by Billy Cina

The secret to startup success starts with faith

Mar 17, 2016
IT LeadershipMarketingStartups

How to beat your incumbent competitor through marketing... even when startup odds are stacked against you.

“Our competitor > is the market leader. We’re really having a hard time differentiating our offering”.

This statement stands the test of time. It is a golden oldie and one that is uttered from the lips of every startup founder, here’s why:

Budget: Established companies have more budget and internal resources to market, sell and deliver their product.

The incumbent: Nobody gets sacked for buying an HP, right? It’s true for every market.

Momentum and experience: Your competitors know a lot more about the market than you do. Fact. And they use it to their advantage.

Faith and Just-in-Time Funding

But the secret to a startup’s success lies in its advantages, which fall into only two rather solid foundation blocks.

The first, is faith: delusional and sane founders of every startup believe that their product will cause a revolution. Whether you have created an app to schedule hair appointments or the latest cybersecurity platform, yours is set to change the world. And this is a good thing. If you did not have this belief, you’d get worn out by the long and bumpy road a startup founder must travel to reach some valuation for success. Belief is what early adopters seek in their decision-making process.

The second, is ‘just-in-time funding’: A good product is essential for growth but will only get you so far. If you haven’t told your story well and convinced enough people, namely investors and prospects, time and money will run out before your product makes it big.

David can and often does win in the long run 

So this is a marketing blog, and in true form, here’s what I practice as a religion when working with startups. It does not include rocket science, but does require taking advantage of your strengths as a startup in order to differentiate your offering….  

1. Test, test, test,

Under the radar — you have the luxury to test your product and messaging on target audiences without causing long term damage. So do it. Do not get tempted to showcase or launch your product without it. If Apple were to test in Antigua and Barbuda (one of the smallest countries in the world), it would still make the top hits on the tech scandal. Your startup on the otherhand, will not.

Try something new — testing includes trying new means to reach your target audience. Use tools, apps, events, new age and controversial thought leaders, whatever you think has a chance of bringing you value, that your competitors could only dream of doing. They would be limited by their brand, legal department and corporate responsibility policies way before a new idea would get budget approval. Go out and have some startup fun with your marketing.

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2. Focus — One product is a luxury, not a curse – and it is available for a limited time period. Devising a multichannel killer marketing campaign for only one product, giving it all your attention and budget is a dream. You are in a perfect position to be selfish and do only one thing, market only one product really well and make a song and dance… well before you have a ‘family’ of products to take care of.

3. Be bold and take risks — cos the moment you ‘make it big’ your ability to do that will be reduced to microscopic size. You actually don’t have much choice other than to do this. Even if you choose to ignore tips 1 and 2 (which is a bad idea), trying to imitate what the big competitor does and looks like on a fraction of their budget, is never a good idea.

Point number 3 is really important as this too is a recurring theme among founders. “Should I look like a startup or like a Fortune 1000 company?”. My answer is almost always, look like a brilliant startup. Being a startup is not something you should hide behind. If you are doing a good job, the incumbents are really taking notice of your product and agility. Their ground is shaking.

So, why create a 50-page web site when you have 1 product in beta and 15 people sitting in a loft? It doesn’t make sense. Your potential clients, especially if they are savvy Fortune whatever companies will be able to sniff you out in a heartbeat. More importantly, they will want to do business with you because you are the latest invention. This is your winning hand.

Die hard marketing 

So as you will have gathered by now, I am a diehard believer in many startups’ ability to change their portion of the world despite having less funding and less experience on the ground. My biggest kick is to work on the marketing for these impressive companies. Done right, I have witnessed the greatness of a solid marketing campaign. When they are not so great, it is usually due to lack of faith and/or ignoring the top three recommendations above (sorry!).

Anyway, I will touch on the The Rise of Goliath in another post. Say what? Yes. Goliath and many of the large tech companies are brushing off the dust — many of them fighting their marketing corner, getting more flexible and removing some of the corporate layers that have stifled them. But stay tuned for that one….