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The New Rules of Marketing for Start-ups

Viral marketing and word-of-mouth are no longer enough to make your product and brand visible in the relentless onslaught of today's promotional media.

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Innovation in marketing is perhaps more important than product innovation. Yet in the business plans I see, the marketing content and budget are smaller than ever.

Aside from spending, you need to create an experience in this digital age that sets you apart from the banner ads, email blasts, and old-school websites out there today. According to a recent book by Rick Mathieson, these have morphed into a digital universe of augmented reality, advergames, and virtual worlds, that are highly personalizable and uniquely shareable.

Mathieson's book, The On-Demand Brand: 10 Rules for Digital Marketing Success in an Anytime, Everywhere World, characterizes the challenge of demanding attention from a new generation of consumers who want what they want, when they want it, and where they want it. Here are the new marketing rules I support:

  1. Insight comes before inspiration. Innovative marketing starts with customer insights culled from painstaking research into who your customers are, and how they use digital media. Then it's time to innovate through the channels or platforms that are relevant.
  2. Don't repurpose, re-imagine. Digital quite simply is not for repurposing content that exists in other channels. It's about re-imagining content to create blockbuster experiences that cannot be attained through any other medium.
  3. Don't just join the conversation, spark it. Create new online communities of interest, rather than joining existing ones. Ask why it should be, and why customers should care. Then give them a reason to keep coming back. Keep it real, social, and events-based.
  4. There's no business without show business. Remember Hollywood secrets. Your brand is a story; tell it. Accentuate the personalizable, ownable, and sharable. Viral is an outcome, not a strategy. Make people laugh and they will buy.
  5. Want control? Give it away. Several companies, including Mastercard, Coca-Cola, and Doritos, have let customers build commercials and design contests, with big rewards for the customer and for the company. That's giving up control, with some risk, to get control.
  6. It's good to play games with your customers. Games are immersive, but shouldn't be just a diversion. They need to drive home the value proposition. Don't forget to include a call to action, like leading people to the next step of the buying process.
  7. Products are the new services. Start-ups need to realize that products are the jumping-off point for building relationships with customers. Digital channels enable you to turn products into on-demand services that help customers reach their goals, and add value.
  8. Mobile is where it's at. In addition to thinking of mobile as a new advertising distribution platform, remember it's far more powerful as a response, or "activation mechanism," to commercial messages we experience in other media, like print, broadcast, and more.
  9. Always keep surprises in-store. Social retailing is the new approach, where real-world shopping allows customers to connect with friends outside the store, and try on virtual versions of fashions friends might recommend. Make your in-store services add value.
  10. Use smart ads wisely. The new generation of "smart advertising" enables the creation of an Internet banner ad to fit each viewer's age, gender, location, personal interests, past purchase behavior, and much more. The trick is to do this without being invasive.

Remember: Everything you do, or don't do, in the digital world is visible to your customers, and everything they say about you is visible on demand, all over the world. That means marketing can no longer be an afterthought, or something you can postpone until later when you have more resources. Without effective and innovative marketing, you don't have a business.

Last updated: Jun 14, 2011




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