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Efficient Marketing Means Doing Something Different

Posted by Bob Warfield on March 9, 2011

Startups have to solve three problems to succeed:

1.  They need a great product.

2.  They need a business model that results in profitable growing revenue.

3.  They need an efficient marketing model that results in a profitable growing customer base.

As Om Malik’s great post on business models and Twitter points out, too many companies are exclusively product-centric.  They’re focused on #1.  But just adding #2 isn’t enough either.  You also have to get the word out, and as a startup, you can’t afford the luxury of advertising as your medium.  You need Efficient Marketing.

By “Efficient Marketing”, I mean marketing that doesn’t cost much in relation to the value it delivers.  It’s marketing that is profitable from day one.  You know, the kind of marketing startups and bootstrapped companies have to do, but also the kind of marketing larger companies want to do.

Efficient marketing only happens when you do something different.  Something the rest of the crowd isn’t doing so much of.  Marketing is about standing out and getting noticed, and that’s hard to do if your marketing plan is the equivalent of standing in the middle of Times Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve and trying to make yourself be heard.

What are some examples of Efficient Marketing, and what are the ramifications of thinking about “Doing Something Different?”

First, on doing something different.  It’s ironic that most of us go through life studying what successful folks did and trying to emulate that success by doing the same thing.  The irony is that most of the time, when the successful folks did it, they were doing something different.  By the time we get around to copying them, it’s no longer unique, but we still wonder why copying their formula verbatim doesn’t work.  In this case, the old saw about insanity being the expectation of a different result when we do the same thing tells us that Marketing takes a little bit of craziness.  We expect the same result when we do the same thing, but we should be doing something different to get that successful result!

Assuming that last bit hasn’t gotten you completely confused, let’s delve into Marketing Differently.

As my loyal readers know, I am a huge proponent of Content Marketing.  Content Marketing is still relatively rare, though it is rapidly gaining in popularity.  It is a sub-genre of what Hubspot calls “Inbound Marketing.”  If you make the decision to lead with Content Marketing, you’re already doing something different from the masses.  But, consider how much further you might take it.  Instead of leading with a conventional corporate web site that’s all about you, how about leading with your content that’s all about delivering the value of the content free to people who might one day become your customers?  That’s pretty different, and you can go much further down that path than the Carbon Fiber Gear folks.

If you’re going to focus on Content Marketing, you’ll want to make sure your content has the opportunity to be different.  Are you in a space where there isn’t a lot of quality content available?  Some markets are better about that than others.  The first one to bring premier content to a market lacking in good content will be a big winner that’s hard to unseat because they have the benefit of inertia (they’re in everyone’s blog readers and already receiving the newsletters) and network effects (everyone is already referring others to this wonderful source).  So in the spirit of the 3 problems a startup must solve, check into whether your proposed business has the opportunity to excel with content.

As I have mentioned in the past, App Stores are another way to market differently or market different, as Apple might say.  But not all app stores are equal.  While they are relatively new, and a lot of companies have benefited by being early to the App Store craze, some are getting very crowded.  You’re no longer doing something different if you’re counting on a listing in the Apple app store to get your product noticed.

What to do?

Check this great article on how one game developer is finding the Android store to be more profitable than Apple (thanks Techmeme for bringing me this one!).  According to the article, “Spacetime, which is supported largely by in-app purchases, says its Android users generate 30 to 50 percent more revenue than its iOS users do.”  30 to 50 percent is huge, but why does it happen?  I love the money quote from Gary Gattis, Spacetime’s CEO:

“Android’s a smaller pond for apps right now,” he says. “The support on the Google side has been much more tangible — they’re really trying to nurture the gaming community.”

Bingo–right now, being on Android is doing something different.  As a result, Gattis says Spacetime has stopped advertising on Apple entirely and thrown their whole marketing budget behind Android.  That too is something very likely different.  Most companies love the idea of balanced scorecards–a little bit here, a little bit there, spread the risk.   Unfortunately, where marketing and a lot of other business is concerned, unless you’re already big and protecting your position, spreading the risk isn’t your job.  Take exceptional risk by doing things different and doing them big.  Double down on what works and try another experiment when it doesn’t work.

We’ve got Content Marketing, choosing the less popular App Stores (and potentially platforms), what about some of the common patterns?  For example, stealth launches.  I’m not a big fan.  First, you should be building content day one to attract the audience who will eventually buy your products.  Second, it’s been done to death.  There’s even a service now to automate it for you. With respect to Scoble and LaunchRock, how much is your startup going to accomplish if it does the same thing the last 1000 startups have done and uses a service to homogenize the experience on top of it?

Let’s try some more, rapid fire bullet style:

–  In an age where business views customers as “people with our money in their pockets”, what happens if you take a different and refreshing view of your customers.  By now you must have heard the Zappo’s story of exceptional Customer Service.  Others are catching on, but there’s still plenty of opportunity to be different in how you treat customers.

–  Advertising:  If you must advertise, you’d better do it where others aren’t.  That means finding the long tail keywords if you plan to use AdWords.  Keywords that others haven’t discovered so your ads run where they’ll be noticed and can be placed very cheaply.  How about advertising in specific online forums where your tribe may be found?  This can work if your tribe is focused and there isn’t already a ton of advertising there.  Running a bunch of ads on Facebook probably won’t quality.

–  E-mail campaigns:  Not a big fan of email to get noticed.  In this age of Spam, it’s too easy to do yourself more harm than good.  As a tool to nurture your audience after they’ve asked to be on the list and could opt out at any time, it works.  But look for ways to make your mailings different in some way.

–  Social Media:  Yeah sure, but the opportunity to be different is fast dwindling as everyone gets focused on the new new thing and it suddenly becomes the tired old thing.  As with email, figure out how to be different with Social Media, and realize that folks on the receiving end are even tougher about Social Spam than Email Spam.  What can you offer that is genuinely fresh and isn’t just gaming the Social Web?

–  Snail Mail:  Marketing moves in cycles as the herd seeks to do something different to improve response rates and cut costs.  Snail Mail direct marketing has been around forever, so it has probably seen more of these cycles than any other venue.  If you can strike at a time when the Snail Mail Direct tide has ebbed, you can stand out.  You’re going to have to do something different with the piece you mail and you’re going to have to test it to see whether there has really been an ebb and you can stand out.

–  Viral Marketing:  Everybody loves the idea.  It’s so compelling.  And so hard to realize when it’s your turn to try.  It may be too late to catch this train, unless you can come up with something that is different.  Many people are starting to complain they’ve hit the wall with viral signups.  Many platforms no longer make it easy to go viral on their coattails.  Find a way to be different if you want to succeed here.

The next time you’re sitting in a meeting, hashing through marketing programs, ask, “What’s different?”  If the answer is, “Well this worked for XYZ, they got really big on it,” ask yourself whether it’s too late to jump on that bandwagon because what XYZ did is no longer different.

Ask, “What are we doing to be different?”

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