Romancing the Stones: How Ad- and Marketing-Supported Start-Ups Can Get Noticed

Posted by Jim Nichols on January 31st, 2011 at 12:00 am

It’s Definitely Easier Said Than Done
It can sound really easy in a business plan. “We’ll have marketers pay for our product and service.” And it’s definitely a tempting thought. But lots of start-ups have a rude awakening when they actually try to get noticed by big brands and agencies.

Buyers can definitely seem like stones, tough to “move.”

And soon lots of entrepreneurs realize that it’s even harder to get those crucial first dollars from marketers to support their products, services, and ideas. After all, there are a lot of people after their attention. And those who take a ham-fisted approach often find themselves out of time, and out of money.

That’s why I wanted to put this document together. I should point out that I am in strategy, not buying, so I put these rules of thumb through observation of what works to reach and connect with people in those functions. I hope these tips give start-up sellers some perspective from the other side of the table. That is, when you get one of us to consent to BE on the other side of the table.

Ten Lessons from the New Media “Winners”
Fortunately, you aren’t the first cowboy/cowgirl in the ring. When you examine the marketing and sales efforts of the companies that really captured buyers’ hearts, a few common characteristics quickly become clear.

1. Know the problem you solve before you contact anyone
2. Identify the “innovator” buyers and start with them
3. Bring humility and the empathy to the conversations
4. Establish your brand with awareness programs, a clear positioning and thought leadership
5. SHOW what you are saying
6. Find a friend that can do an intro
7. Think charter package…
8. …but make sure you charge us something
9. Get the case study
10. Start closing the second sale while you are negotiating the first

Now let’s examine each of these individually.

1. Know the problem you solve
No doubt what your company does is interesting. As marketers, we love that about entrepreneurs. It’s a big reason why we’re doing digital marketing .But understand that we have pressing business challenges to address. Go easy on the “vision” stuff. We think it’s lovely that you are out to change the world. But we need to know how you can help us now.

• Can you get superfans to evangelize for my brand in innovative ways?
• Can you drive online sales more efficiently than other tools at their disposal?
• Does your solution reach and connect with consumers as they are headed to the grocery store to buy?

Start with this rule of thumb. Most brands need one or more of these three things: awareness growth, trial usage, or higher repeat purchase rates. How can your solution help?

2. Identify the buyer/innovators
Some buyers love new platforms and innovations, and go to bat to get their brands involved in such new offerings on the “ground floor.”Similarly, a number of leading brand marketing companies have made a corporate commitment to being among the first to leverage emerging platforms and technologies. It’s important to focus your selling efforts on these first movers because most brands and agencies emphatically do not want to be first. They prefer to be “fast followers,” acting after something new has had demonstrated results for others.

A few Google searches on the names of other new platforms should provide you with a strong short leads of leads on which to focus. You’ll start seeing the same names and companies coming up over and over.

3. Bring humility and the empathy to the conversations
Lots of entrepreneurs come across as arrogant to marketing people. We like it that you are proud of their accomplishments. But we don’t want to spend 20 minutes hearing about your past entrepreneurial successes or how great your VCs are. We just don’t care all that much. Just get to what you have for us. We’ll ask about funding later if things get serious.

Know too that in the marketing and media buying ecosphere, often the most junior people in an organization control the final allocation of dollars. The SVP of Media or Agency President hasn’t bought media or marketing services in years. Her team does that. She influences, but generally doesn’t do the deals. You need to convince that rank and file person who is often the lowest ranking person in the room, but the ultimate decider.

4. Establish your brand with awareness programs, a clear positioning and thought leadership
Our company has helped give dozens of new firms their successful starts, and this experience has driven us to the conclusion that the best route to brand success encompasses three distinct areas:
• Significant brand awareness programs
• Crystal clear , dead simple messaging
• Proactive thought leadership program

Major efforts to make the community aware of your brand are necessary because you are competing with so many companies and ideas for attention. The rule of thumb we use is that we want to expose a prospect population to the brand and concept three times before they are contacted by Sales.

Dead simple messaging is critical because theirs is a world of hyperbole and obfuscation. We love a direct message, with a promise you can keep. This is doubly important because once you’ve sold the rank and file person, they need to sell their bosses and/or clients. You won’t be in the room for those discussions, so arm your advocates with a cogent story.

Finally, thought leadership efforts – white papers, speaking engagements, bylines, op-eds – help to establish you as the leader in your space. It’s critical to ensure that you are perceived as a “must include” in RFPs. Being a thought leader also lowers the perceived risk of trying something new.

5. SHOW what you are saying
Pictures really are worth a thousand words. Having a short, concise, consistent sales deck and sell sheet increases your chances of making the plan considerably.

Having professional looking selling materials is also valuable. While we’re not suggesting you spend a fortune. But ensure that your slides and messages don’t look kluged together.

Professionalism and appearance are also important in your sellers. Many times we’ve seen company founders and sales people come into a meeting having done no research on who they are talking to, and with appearances that suggest that they’ve just gotten out of bed.

Yes it’s a casual business. But before you go to that sales call with the third largest agency in the world, I suggest you put on a dress shirt over the wrinkled t shirt you slept in. Don’t roll your eyes at how obvious this point is. We have seen the “homeless look” during DOZENS of new media presentations.

6. Find a friend that can do an intro
Because of the huge numbers of people trying to reach and connect with marketing and media buyers, most have psychological “walls” up. That’s why it is important for you to work every connection you have to get noticed.

An email introduction from a trusted person goes a long way to getting their attention and interest. A recommendation from someone we respect gives you a credibility boost that is very difficult to achieve in any other way.

Marketing and media are absolutely “who you know” businesses.

7. Think charter package…
To scoop up your first wave of contracts, we strongly recommend that you offer some sort of charter package that lowers the financial risk of participation. Very few brands are going to give you half a mil right out the gate. They’ll want to test first. In our experience, making available packages at $25,000 or less can be highly motivating to first movers. It makes it easy to participate, and gets the critical first brands onto your client list. Cuz there’s nothing like a contract with the number one brand to motivate numbers two and three to sign.

8. …but make sure you charge us SOMETHING
We always strongly recommend against our clients giving away a product that they eventually want to charge for. In our view, the company ends up with a lot of deadbeat “clients” that will abandon it as soon as the talk turns to money. This isn’t arguing against “Freemium” or Basic/Pro models. Rather, I’m saying that once people get something for free, it’s even harder to convert them into paying customers for the same service or product.

Avoid all this mess by charging at least a little something at the get go.

9. Get the case study
Marketers and ad agencies are obsessed with case studies. Try right from the BEGINNING to get major brands to collaborate on case studies with you. Now, there are certain companies that absolutely won’t do them. But many companies will if you make a case study a provision of being part of the charter program.
Another way to coax cases out of companies is to co-present results with your clients at industry events. Many marketing people welcome opportunities to build their personal brands in this manner.

Cases where brands are named are most valuable to us, because they speak to an implied endorsement by the marketer. Second in value are cases where you can name the category, but not the specific brand. These help establish credibility in a specific industry. Make sure you focus on the results of an effort, with specific metrics wherever possible.

10. Start closing the second sale while you are negotiating the first
The most successful new media companies make clear the next steps for a successful initial program throughout the process. It is a way of coaxing greater commitment from buyers, and of ensuring that all your efforts to snag your first clients eventually pay off in sizable contracts.

Getting the initial contract is vital. But let’s say you sign a deal for a $25,000 test – that goes well. You’d think that the client would immediately want to expand efforts, right?

Well, we’ve seen scores of examples where successful tests –VERY successful tests – did not lead to larger commitments. The brands grew distracted by other things, or simply put additional efforts “on the back burner.” When the results come in, go to the meeting with a proposal for the larger commitment. Lead the client rather than letting inertia take hold.

Sometimes the Simplest Things are Hardest
Ten simple ways to romance the stones. Easier said than done, but a great place to start. We’ve all been in situations where our teams have gotten so caught up in what we are doing that we can’t see the forest for the trees.

Sometimes the trees we cannot see are basic marketing and sales strategies. Your long term vision is an essential part of your business. But buying decisions today depend upon what you can offer a marketer or media buyer today.

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4 Responses to “Romancing the Stones: How Ad- and Marketing-Supported Start-Ups Can Get Noticed”

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