downs; what is required of you, is that nimble handling at the turn, that reviving up at the straights and fueling at the right spots. So fasten up your seat belts and enjoy the ride while you build your SME Brand.