You're a startup and you're ready to enter the market with your new product. You have a bunch of young, eager sales reps, but every time they call on prospective clients, they get asked the same basic questions: Who are you? What do you do? Who are your clients? This slows your team down and the lack of public knowledge about your company affects their ability to book meetings. So what do you do? Build your brand.
When you're a startup, having brand awareness is everything when booking key sales calls. You want to ensure your company is top of mind and a part of the consideration set when someone is looking for a solution in your category. A strong brand will not only improve the efficacy of your outbound sales efforts, but will also drive inbound leads.
So how do you build an enterprise brand on a startup budget? While you may think that developing an enterprise brand can be expensive, it really doesn't have to be. At my last startup inSparq, we built an enterprise brand with very little money. inSparq was a recommendation engine that helped retailers and brands identify and market their trending products. With virtually no marketing budget, inSparq had name recognition among retailers and brands (our target customers), developed presence at all the major retail conferences and worked with large retailers like Adidas, Bloomingdales and Newegg.
We were able to do this by getting creative on how we executed our marketing plan, and by building industry relationships that helped us look bigger than our actual size. Here are my favorite brand-building strategies for enterprise startups:
1. Leverage Thought Leadership and Media Strategically (and Economically)
Develop a narrative that speaks to an industry problem and then amplify that problem. Become the thought leader on that problem. Pound the drum on the implications of the problem in a way that naturally points to your solution. The eventual reward is earned media, the most powerful type that reaches the broadest audience.
A good example of this strategy in action is Olapic, the leading technology company enabling retailers to integrate shoppable User Generated Content (UGC) on e-commerce sites. When Olapic started, UGC was getting popular, but it wasn't being integrated in the shopping experience. Olapic tied UGC to solving two problems--communicating the lifestyle of the brand and inspiring customers on ways to wear or use the products. This strategy really helped them capture media attention and achieve rapid growth.
If you're having a hard time getting media attention, not to worry, there are plenty of other resources and audiences at your disposal. Press releases can be a waste of time for a startup--they don't drive stories and nobody really reads them. No PR budget is required for contributing articles and blog posts. Writing a relevant and engaging blog post and promoting it through your investor and advisor network will help deliver your message to the right audience.
2. Secure Ingredient Branding on Your Deployments
Ingredient branding is that "powered by" branding you see on customer sites. A good approach is to include this ingredient branding in the code snippet you send to customers and have that link back to your marketing site.
inSparq was able to secure this on a few client sites, but companies like Bounce Exchange really excelled at this strategy by making it a requirement of their deals. This branding became one of their largest sources of leads and made them seem ubiquitous.
3. Present at Conferences and Trade Shows
Presenting at the right conferences can be a great way to build your brand with your target market, but don't think you have to buy expensive sponsorship packages to participate. At inSparq, we made friends with conference organizers, helped them build their events and earned speaking opportunities.
You can start by submitting to open calls for presentations and panels for conferences that accept submissions. For conferences that don't have open calls, offer to help recruit speakers and develop content. And, in true start-up fashion, be ready to jump to the rescue at any moment. Often, my first speaking opportunities came when someone else dropped out. By jumping in and performing well, inSparq earned higher consideration for future events/conferences.
You can also create your panels and presentations with open sourced events around certain industry occasions, like Social Media Week, Internet Week and Ad Week. inSparq would curate panels with a combination of clients and vendors, and co-market the events. It's all about starting small and building on the victories along the way.
4. Keep a Regular Social Media Presence
It's true, managing social media can be a job in itself, but it doesn't have to be when just getting started. Monitoring and contributing to your social media presence helps keep your company top of mind. Just a couple hours a week composing tweets and posts can go a long way in expanding your social network and making waves within your industry.
Twitter and LinkedIn are two great places to start developing your brand's personality, and a great way to get your team involved in the industry conversations. Have everyone on your team compose 1-2 tweets a week and find one LinkedIn post to share every month, and you're set. If there's a special conference or event you're attending, make sure you know the event hashtag and the attendees' Twitter handles so you can be actively engaged with those communities, even as you're preparing to step out on stage.
5. Create and Leverage Community
One often-overlooked component of a marketing strategy is industry-based community. Community allows you to engage customers and prospects in manner that makes them feel part of the company. This is not a direct sales activity, but rather a strategy that enables customers to become part of your extended corporate family. When community is cultivated well, these customers become your largest advocates and inform your roadmap.
There are several ways to build community. At inSparq, we did this by taking on advisory roles in industry groups and conferences. Through these advisory roles, I was able to gain insight on the pain points of retailers, be creative in helping them solve those pain points, and ultimately use that information to inform our roadmap.
These five steps should be considered the foundation of building an enterprise brand. Executed correctly and you'll make life much easier for your sales team. If you're lucky, you may even become the next industry darling everyone is talking about.
About the Author
Veronika Sonsev is a leading expert in advertising and e-commerce technology. Currently, she is a consultant and advisor to digital startups. Previously, she was the CEO of inSparq (acquired by Adiant Media). inSparq helped retailers and brands discover and market their trending products in real time. Veronika led inSparq to become the solution of choice for leading retailers like Adidas, Bloomingdales and Newegg. Before that, she was an operating executive at AOL and Jumptap (a mobile advertising network acquired by Millennial Media/AOL), where she launched international markets, built new business lines and developed strategic partnerships.
Veronika is also Cofounder and Chairman of Women in Wireless, a national organization that promotes and develops female leaders in mobile and digital media, and is on the retail advisory board for Remodista, an educational consultancy helping retailers navigate digital disruption. Veronika holds an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Economics from American University. She was recently honored by Fast Company as one of 60 members to The League of Extraordinary Women and by TechWeek as one of the Top 100 digital leaders in New York. You can find Veronika on Twitter at @vsonsev and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/vsonsev.