Startups don’t need to spend a fortune to build a brand. Here are four cost-effective strategies for generating brand awareness without breaking the bank.
As a startup, if you were to create a checklist of your primary objectives, it would probably read something like:
Develop products/services. Check.
Attract customers. Check.
Generate a positive cash flow. Check. Check.
If you were to continue, where would you put “build a brand” on the list? Somewhere after “when there’s time and money for it”?
If this sounds like your scenario, you’re not alone. Many CEOs of startups put off building their brand because they believe that it’s too complicated or too costly to accomplish at a time when they’re focused on getting products/services to market and turning a profit. If you subscribe to this logic, what do you think is going to draw your customers in?
Your brand is the foundation for your communication to your market. It impacts everything from building a customer base to attracting potential investors or other sources of startup capital. It’s a magnet to attract your ideal customers. The more clear and concise your brand is, the stronger the magnet you have to pull them in.
However, don’t sell your brand short by thinking it’s just a logo. While a brand does include a logo, it also contains these other touch points:
- Social media profiles
- Business cards
- And more
It is inclusive of all experiences your market has with your business.
With so many possible branding options, you’re probably wondering how much this will cost you. Fortunately, there are options that can fit in with a startup budget.
1. Engage in social media campaigns.
If you had an opportunity to step into a room full of ideal customers, listen in on their conversations, and build a relationship with them, would you? Of course you would. This is the basic premise behind participating in social media. From Facebook, to Twitter, to YouTube, LinkedIn and a host of other platforms, you can engage groups of prospects in conversation. While we don’t subscribe to the notion that social media is a free form of marketing, it can be very cost effective as compared to other strategies. You’ll have an investment of time and money, the balance of which depends upon what you plan to do on your own versus outsourcing to a social media management firm so you can focus on your core competencies.
Once you create your profiles, you will need to remain consistent in your efforts to draw people to your profiles, incentivize them to become followers, and engage in your conversations. Start with your customers and other people from your industry that you have a relationship with. Create a contest or a drawing to get them active on your site. It’s far easier to generate activity with people who know and like you than it is with complete strangers, especially for a startup. Once you get this first round of people active on your site, you can use some cost effective ads or another contest to attract their friends, and grow your following from there. Consistency and quality of conversation is key.
2. Build a relationship with the press.
Imagine the positive impact your business would experience if you had top newspapers, trade rags, blogs, radio programs and TV shows interviewing you or singing your praises. It’s possible, but it does take some work. First, you need to connect with credible sources that hold influence over a sizable population of your ideal customers. Second, review the stories or other content they produce. What topics do they focus on? What tone do they use –professional, personable? Do you see opportunities where a story about your business or your expertise may be of interest to their audience? Third, find out who is producing the content. You’re going to be seeking editors, writers, producers, and top bloggers.
Once you have a list of names and contact information, you can start reaching out to them. Before you do though, it’s a wise idea to consume some of the content they produce and following them on social media. You will get a better sense of who they are and what’s important to them. This will help you hone your personal messages when you submit story ideas and press releases. Don’t get discouraged if they don’t contact you after your first correspondence. They may not have seen it. Your story idea may not have been right for them. However, if you come back once a week or every other week with a fresh idea that’s on target for their market, you will get their attention. Just always remember that when you’re pitching an idea or submitting other news about your startup, don’t lose sight of what’s in it for them and their audience.
3. Manage a focused SEO strategy.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. When people enter in certain keywords to the search engines, they get a list of ads and organic links to choose from. SEO helps put your links or your ads to the top of the list. So if you recently launched your accounting practice in Towson, MD, and people are searching by “accountants in towson md”, they will find you instead of your competition.
Start by creating a list of keyword phrases that you think people will use to find solutions to the problems that you provide. Typically, most people don’t enter in single word phrases. If you were looking to buy a car, you wouldn’t enter in the phrase “car”. You might enter in phrases like “used cars” or “car dealerships” along with the city and state where you live.
Once you have your list, you will need to do research to see what kind of search volume your initial list of phrases has and what other content the SERPs display using the same phrases. After you fine tune your list, modify the copy on your website and in the backend of your site to match your list. You will use these same phrases in blog or article posts to your site and on your social media profiles. There are a host of other on-the-page and off-the-page SEO elements; however, you can get started with these basics.
4. Position your business as the expert.
People are always looking for ways to make their lives easier or to improve their performance at work. This has them constantly scanning for new solutions to what they believe may be holding them back. If you can bring a fresh perspective to the market with valuable information, you can grow a following and tie in the benefits of the three previous strategies.
So how can you step into the spotlight as an expert? Start by creating some kind of moniker for your marketing and public relations purposes. If you’re a copywriter, you may call yourself “The Word Doctor”. Second, be authentic and connect with your customers on their level. Be personable and share your story to show your human side. Third, create an ongoing series of content that you syndicate to the press, on your blog, on your social media profiles, and through other media channels. From there, you can build online communities focused on your area of expertise. You can do this using social media, it can tie in your SEO strategies, and you can invite people from the press to come on as guest experts or for an interview.
Dina Wasmer is President of Incite Creative, a marketing and graphic design firm that helps small-to-middle-market businesses and non-profit organizations in the Mid-Atlantic region build a brand and develop a marketing budget. Additionally, Dina is an adjunct professor at the University of Baltimore teaching typography and graphic design principles.