Cory von Wallenstein is the CEO of Adored, a loyalty experience platform that is strengthening the relationships users have with the businesses they visit and brands they love.

Entrepreneurs are obsessed with the chase: They love to throw out goals and then try to run them down. One "shiny object" many entrepreneurs chase is their branding strategy. Companies today are spending big bucks on marketing, advertising, public relations, and more, and for good reason: Valuations and adoptions are seemingly created on the pages of TechCrunch. The problem, however, is that these companies are merely chasing lightning in a bottle.

Praying for virality is an expensive strategy. It is also unnecessary, because the best way to promote your brand is to let your customers do it for you--and the only way to do that, in my experience, is to solve their top three pain points. Do this, and they'll shout your name from the rooftops.

Creating the experience

I know this to be true because I just experienced it while working on a project for my startup, Adored, which helps resorts engage with customers on- and offsite to ensure they have the best experience possible. This season, we landed three mountains as our customers--Cannon, Waterville Valley, and Gunstock--in my native New Hampshire. To encourage skiers to download the app, which provides real-time updates on events, specials, and snow conditions, we collaborated with all three mountains on joint marketing efforts. Our strategy was to promote the partnership through three tactics: ski expo, onsite messaging, and lift incentives.

Initially, I wasn't overly optimistic. In past jobs like this, getting partners to actively participate was like pulling teeth, but I was blown away by what happened next. The three mountains combined to drive 2,500 downloads at the ski expo, with tactics ranging from branded T-shirts to featuring us in their booths to exclusive deals. They weren't passive partners--they were vocal ambassadors.

Anyone who learned about our partnership during the ski expo saw the messaging reinforced when they arrived on the mountain. We were built into the guest experience, which means we were visible across the board: in trail maps, event guides, website event calendars, handouts, ticket buyers, lift signage, posters, and more. One mistake many startups make is trying to do everything themselves instead of creating a collaborative relationship with their clients. The collaboration we experienced didn't come from just one mountain--it came from all of them, which told me we had created a truly mutually beneficial partnership.

Lastly, skiers were incentivized to come to these mountains in the form of reduced-rate lift tickets if they downloaded Adored. This tactic led to around 3,500 new users. When you multiply that by the $50 savings on the lift ticket, these mountains invested nearly $175,000 in the advertisement of this relationship.

A winning partnership

Why would these three mountains be willing to make this investment in us?

Because, in reality, it is an incredibly shrewd business decision. One of the reasons many startups fail to create mutually beneficial partnerships is that they project their agenda onto their customers, e.g., "This is the product I created and this is how you should use it." Instead, you need to work with and understand the problems your customers are having, and discuss how you can be part of the solution. Prior to selling Adored to these mountains, we went through an exhaustive discovery process with them. Through countless interviews, where we listened more than we talked, we were able to learn about their three biggest pain points:

  1. How do we get people to come back for one additional visit each season?
  2. How do we get people to buy one more item per visit?
  3. How do we get people to have a good experience so they tell their friends?

Adored attempts to solve those specific problems. The partners know that since our product addresses those issues, the more adoption the product gets, the better for their long-term business gains. It's a win-win, which is why I keep using the term partnership.

I have three children under the age of 5 and another one on the way. I can tell my son to do something a thousand times and he never listens, but if one of his friends tells him to do it, he does it immediately. Fifty percent of internet users globally say that they learn about new products, brands, or services via recommendations from friends, according to a report from GWI Brand. That is the power of a recommendation. That is priceless.

So the next time you're thinking about investing in a publicity stunt, remember that the greatest marketing tool you possess is your ability to make your customers happy. Provide value, and your customers will become advocates. If you succeed because your customer succeeds, you will have a stronger business. It's really that simple.