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May 12, 2016

Construction Worker

This article was originally featured in The Hypepotamus.

Picture this. Your brilliant idea has finally become a reality. You have seeded (or bootstrapped) just enough money to build the product that you are sure will disrupt the industry. Investors, analysts, customers, and press will absolutely be knocking down your door to talk to you. Your product is baked and you’re ready to launch…

…Crickets…

Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in the startup world, despite many entrepreneurs believing in the notion that “if you build it, they will come,” thanks to the great classic baseball movie Field of Dreams. While it might have been as simple as ‘building it’ for Kevin Costner, as a startup business plan, however, it’s simply not viable. Just because you create a “first-of-its-kind” or “groundbreaking” product, platform or service – doesn’t mean anyone will purchase it, invest in it, or even know that it exists.

Taking on Costner’s reactive mindset contributes to the fact that 90 percent of startups fail. It also almost certainly plays a role in the majority of companies that die around 20 months, immediately after their initial financing round runs out. If you’ve spent your last dollar on perfecting your product – you’re out of luck if no one packs the cornfield.

Attracting customers, analysts and press is hard work and requires more than a shiny new product. That being said, here are a few tips to keep you from falling victim of a Hollywood fairytale.

Do your research

From Silicon Valley to Atlanta, innovative tech products and services are proliferating as Millenials, who are drawn to a more innovative and entrepreneurial career path, take over the workforce en masse. While it’s certainly an exciting time for early-stage companies, it also means the market is saturated. Even if you truly have the “first and only” product in the industry – you won’t for very long, at least not if you actually have a great idea. With so many solutions entering their respective markets, how will yours stand out? Before you even think about launching, there are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Who is your target audience?

  • Where do they get their news?

  • What are their pain points?

  • What kind of resources do they trust when researching a company?

Answering these questions will help you understand your buyer, which ultimately helps you reach them. Dubbed “personas” in the marketing and PR industries, creating representations of your key audience(s) from the start will guide you in everything from branding to marketing to lead generation. Providing compelling content to the right people in the right place is key – because you are now empowered with the knowledge that you must go to them instead of vice versa.

Go get ‘em

According to CB Insights, one of the ‘Top 10’ reasons startups fail is poor marketing. What happens again and again with many startups is that they run out of cash, without allocating enough, if any, money to marketing when they need it most. Or worse, wasting money on inefficient and pricey advertising that doesn’t lead to any return on investment (ROI).

A recent Wall Street Journal article found that funding for U.S. startups fell 25 percent from the fourth quarter of 2015, which is the “largest quarterly decline on record since the dot-com bust.” In other words, entrepreneurs have limited dollars and now, and must spend wisely and strategically. Because you’ve figured out your personas – you can hit them up where they live (and buy).

For example, let’s say that after discovering your target audience ‘personas, that you’ve learned that your primary decision maker is a chief information officer that spends his morning on LinkedIn and values in-depth, long-form tech content. LinkedIn advertising would be a great resource to engage on, as the platform allows targeting ads by job title and users respond well to strong calls to actions (CTA) – such as downloading a whitepaper about the problems a CIO faces and how your product can solve them.

Another way to reach your audience is to land articles in the publications that they deem as credible and hold in high regard. This takes time though, and cannot be turned off and on like a light switch.

Don’t forget about the media

As a PR professional with experience working with startups, it behooves me to reinforce the need to get in front of media. This is because owned content, like company blogs or product brochures, aren’t always enough to drive leads and convert sales. In fact, 70% of tech decision makers believe the credibility of vendor content increases when it’s associated with a trusted third-party (like a trade publication).

Oftentimes in the startup space, entrepreneurs develop a product or service that solves a problem that is not even realized by its intended buyer. In this case, education will be a primary focus that should begin even before the product launches. A media relations strategy can be all about building thought leadership and executive visibility, so that when your product is ready and the current industry challenges are known – your company is recognized as the one that started the discussions and your articles will be at the top of the search results.

Then, of course, you want coverage for that product or service that you’ve spent so much time and energy creating. You’ll need a strong press release with third-party validators (customers, analysts, investors) and a killer pitch to send to the top-tier publications that you have identified in your persona exercise. Keep in mind: Your top tier publication might not be what you think. More often than not, you will receive more qualified inbound leads from a feature story in a trade publication then, say, a mention in TechCrunch. You’ll have to be persistent and persuasive to land any press – but once you do land a placement, scream it from the rooftops (or, at least, put it on your press page). Over time, you’ll build relationships with these reporters and they’ll be more likely to cover your announcements.

These are only a few ways that you will need to be proactive in getting your product off the ground and your foot in the door. After your strategic research, marketing and public relations efforts have all come to fruition – then, and only then – will customers come to you. When it’s time to make another announcement, rinse and repeat.