And that’s why I love Laszlo Bock, ex-SVP of People Ops at Google, for crafting principles to live by in his seminal book Work Rules….
‘Startup’ is no more just a cute, fancy word. It defines hustle, pain, grind, resolve, commitment, to name a few euphemistic synonyms. Enter the Startupland and you get to greet so many like-minded and disruptive entrepreneurs, college dropouts, ex-McKinsey/ Bain/ BCG consultants joining the fray, among others.
There is a cutting-edge competition, even for the prospective hires, who are so eager to join startups even before there is a product/ market fit established in their business ecosystem. Part of the reasons: competitive equity compensation, more freedom to put your skills to work, more collaborative feel, chances of working with the founders from the scratch (most of the times), and developing your entrepreneurial skills by the side.
One of the most definitive roles that founders are vying to fill is that of a marketer. Naturally, when they are A/B testing their product fit in the market – and beyond – they would need some newness in the way it is presented in front of their customers. Per the seminal book ‘Entering StartupLand’ written by Jeffrey Bussgang, there are 3 stages where this startups’ growth graph fits in: Jungle (pre-product/ market fit), Dirt Road (post-product/ market fit, pre-scaling sales and marketing), and Highway (post-scaling sales and marketing). And all these three stages/ profiles namely – build it, sell it, scale it – necessitate great marketing and growth champs – people who can take the startup to the next level of customer obsession, business success and people growth.
In order to maximize your startup’s evolution, here are 5 ways your marketing hire plays a crucial role to establish your startup’s presence in the market.
A startup marketer:
Over to you.
Hello founder(s), what does the role of marketing mean to you and your startup(s)?
New customers. New leads. New business. Sounds synonymous, right? In a way, when you are in an acquiring mindset – you are all in for anything that turns gold.
And why not? Commercial success is important for any business to sustain. You onboard more employees – people who can carry the baton of your company’s brand in the business ecosystem. And if they are treated well, they would be your best internal customer advocates.
While acquisition mindset is the constant for your business to grow, retention mindset will help your business to thrive and sustain in the long-term.
Come to think of it – if you flounder with your existing customers, you will feel the aching pinch on a bigger scale than you would when you are not acquiring new customers.
Now, business is the engine that needs to be nurtured well, but it’s your brand that essentially captures the mind space of your customers and stakeholders, even when things go awry in your market.
So where does the retention mindset fit into this context?
A few takes, in various connotations:
Remember: as they say, ‘customer retention is the biggest acquisition lever’ – and rightly so.
Over to you.
How are you widening the retention space of your brand in your customer’s mind?
You got the answer, paired into one: Long-term planning and rapport.
No brand is built in short-sightedness and ambiguity. Your clients already know you: via your content and your narrative that you have developed over a period of time.
However, do they ‘understand’ you? It’s best left to the rescue of establishing rapport: a mutual understanding and empathy of your client’s situation. It is to ‘bring back’ the conversation to understand your client’s strengths and areas for improvement and then churning out a value that best fits your client’s need.
And that is what is called establishing a rapport.
So, why long-term planning laced into this word [rapport]?
As I said earlier, you can’t build a brand in a jiffy. And as is the case with building rapport with your client. Rapport’s connotation is always keeping your client’s long-term goals and motivations in mind.
Otherwise, what’s the efficacy of this word [rapport] when you can’t produce results for your client’s business?
It’s the intelligent back and forth of ironing out the course of action for your clients when they exactly need it in a given content.
No more ‘dating’ analogy for winning the trust of your clients.
It’s more like ‘listening in’ to what’s said and what’s left to be understood implicitly.
Trust is earned with small gestures, incremental steps that take you closer to what your clients expect and then cementing the relationship through thorough expectation management.
So don’t just mirror your client’s tone of voice; come on the same page of shared goals, empathy and co-creation. And rest assured, over a period of time, your clients and prospects will trust you.
The best part?
You will take a space in the long-term memory of your clients and prospects. And they will remember you when they have a business need.
Over to you.
Have your rapport-building taking the long-term nurturing approach helped you in winning the trust of your clients and prospects?
Well, if you ask me, I’d say, ‘No’.
Instead, focus on being influential.
Build influence through a gorgeous emotional experience that your consumers have never felt before they got in touch with you.
Because ‘influence’ is about earning attention and understanding behaviors of your consumers/ customers on the most fundamental level.
More so, influence is also about considering every individual, brand or a business you interact with, to be your influencers – who spread the word of love about what your brand stands for.
Remember: your influencers also have a tribe of their own. And when you consider your business economics – you are reaching to more people with the ‘influence’ mindset.
On the other side, being competitive, while it sounds ambitious, it often loses its attention currency in the long-haul. Sometimes it can be interpreted as being more economical or transactional instead of being relational with how your brand resonates in the market.
All your business and personal conversations would be an emotional experience that would eventually seek a buy-in from your customers, industry stakeholders and your business ecosystem by validating it through an unbiased logic and reasoning.
Question the fundamentals of why your brand exists and how your industry/ market operates on the functional, emotional and philosophical/ worldview levers. And then go on to set your directional brand construct that addresses the needs, aspirations, and growth that are generated through your assumptive questions.
And the best part of building [brand] influence?
It’s a muscle that slowly becomes stronger and in tune with your brand’s existential purpose.
So, flex your ‘influence’ muscle – and grow your brand influence.
Yes, you do end being competitive (but more on a sustainable basis than on a short-lived impact that dilutes with time.)
Over to you.
Would you call yourself more competitive or more influential?
In an interesting read, I came across this line, ‘Think People, Not Pixels’. I will tell you why I wrote this at the very first.
Now let’s delve into branding: At its very core, it is a discipline; a codified version of why you exist at the very place.
Sometimes marketing and branding sound a bit similar, but actually, they are quite different, though they functionally work together.
In the book ‘Marketing Complex’ by Giles Lury, the distinction is made quite clear. Marketing is how you take the brand to the market. While branding is how to personify your product/ service/ solution/ idea and build your brand’s philosophy.
It’s the ultimate blend of solidified strategy and flexible ‘tactification’: that ultimately gives you the best financial, business and people results.
Your branding success starts with your ‘Why’, then cascades down to your governing, synched-in principles and values, and then manifests into a definitive personality. And at the very core of your brand is your soul – which is independent of how your branding and marketing functions.
So how you define a branding success – be it in a qualitative or factual manner?
Like I mentioned in the beginning: true innovation and creativity happen (which I think are important metrics to gauge when you think of branding success) when you put humans at the core of all your business, branding and marketing initiatives.
Marketing is no more just promotional; it’s more humanized and empathetic. More so, it has never been more aligned with organizational goals and organization’s contribution than now.
That said, here is my formula to understand ‘branding success’ through my lens:
Humans (Brand’s soul) + Organization’s contribution (instead of just the social impact) to the business ecosystem + Principles/ Values’ advocacy = Ultimate branding success.
When I say humans form the brand’s soul, I mean the people who initially convened the deeper meaning of why their brand will exist in the market. It’s a brand-led intent that will last for the brand’s longevity and sustenance, regardless of how the market multiplies or accelerates.
Organization’s contribution is much more holistic than just an impact; it is the way it responds to its ecosystem when it comes to creating value with internal and external stakeholders and considering every individual/ consumer as a potential influencer.
And finally how your brand’s principles and values are fostered within your community will speak impactfully about how you thrive in living what defines you – consistently and inclusively.
So if at any time you feel you are getting into ‘fuzzy’ marketing by any chance, go back to your drawing board and do a branding exercise of the above ingredients. You will definitely find a strategic way to keep living the ‘branding success’ you so earnestly vision.