Entrepreneurs dream of running their own online businesses for months and in some cases years. When you’ve got the ball rolling, to finally see a semi-working product in front of you is such an exciting time— your vision finally becomes reality.
Once you’ve secured your first handful of customers, it’s tempting to sit back and depend on them to spread the word—watch the users flood in, but if only it was that simple. There’s a whole iterative process to building a tribe around your product in order to keep the ship above water.
Sure, if your product really solves a problem users may attract users, but in such early stages it’s essential to think about the core foundations you’ll need that will steer your marketing plan, and it’s never too early to make a start. I’ve come up with 5 important actions you can do right now that will make the process of building your tribe a hell of a lot easier, product or no product, all on a shoe-string budget.
Invest time and effort into working out these 5 and your startup marketing efforts will be a breeze.
If you don’t know your target audience and understand their needs, all your marketing and business efforts are subject to fail.
Define who your ideal customer is. What do they do for a living? How do they spend their free time? What type of sites would they be found searching through? What tone of voice do they use? The more you know about your ideal customer the better geared up you’ll be when working out how to attract them. It’s hard work learning about the behaviours of people but by drawing up personas you’ll set off on the right track.
Creating personas should be priority on your list from the word go (that’s ‘go’ before you spend time and money building a site). They’re vital for various reasons:
– They help you record a visual of your ideal customer and their behaviour patterns so you can keep their main needs always in mind when carving your approach to marketing.
– Persona’s remove the tendency to think of yourself as the customer, they make you take a step back and see things from your customer’s perspective.
– They also act as a guide for keeping copywriters, designers, and programmers on track for creating for the same target market.
Essential for startup teams.
Marketing legend Seth Godin believes companies big or small can no longer command the attention from their target audience like they used to— the power of buying is in consumer’s hands. Seth has long steered the termpermission marketing, where businesses should provide something “anticipated, personal and relevant” for more leverage and the first approach to providing your audience with anticipated, personal or relevant output is by knowing who they are and what makes them tick.
We built a handy little tool called Personapp, to help us quickly create and share lightweight personas across the projects we’re working on, using a simple framework. Even if you’re just in the ideas stage, playing around with personas to get to know the market you’re aiming to attract is invaluable in business and marketing.
#2 Define a clear purpose people can rally around
Your purpose in business is the why you do what you do not what you do. And from a marketeer’s perspective, being able to define your vision and purpose in less than 10 words is worth its weight in gold.
Businesses with a higher purpose have a real resilience to them. They have a reason for being that sets them apart from money-hungry corporations with a hollow existence that no one really cares about. To begin building a solid community around your business, you’ve got to learn what makes people tick. Having a clear purpose engages your audience in a more emotive way (something that corporates struggle to do, so set yourself apart) and if you have their support, they’ll rally around your cause spreading the word far and wide, becoming a super-fan before you’ve even launched 😉
One example of this is through our work at The Happy Startup School. We’re not just passionate about what we do, helping budding entrepreneurs start living a life they truly desire and deserve, our purpose is to make business a happier place to be for everyone. And such a simple message goes a long way. Before we’ve even began to launch our online platform for budding entrepreneurs, we have over 10,000 happy followers who love our story and actively engage with us.
But we’re not alone. There’s a whole movement of purpose driven companies paving the path for the future of business (Patagonia, Buffer, Nixon McInnes, Propellernet, Delivering Happiness, Innocent, Moo etc.)
Take Zappos for instance, they’re an international online store who sell shoes. Their purpose isn’t to sell shoes. It’s to make people happy.
We decided to focus on customer service, which is all about making customers happy and then over time we put more and more emphasis on company culture, which is all about making employees happy.” Tony Hsieh
Zappos have millions of super-fans across the world that are loyal to their brand for the incredible customer service they’re guaranteed on every purchase, and when postal problems do arise, customers speaking to such happy employees has a knock on effect. Their purpose as a business, to make people happy, has been the driving force for the success of their outreach.
Don’t get left behind. Purpose-driven companies are the future. Communicate your reason for being from day 1.
#3 Take the time to talk, it’s never too early
As a lone rider entrepreneur, juggling the whole parade of social media accounts that come with brand building, alongside the mountain of other things on your to-do list probably falls as low priority. But it’s just as important to start engaging with customers through social channels and at events in your industry, as it is to build a great product.
I don’t think it’s ever too early to kick off the social media bandwagon for your startup, when you could use social media as a channel for gauging interest or feedback on your idea.
I loved one of our client’s approaches, Indie Ales. The founder Charlie is passionate about independent beers and had several ideas he could potentially work on that he was equally pumped for. Before even having a logo, landing page or value proposition set in stone, he set up a twitter and instagram account to provide him with a platform early on to interact with beer fanatics (his direct market)so he could expose and test his ideas. Taking the time to listen, reply, retweet, and share great content has helped Charlie find the problem he wants to solve in the world before he’d got a landing page in place. Just from chatting with his market he got a clearer vision for his ideas. He found a bigger problem that needed solving that he wanted to pursue, and on top of this, he now has a growing audience to test and release to. Good work Charlie!
I recently read the noted How to win friends and influence people and although author Dale Carnegie originally wrote the below points to help people connect at a deeper face-to-face level, I couldn’t help but think that a lot of the key take aways can be applied to online interaction too.
Surely in the early stages of building a community around your business, it’s a lot like asking people to make friends with your brand? No?
So, as if you were meeting people and making friends face-to-face, Carnegie advises to:
– Give honest and sincere appreciation
– Arouse in the other person an eager want
– Become genuinely interested in other people
– Encourage others to talk about themselves
– Talk in terms of other person’s interests
– Make other people feel important, but do so sincerely
It’s important to make time for everyone in your industry on social media. Reply to every tweet you receive. Follow and chat to key people in your field. Share great content (either your own posts or stuff that’s already out there) and if you’re just starting out, don’t let low levels of interaction get you down. Look for discussions you can join in on and get excited to start building an online community in the industry you’re passionate about.
It’s important to get a sound-footing into social channels and make connections at events as early as possible so you can later make strategic partnerships for a killer marketing plan.
#4 Make people feel like they’re part of change
This next point is closely linked with defining your vision and purpose for your business. Making people feel like they are part of change generally precedes working out what that change is; the reason your startup exists.
Ask yourself this, what change do you want to see in the world? How can your business work towards this and make an impact?
I recently joined the Spook folks at one of the most inspiring events I’ve ever attended. A conference called MeaningConf based here in Brighton, a whole day of speakers all with the common goal to re-design business for the 21st century. Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Swedish Pirate Party was the first speaker of the day sharing the story of how one man with an idea for change became the fastest growing political party with just €50,000.
Rick shared how he created a massive community on a shoestring budget, by adopting a ‘swarm’ strategy — where thousands of people come together to make one specific change (he elaborates in his book Swarmwise). Rick stressed the importance of leaders needing to provide a mission for people to rally around, that is, your purpose. He says once you’ve nailed your mission, the next step is to make everybody see there’s a place for them. If somebody can help towards reaching a goal or driving a single idea without having to be asked, magic happens. People start swarming towards that idea, collectively driving change.
Rick taught us that people want to be part of change and help for free. If you can communicate to each and every customer their value and the direct impact they’re having on your company’s mission, this will have a massive impact on the success of your marketing efforts and people will spread the word.
#5 Invest time in design-thinking
This means placing customers at the heart of every process in business.Marketing in 2014 is predicted to be even more visual, even more mobile and even more geared towards simplicity for consumers and today’s consumerexpects visually pleasing experiences. If you excel in designing great experiences that pleases your target market, you’ll see returning visitors.
People love sites that are a joy to use, they prefer visiting blogs that are a joy to read. It’s design that determines whether a visitor stays or leaves a site you’ve directed them to. It’s never been more important for marketeers and startups to take a people-centred approach to building products and writing/designing for emotion.
If you invest in great design right from the start, you’ll be ahead of so many other entrepreneurs who put technology before their customers. Well designed products and services can bring a huge competitive advantage to business, giving a leg up to all your marketing efforts before you’re full steam ahead. I strongly urge you to read a recent article by Laurence (founder and designer at Spook Studio & The Happy Startup School) elaborating further on why startups need design from day 1, “You can’t just ‘add some UX’ at a later date” he says. We also organise a regular design meetup for startups in Central London (UX Café) to educate and connect startups with UX designers.