The Five Most Surprising Things Startups Too Often Forget: (The Startup's TO DO List To Build Brand and Community)
Regardless of what stage a startup has reached in the relentless quest for funding, there are a number of items that (somewhat surprisingly) don’t make regular (enough) appearances on the strategic checklist. What are startups forgetting? Here’s a checklist to see if your TO DO list is as complete as it should be.
Don’t forget to identify your audiences. Startups very often do not take the time to sit down and reflect on the various audience segments they need to identify, inspire, and incite to some sort of action. To be sure, they rarely forget TechCrunch, but there are invariably multiple audiences every startup should consider: Customers are obvious, but you also need to communicate more broadly to other groups, possibly including the press, investors, and often to a larger cohort of industry experts and prospective partners, and even to a large pool of future customers.
Solution: Devote a portion of every staff meeting to a quick check of ALL the audiences you need to engage to be successful—and if you find some of your key segments are undeserved, create more relevant content for that group, and for the channels where they are likely to see it.
Don’t forget to position your startup as an interesting solution, voice, or disrupter. It’s one thing to have a great idea and to pull together the talent and technical resources to design and build your better mousetrap. But the fact that it’s better may not be as obvious to everyone else as it is to you. Startup entrepreneurs often forget they have to explain with great precision and from many different angles why they are unique, what problem they solve and how they differ from existing solutions or competitors.
Solution: At the very first strategy meeting, insist that everyone on the leadership team articulate in their own words why this venture is different-- what problem the startup will solve and how it will disrupt the status quo. Prepare to be shocked at how the folks you’ve been working alongside look at things in a completely different way than you do…and be prepared to synthesize everyone’s views into a cohesive vision that will resonate with your target audiences better than any single viewpoint would have.
Don’t forget to tell a story. I’m not the first to say this, though I say it every single day: It’s not enough to articulate a great idea or solution. You have to tell a great story. Every day. You have to tell stories that resonate with your audiences—relevant, funny, authentic, useful, entertaining, innovative, informative, intelligent, relevant (worth saying twice) stories.
Solution: Start thinking about how to tell your story and build your content library from the very first moment you conceive of your startup. After all, if you are solving a problem, it’s never too early to think about how the story of your innovation will impact people and how it can be told in interesting ways, on different platforms, to different audience segments. Videos, pictures, infographics, testimonials, research—Think broadly about all the assets you can pull together to provide consistent storytelling that will hold your audiences’ attention. This is most often done by starting with a story about people and backing into your product story. Skip the "My Product is Revolutionary" pitch and start instead by telling a story about the people on whom your brilliant idea will have an impact, and you're on the right track.
Don’t forget to find your audiences where they are already hanging out. Many entrepreneurs themselves jump from their tablets to their phones to social media to video channels to online news sources all day long. The average person, they say, now switches platforms an average of 14 times per hour! And yet when it comes to telling their story, entrepreneurs forget about their own media hopping M.O. and too often focus on a single platform—often exclusively the tech press, instead of thinking about all the places they can find and engage with their audience.
Solution: After you’ve identified target audience segments, make sure you research their media habits. If you, for instance, want to reach a technical engineering audience, you should probably not waste time on Facebook, but double down on trade press, Twitter, Linked IN, and your blog. But if you need to reach millennial women with your new fashion app, then Linked In may need to take a backseat to Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook along with traditional fashion media outlets and blogs. The only hard and fast rule is that you need to think about where your audiences are spending their time and then meet them on that platform—with content they will enjoy, find relevant, and want to share.
Don’t forget social media! Even though many startups are launched by digital natives who check in with their communities religiously, many times per day, these same folks, when it comes to their own startup, forget how important it is to build a community around their new business. Many people, certainly most millennials, think of social media as a tool for spontaneous reaction and connectivity. From a communications standpoint, that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. To a communications professional, these are channels that demand a specific kind of content that in many cases should be scheduled in advance. Social media strategy is an exercise in planning how and when to keep the flow of relevant content flowing more or less consistently to a carefully targeted community. When it comes to your business, it’s about curating content and scheduling meaningful posts that will reach your target audiences throughout their day.
Solution: Sit down with your audience analysis (so you know where your folks are and what inspires them) and your content library, and create content that works on the social platforms you need to succeed. And manage it all with Hootsuite!
Amy Wolfcale is the CEO of Falcon + Wolf, a partner at Thought Leadership Strategies, and a Professor in the New York University Graduate School of Professional Studies, School of Strategic Communication, Marketing, and Media Management. She is also a writer and an actual (as opposed to demographically identifying) soccer mom. And she loves elephants.