In the world of startup marketing, CEOs with a new product or business frequently bring me their names and logos, and even a highly-designed online presence with messaging they’ve often crafted themselves. “I’m ready to be marketed!” each one says. If the overall identity doesn’t immediately ring true to me, I take a look into the leader’s past. It turns out that names, logos and even colors are often based on the CEO’s personal experiences, such as a child’s name, a place they vacationed or a favorite food or hobby. For example, I worked with one startup for which the product name made sense; it matched the business the company was entering. But the logo had nothing to do with the name or the business. “Why a sailboat?” I asked. Because the CEO loved to sail.
Now sometimes this works, particularly if the product is superior and the CEO has a lot of money to push the name and logo through with extensive marketing (think Steve Jobs, who loved apples). But more often than not, a startup is playing against great odds; about half of all startups fail, with technology having one of the highest rates of failure, and almost three quarters of startups, regardless of industry, failing within ten years.
Management mistakes lead the reasons for failure, with a predominant error being lack of market awareness. Combine this with the CEO falling in love with her own invention and the very strong variable of pride, and the writing is on the wall: a startup led by someone who is too personally tied to her idea may lose sight of how to best market it. I worked with one client who had been initially successful but was having trouble getting to the next level. For every suggestion I made, he had a counterargument justifying his current efforts. He reminded me of the restaurateurs that come to Chef Ramsey for help in their failing restaurants: “We don’t understand why we don’t have diners…there’s nothing wrong with our food, service or atmosphere!”
Other clients, though, are open to listening. Understandably, that’s a difficult thing for them to do. After all, their business is set up, they have their name, logo and messaging ready to roll out, and all they think they need is a market launch plan. And what do I say? HOLD ON. This reminds me of number three in the great list of “Ten Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings," which suggests you will appear especially insightful if you say: “Can we take a step back here?” But in the case of marketing, it’s actually true!
So back to the CEO sailor, who trusted me enough to let me take a look at his new company. First, I gave him and his small team a simple branding survey. What I found was not atypical: team members, including the CEO, were each on different pages when it came to their market, their competitors, their leading product and business goals, and more. When I presented the findings, they were naturally surprised. I worked with them to consolidate the answers and agree upon what their company represented, their primary market and where they wanted to go, as a team. From there, I came up with key company and product messaging, top market differentiators and selling points, which in turn, led to ideas for logos and taglines. It turns out – no surprise – that none of the identity outcomes had anything to do with sailing.
But the best part is that by the time we'd reached this point, the CEO was as eager as I was to sink the sailboat logo (as it were), and for me to develop a cohesive brand through messaging, tagline, imagery and finally logo, all of which aligned to match the business space and the company's purpose and identity.
Using these building blocks, we were quickly able to refine his existing website and a create year-long marketing plan that included integrated marketing campaigns and a defined sales process. For those campaigns, we developed a suite of connected, reusable components, such as emails, advertising, social media, web content, brochures, presentations, webinars and trade show attendance.
A clear identity, messaging and plan of action ultimately created a successful business, which was, within three years, bought out by a bigger business. Why? Because not only did it the startup have a track record of substantial sales but, because the brand was well thought out, the company gave the impression of clarity of purpose and professionalism; for the investor, this was a huge draw.
So the sailor cashed in and – go figure – ended up, not at sea but in a top culinary school. It turns out he liked sailing, but loved to cook. Now let’s hope he's on his way to his next success, opening a successful restaurant (one that Chef Ramsey will never need to visit).
Are you a startup that needs marketing? Or…maybe it’s branding you really need first! Contact me at snowgroupconsulting.com.