Posts tagged ‘Marketing’

November 14, 2013

Marketing trumps Technology…

Mac vs PCI have been having a very interesting discussion with my technology team, and I was made aware of this article in Forbes written by Anthony Wing Kosner with the title “Stanford vs MIT: How Marketing Trumps Technology in Startups“… before you all start sending me flame mail, I am not saying Technology is not important just that Marketing trumps Technology and please read the article and read the argument below. Fred Wilson of AVC.com started a huge uproad when he took a swibe at Marketing here and he corrected himself by saying that his blog post was a bug. I think there is marketing and there is marketing… I believe Marketing is telling a story about your vision, value and why you believe anyone should use what you are making or envisioning. Seth Godin had a very response to the original post by Fred. Marketing != Advertising, lets think about this, when you are building a startup, it is an experiment until you figure out the Product to Market fit, and while you are doing that experiment you still need to tell your story. If you are not telling your story nobody really cares to ask you about your story. Sequencing marketing activities and team buildup is an important skill and IMHO an art i.e when do you scale the marketing team. I believe very strongly that while you are experimenting in figuring out the product to market fit you still need to spend resources ie. time, money, people in telling a story, it sounds extremely counter intuitive to Engineers, how can you tell a story about something you have not built yet… that is the visioning part of your startup. If you cannot envision the value, the problem, the solution and the experiments to find the market that you will serve, you are just pandering to the builder in you. In addition, even if the product you have built is great, without marketing there is no way to scale it to a point where it starts selling itself. This is a tough pill to swallow especially for Engineers and Technologist, who love the building part but don’t really care about the Marketing and Selling part. There is a point in time in your startup life you need to deal with this challenge. What I have found is that European/Scandinavian/Nordic Startups due to cultural reasons do not want to tell a story before they are sure that there is a story where as Startup in the US are much better at this. It is no magic that most successful startups come out from across the pond. I know I know hate me but the data does not lie.

May 31, 2013

What Startups Can Learn from Iceland’s Strong Brand Identity

StartupIceland_with_Sponsors

Strategic planning and branding are integral to establishing a company’s identity and reputation in the marketplace it is targeting. Startups often neglect this extremely important area, focusing instead on more immediate needs such as getting their idea off the ground and securing enough funding to afford staff, gear and materials—completely valid.

Experienced entrepreneurs will tell you, however, that establishing a brand identity early can help create significant opportunities for a startup, from seed and growth funding to customer acquisition and retention to positioning for a future merger or acquisition.

launchpad

Noah Ross and Mel Weinberger specialize in helping startups that are looking to establish a brand identity and major brands in transition looking for a refresh.

“Iceland is the perfect venue to talk about branding because it’s a country with such a strong brand and a strong sense of identity,” said Noah, who is a Partner and Executive Creative Director at Launchpad Advertising, which was recently acknowledged as one of INC. magazine’s fastest growing companies.

While it is true Iceland’s identity is very clear, the startup community in Iceland often laments the struggles with establishing their brand voice and launching brand and marketing initiatives, particularly when attempting to reach foreign markets. However, the Startup community is rich with local experts and marketing entrepreneurs like Thoranna Jonsdottir and Runa Magnusdotir who are making marketing consulting accessible to startups on both a small business and personal/executive brand level. Startups and entrepreneurs within Iceland can lean on these local resources to help determine their core message, identify their target customers and create an emotional connection to the startup’s product and service.

“Iceland, by and large, is a very unique, very special place,” Noah said. “At the end of the day, people are going to relate from what they feel, and for me, I’ve traveled to a lot of places where you feel different things, but few that inspire with the strong sense of pride and fierce independence of Iceland – a country that produces music, literature, fashion, and even landscapes like no other place on earth. Also, the puffin is delicious,” he added.

It’s this same confluence of creativity, independence, resourcefulness and exceptional ideas that can propel Icelandic startups and entrepreneurs to success as we’ve seen in recent months with Plain Vanilla, CLARA, FAFU, Mobilitus and others.

“The reality is that every startup is fragile. Having a community of likeminded peers who support you makes you/ it stronger,” said Mel. “That driving force and individual expertise, when pulled together across teams, is unstoppable. It might be as tangible as getting coffee and guidance once a month, or going to a perspective-changing conference, but it’s also the intangible thread those events that leave behind that is so necessary–and that’s the most enriching, invisible part. I think Startup Iceland is helping to create a rallying point and backboard for the community that is invaluable,” said Mel.

logo_grey_emboss_smaller-b6021cd6cc19404b58f9e01f65972b11

Mel, who is active in the startup scenes of Austin, Texas and New York City knows brand both from the agency and entrepreneur perspective, as the founder and CEO of Fit Steady, a startup in the health and fitness sector whose tagline is “Finally, an easier way to get fit” and who won first place during Startup Weekend Austin in 2012.

“[Fit Steady] started from a passion for fitness that led me to become a personal trainer,” said Mel. “From that vantage point, I became a sounding board for my friends about all of their insecurities and how challenging it was for them to find the right path. How many times have you walked into a gym only to stare in longing confusion at all the machines and hop on the treadmill again? How many different diets have you tried? Why is it so hard to navigate our personal paths to health & fitness? So I set out to make it easier. I’m trying to make things better by making personal fitness more accessible to the average person.”

Mel reinforces the easy fitness message throughout the Fit Steady brand experience, from searching for a coach to incorporating easy-to-implement fitness tips in the company blog. The company’s mission and passion is very clear.

Noah and Mel will make a joint presentation centered around brand identity with the Startup Iceland audience on June 4th  at Harpa and will participate in Unconference  as well as hold “Office Hours” at Háskólinn Reykjavík on June 3.

noah and mel_2

 

March 24, 2013

High Risk, Low Data Decision

English: Technology (or solution) adoption pro...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been reading the book “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore again. I highly recommend the book to anyone in a disruptive business. The book is an easy read and Section 4 sets up the stage for how to really market and sell disruptive technologies. The strategy is simple enough, the author states

The fundamental principle for crossing the chasm as to target a specific niche market as your point of attack and position all your resources on achieving the dominant leadership position in that segment. The approach is first you divide up the universe of possible customers into market segments. Then you evaluate each segment for its attractiveness. After the targets get narrowed down to a very small number, the “finalists”, then you develop estimates of such factors as the market niches’ size, their accessibility to distribution, and the degree to which they are well defended by competitors. Then you pick one and go after it. What’s so hard?

The hard is to the explanation that follows and I agree with that, the action or execution of this strategy is fraught with a low data decision i.e. you don’t know a lot of the prospects of allocating all your resources because you are not sure if this strategy is going to be successful.

Entrepreneurship is a low data decision activity. If the data is obvious and the risk are minimal, I define risk as a loose term, I think the risk is more opportunity cost ie. if you were not doing an entrepreneurial endeavor what else would you be doing and the pay off of that. It is a tough call, and I understand why many people don’t make that choice because we abhor Uncertainty. I used to but not since the financial collapse in 2008, where all my perceptions and biases and epistemological arrogance was turned in its head. Now I cherish uncertainty and randomness, and I wish that everyone gets to experience that feeling it is liberating and exhilarating.

January 25, 2013

Transitions in a Startup

Seth Levin of the Foundry Group has a very good post on the transition of a startup from the product focused company to a sales and marketing focused company. I can truly relate to this, I have been associated with a couple of startups that are going through this process. It is a difficult transition, because it is quite easy to hunker down and get into the maker mode i.e Design, Build, Test repeat cycle. Most founders come from the Product side and it is easy to see they struggle with the transition. But it is critical to get out of the Product mode to Marketing and Sales mode, it defines the survival of a startup. I have written about Sustainability, getting cash into the business is a economic sustainability necessity. All the hard work of building something beautiful and useful amounts to hill of beans if you are unable to get it into the hands of people to use it and get paid for it.

The last 7 months have been very interesting for me because I have never been a CEO, this is my first time on the job (for those reading this blog for the first time, I took on the role of CEO of GreenQloud the worlds first cloud computing company that is powered entirely by renewable energy). I can see the challenges of the product team looking at the marketing and sales team as this Evil that is polluting the pure thing that was created by them. It is understandable, we even refer to the Marketing team as the Evil Marketing team for fun in the team standups.

I have been on both sides of the table, i.e built products and solutions and sold products and solutions. There is nothing harder than convincing someone else that what you believe is worth their time. It takes a lot of effort, positive attitude and chutzpa. There is a reason why very good sales people are paid top dollars because they can bring cash into the business. I once heard from Gunnar Holmstein the CEO of Clara, that “Sales is not Rocket Science but it is much harder”.

In addition, people confuse the difference between Marketing and Sales. Even Fred Wilson wrote a very controversial post and changed it with a Bug Report. Fred has a post from Rand Fiskin (who BTW was suppose to participate in Startup Iceland 2013 but due to schedule conflicts could not make it, maybe we will get him next year :)), about Marketing and the Bubble where Rand has a great picture.

Source: avc.com

This picture illustrates the need for focus, what happens in early teams is that you are strapped for resource so you basically need to put all your emphasis in finding the Product to Market fit and to make it a Minimum Viable Product, once there is a glimmer to light in that direction you need to have someone else focused on the Sales and Marketing focus. This is hard if you are one man team, unless you know how to do it. I have also written about building killer startup teams. The trick is always to make sure you surround yourself with the people with the right focus to execute. Knowing when to swing the pendulum within your team is an Art, but the signals are usually very clear.

August 9, 2012

Managing the Sales Process

I heard once that Sales is not Rocket Science but Harder! I cannot agree more. The actual closing of a sale is an art but that is never the real challenge, the real challenge is building a discipline to create a sales process. What do I mean by a sales process? it is most basic of things Prospect - PresentFollow up and Close. I am very surprised when I am talking to entrepreneurs when they give me excuses for not having the discipline to follow this simple 4 step method. I have seen people pay thousands of $ to attend Sales training classes and walking away and falling back into the same old habit of not following the simple steps. Everyone is scared of B2B sales because it takes time, there are too many departments, legal process is troubling… I think by now you would have figured what my answer is “The Excuse Department is F#$%ing Closed“. There is nothing that throws me into a cursing loop than hearing entrepreneurs giving excuses for how their finger hurts… pullllez! save the crying to your mommy. This is real life, grow up.

Managing a sales process is a skill. The steps that I have listed above are classic, so what do we do in Prospecting? we create a target list of potential customers this is not hard if you know how to work the address book or trade magazines or industry associations or attend conferences. You can get a list of participants, members etc from these channels actually that is the only reason why I attend conferences to meet people and get a prospecting list. Modern tools allow for much more effective way to build this list. Another pet peeve that I have is teams running around in circles trying to identify the perfect CRM System, just use Google Docs or Excel and Email to get the process up and running. There are a number of sophisticated tools out there that basically take more time to learn how to use than actually are useful in the sales process. I will leave the CRM bashing for another day. My advice is pick one and use it, you are never going to find the perfect system. I was taught early in my career that Systems are just tools, its people and their open mind to use system and a process that is needed. Good systems have the process built into them but flexibility is important. I grew up in the age of ERP so following process and configuring systems brings memories that are too painful for this post. There are many simple CRM systems like Highrise or Sugar CRM or anything that is easy to setup and allows you to follow the above 4 steps is good enough to get started. The trick is to stick to one system and use it religiously, again Discipline is the key.

Presenting is again another skill, that is acquired. Effective presentation requires a lot of preparation, thinking, challenging and brainstorming. I usually like to involve the entire team if you have one in the process that way all ideas are on the table and I am usually biased toward facts and data rather than opinion in presenting solutions because opinions can be refuted but facts cannot be. I always follow the Minto Pyramid Principle in making my presentation. I lead with the Conclusion, that always allows the audience to start asking questions on why I made that conclusion, so I follow it up with facts to back up my conclusion. I always try to see the problem from my potential customers perspective and build a presentation around that problem. I do a lot of research about the person, the company and the challenges the industry faces, it allows me to frame the situation, the problem and the solution.

Follow up is the most important of tasks, here I would urge everyone to push for a No. The absolutely worst thing you can have is a Maybe. I usually would like to get a No so I can move on to down my list rather than waste time with a prospective Maybe. Following up is again an art, you don’t have to be nagging but professional and firm. If your prospect gave you time to present your solution and one can gauge whether it is going to be a yes or a no after the presentation. I usually leave presentation meetings with something that I need to share with the customer and follow up with emails to see if there is anything that they need from me to help them make a decision. I provide them with enough information to enable them to sell the solution within their organization. It all comes back to the notion of a Win-Win, I always want my customers and clients to win. If they win, I win. I usually put their victory before mine… Always, it is a life philosophy.

Closing is an art. It is hard work, getting someone to make a decision without being a pain in the back takes skill. But if you have followed the above process closing is not hard. I have no problem following up with my potential customers because I know that I am solving a problem for her and why would I not want to help her? So, in my eyes it is not at all inconvenience to call, email or meet to follow up and get to a decision. I always start with a Win-Win or No Deal mind set. If my customer feels that she is not winning from my presentation and my solution then we just walk away because I desperately want my customer to win and its ok if I don’t close if she is not winning. Oh, there is obviously luck involved but that is never something that you bet you. You follow the steps, repeat it over and over again… thats what the struggle is about.

Being able to present the above steps in a simple report is not only important but it is a report card on how you are doing or how effective you are in doing the sales process. Once again, I am biased toward sticking to simple reports… a spreadsheet that lists my clients in each of the stages with the actual value of the sales, with probability and timeline to close. I keep it updated all the time, makes it easy to present to anyone who wants to know. I find it very hard to understand why getting this report is hard, I know why it is hard actually it is hard if you don’t follow a process and if you are not disciplined. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being disciplined. You want to Win, well work on your habits and your discipline. Ask all the olympic athletes what is the recipe for their success. There is no other way.

July 19, 2012

3 Magic tricks to get Marketing and PR right

I have a whole category in the Startup Iceland blog about Marketing and Selling for a reason and that is Entrepreneurs and Startups just suck at telling a story about their value proposition. Not because they don’t want to but because they don’t prioritize how important of a task Marketing is. Fred Wilson wrote a blog post not long about Marketing and his initial post started like this

I believe that marketing is what you do when your product or service sucks or when you make so much profit on every marginal customer that it would be crazy to not spend a bit of that profit acquiring more of them (coke, zynga, bud, viagra).

me and everyone in the avc.com community thought that it was wrong and we let him know about that. Fred being fred, wrote a follow up post with the following title “Marketing Post – The Bug Report“, I would encourage everyone to go and read the entire comments section of both those posts. The value in avc.com is the quality of people actually commenting in the blog. I believe Marketing, Selling and Public Relations for a Startup are very important strategies, almost as important as product development if not more. Obviously, being a startup you don’t have a lot of resource at your disposal to spend time, money or effort into telling the story, but that is the challenge of being a startup or an entrepreneur. You have to jump off a cliff and build your parachute on the way down and make sure that the entire world knows about how wonderful your parachute is so you can sell them while you are making it.

Image Source: newmarketinglighthouse.com

Coming back to the topic of Marketing, today, we have some of the best tools to tell a story about the value created by companies. As an entrepreneur and a startup, you have a responsibility to ensure that your value proposition and story is told in all the relevant channels. I believe the best stories are told by others about your product or service. If you can convince an influencer to write about you and your company, it is by far the best way to get noticed. I believe taking part in competitions and contests also help you to showcase what you are building, of course you need to win to get the media and story covered.

What are the 3 magic tricks in Marketing, PR and Selling? well, it is actually quite simple, you need to get out there in the world meet people and talk about what you are doing. It is as simple as that. It takes time and it takes a lot of effort but there is no other way. If you believe just buying Google Adwords or Facebook Ads is going to get you coverage you are wrong. You need to do all the channels, ie. you need to CONSISTENTLY

  1. Blog about what you are doing and share it with your network and your extended network
  2. Tweet about things happening in your startup/industry and things related to your startup/industry
  3. Participate in meetups, conferences and trade shows

How do you do this when you are bootstrapping and trying to build a product? I did mention this was a magic trick right? The first 2 tricks are not that hard to do because it is you as an entrepreneur putting your time and effort into words and spending time learning about what is going on in your industry. You cannot afford not to do this. The third one is a little harder given it takes money to participate in Conferences and when you live in an Island you need to spend money on travel, lodging etc but you can always prioritize and pick the most appropriate conferences and budget for it and participate in it. A much easier way is to do local meetup, if there is not one in your neighborhood organize one. Brad Feld wrote about Just Get A Group Together for Coffee, it is not that hard to do.

I see that some of the startup are shy about talking about what they are doing and what value they are creating, this is a BIG FAIL. If you are not passionate about what you are doing that you cannot wait to tell everyone about it then you are doing something wrong. Just stop the pain and go do something else.

January 31, 2012

Marketing on a Shoe String

As Entrepreneurs we are always faced with constraints related to marketing and selling our products and services, that is natural and true for every company. Very few companies have a unlimited budget to spend on marketing. I have had my pet peeves with the Marketing departments while I was working for a bank. The problem I had was, I never knew whether the money we spent was worth it. This is no longer a problem, today technology exists to precisely build-measure-learn from your marketing efforts. I saw this post in The Next Web with the title “10 Marketing Hacks For Entrepreneurs“, I think it is applicable to any businesses and I don’t know why they have the title as a Hack? I wish established companies would run their businesses like a startup especially in the marketing and sales organizations because they never give you the metrics related to the spending they do. Here is the list if you have not gone to the article to read it:

  1. Google Adwords
  2. ReTargeting
  3. Facebook Ads
  4. Twitter mentions
  5. Gist
  6. Craigslist
  7. Billboard space through ADstruc
  8. Facebook Insights
  9. WordStream
  10. Social Media – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Quora etc
I would add your company blog is a great way to market your product or service or what you do. Marketing is a promise you keep with your customers. If you don’t tell them what you are doing they usually don’t know. All the above tools does not replace simple truth about marketing, as Seth Godin’s post on Marketing says:
The simple first rule of branding and marketing anything (even yourself)

Not a secret, often overlooked:
“Keep your promises.”
If you say you’ll show up every day at 8 am, do so. Every day.
If you say your service is excellent, make it so.
If circumstances or priorities change, well then, invest to change them back. Or tell the truth, and mean it.
If traffic might be bad, plan for it.
Is there actually unusually heavy call volume? Really?
Want a bigger brand? Make bigger promises. And keep them

Related articles

January 7, 2012

Marketing

Icelandic horse in the snow
Image via Wikipedia

Does Iceland  not know how to market or sell its products or services? Entrepreneur, investors and general public’s opinion on Marketing and Sales is “We don’t know how to Market or Sell”. I hear this all the time, had an interesting conversation with Managing Director of a Venture Fund in Iceland and the assessment was the same, their portfolio companies are great at product development but some of those companies don’t do marketing or sales very well. I volunteered to help and that is what prompted me to write this post. I don’t agree with the generalization, I think Icelanders and Icelandic companies do just fine in Marketing and Selling but then every company is different and I don’t like to generalize or stereotype the issue.

Fred wrote a very popular post last year on Marketing which created some serious debate in his community, he followed up with this post and called it a Bug Report. I would encourage all those who are reading this post and want to learn more about marketing in the new world to click on both the links above and read the entire post and the entire discussion. I think that one post and discussion should be a semester of teaching on Marketing for Entrepreneurs in an MBA class.
Here are some pearls from the post:

  1. Marketing is for product or service that suck (don’t really agree, it still needs to be discovered)
  2. Early in a startup, product decisions should be hunch driven. Later on, product decisions should be data driven
  3. Early in a startup you need to acquire your customers for free. Later on, you can spend on customer acquisition.
  4. Don’t be a google bitch
  5. Marketing is the name we use to describe the promises a company makes, the story it tells, the authentic way it delivers on that promise. (in comments by Seth Godin)
Read the post.

I have been advising and mentoring all entrepreneur I meet on how to position, market and sell their product or service and I am no expert on this or good at this to claim that I can help but with good discussion and being a sounding board I think I help and also learn a lot. I believe in the philosophy that if you want a great student change their role to be a teacher.

In addition, I watch and learn from the very best and that is power of this new world of Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTubeetc, if you have the passion to learn and the commitment to devote the time, you can learn anything. What do you all think? Do Icelandic companies know how to market or sell?

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