Written by Stacey Epstein, CEO & Cofounder of Zinc
This week I’ll be participating in the 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival Launch in the great state of Tennessee on a panel titled “Build Your Brand Smarter.” The panel will illuminate why busy founders MUST care about getting their name out there and how to MVP your brand development. In former lives, I led marketing from the very early days at SuccessFactors and then ServiceMax, helping build both those brands from infancy through one IPO and two acquisitions worth over $4 billion collectively. And now, as CEO at Zinc, I’m back in the company of many other startup founders who are trying to figure out the recipe to get broad market awareness and build not only a high growth pipeline trajectory but often a new category.
Startup CEOs often ask me about marketing and brand building activities and now that my own leadership responsibilities span all departments, I often reflect myself on whether or not I’m doing enough brand building at Zinc. As my focus has shifted to running a company, not just a department, I’ve spent considerable time outlining our 10 core values as an operating company. As I sit and reflect, many of the same company values can be applied to successful marketing strategies.
1. We turn customers into raving fans.
In the early days, finding paying customers who generate revenue is the top goal. But remember that most buyers don’t want to be the guinea pig, and they’ll need to know that others have found success before them. Treat your early customers like gold. Don’t solve for maximum revenue or great CAC metrics, solve for vocal and raving fans. Do this by going above and beyond for them in every interaction, whether it’s sales, product or services. One or two great customers who are willing to sing your praises on reference calls, in the press, and on-stage will pay dividends in the long run. And if you’re really listening to them, you’ll come out with new product ideas and harder hitting marketing campaigns.
2. We constantly seek input.
Brand building strategies, plans and activities have to come from somewhere, and most often they are initiated with the folks on the marketing team. Of course, marketing is the core function of the marketing team (duh), and they should have the expertise to succeed. But before the programs go out the door, there are a few more people who can help make them even better.
Salespeople have to position your solution on a daily basis and they see and hear the market’s reaction to messaging and positioning in living color. As smart as marketers are, it’s the sales folks who are often most in touch with what the market wants and needs, as well as what simply isn’t compelling. Ensuring that sales have input into the marketing function is crucial.
As mentioned above, equally important is ensuring the brand building is centered around actual customer input.
3. We operate with empathy and respect for everyone.
As I tell my 9-year-old daughter, “If you want to be liked by all, think of them first.” In other words, PUT YOURSELF IN YOUR BUYERS’ SHOES! Sorry for yelling here, but I find that such a simple strategy is rarely put into real practice. What is compelling to your audience? What do they care about? What do they read? Where/how do they learn? What are their goals for their personal career? How can this be a win for them? What are the big problems or opportunities they are solving for? What is that differentiation they can’t live without, even though they have a list of projects a mile long that your product isn’t on? If you can’t answer these questions immediately, spend a good amount of time figuring them out. Then write it down, craft your value proposition accordingly, and make it part of your operating fabric.
4. We are authentic, direct, and transparent.
I can’t begin to count the times I hear of a new product, go to the website to get a sense of what a new startup does, and come away 10 minutes later with no clue. Yes, your messaging and positioning need to cover the problems you solve, as well as the features and benefits of your solution, but you should try to state these as clearly and succinctly as possible. Try to stay away from acronyms, jargon, and overused marketing speak.
They call it an elevator pitch because you need to say it to a total stranger, whom you may not know, over the span of an elevator ride. And not an 88 story building. If you’re messaging clearly articulates what the product actually does and why it’s valuable to the audience in a matter of moments, you’ve achieved your objective. Only then should you move on to completing the story with demos and customer success stories.
I look forward to sharing more of my experiences at the show later this month, as well as learning new tips and tricks from attendees and my co-panelists. Hope to see you all at the 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival Launch.