When you think of a business niche, certain names immediately come to mind. Ridesharing – Uber or Lyft. Cool accommodations around the world – Airbnb. Restaurant reviews and food ordering – Zomato. Dating – Tinder or Grindr depending on your preferences.
The question is – how do you achieve the household-name status or at least become the go-to recommendation within a smaller market? Growing a large user base is just part of the equation. A strong, memorable brand is the second critical part of the equation.
Recently, I had a chance to speak with Daniel Wallock – a savvy, twenty-something entrepreneur and marketing expert, who became the go-to consultant for big name clients (Amazon Studios, BMW, American Heart Association) before even turning twenty-one.
Photo Credit: Madeleine Hale
But here’s another curious fact about Daniel – he was born with several congenital heart conditions and had to undergo multiple open-heart surgeries in his youth. Like no one else, he knows how precious and limited his time may be. Hence, he started working on his career really early in life to become an expert as early as possible.
In the interview below, Daniel shares his tips on creating and growing a memorable brand for your company and earning the status as an authority within your niche.
A lot of startups blow their marketing budgets during the launch and afterward tend to go flat in terms of retaining and engaging the acquired users. After the initial product hype is down, how should a brand new company proceed with its marketing?
I’ve worked with a lot of companies that go all out on marketing during their launch, but once their initial goals are achieved, they stop responding to their customers’ tweets, emails, and Instagram comments and simply “go with the flow.”
But post-launch, it is even more important to continue engaging with your audience to build up that viral effect, instead of letting the hype go flat.
When I talk about engaging, I’m not saying just clicking ‘like’ on your comments or sending out “Thanks!” notes. It’s more about personally reaching out to your users and making them feel appreciated and heard.
I particularly like how Seth Godin talks about building your tribe. You build your tribe by giving. People want to feel you are easily accessible and genuinely curious. People want to buy from people that they like. And they want to buy from brands they like and can relate to. In these respects, you are building business relationships based on the same values as friendships: trust, generosity, loyalty, common interests. These values should be organically integrated in your further marketing and CX.
Let’s take Eon Scooters Indiegogo campaign as an example. After raising $400.000 they chose to extend their campaign and responded to almost every Indiegogo comment, Facebook comment, and tweet shared by their supporters. Because of this consistent engagement, which also included providing updates every week, gathering feedback through backer polls to improve product development, they eventually managed to raise over $1,000,000 and arguably push their name to every possible customer out there.
The lesson here is obvious – listen to your audience post-launch. They can tell you a lot about how to improve your product further, personalize it up to their ultimate liking, and market that solution to their peers.
At this point, branding starts mattering more, right? After all, there will always be a Lyft for your Uber and a number of other competitors targeting the same market.
Exactly! You must think how you will stand out post-launch.
Here’s a quick story back from the days when I was working with BMW i Ventures and sourcing startups for them. The pool of companies was huge and to weed out the weak prospects, we immediately discarded startups that:
- had no background story relating to their product and/or team
- had unprofessional logos/websites
- portrayed inconsistent brand messages
You see, I automatically feel skeptical if a company doesn’t present itself well. I mean, investors and users need a seamless, easy, and professional introduction to your product or service; they should not have to question your basic presentation.
Generally, if you’re a startup, nobody knows you. You need to earn that trust from consumers. Looking and sounding professional across different channels, leveraging strategic partnerships with bigger companies and showing what your company stands for are essential for attracting new users and helping them spread the word for you.
Get them to speak your brand lingo. I’m sure you can easily identify these slogans:
- “A ride whenever you need it”
- “Experiencing a city like a local”
- “Where work happens”
In terms of Uber and Lyft, they are both competing for almost the exact same customers. However, they have branded themselves quite differently from the very start. Uber has positioned itself to appeal to those who want private drivers and more luxurious ride. Lyft has tried to position itself as a friendly and fun alternative experience for those looking to get around their area. Their branding and messages correspond to their differing goals.
Both Uber and Lyft are surviving because they initially targeted different users, the market for ridesharing is massive, and they have both invested a ton of money into building compelling brands that people want to talk about and get associated with. Uber has permeated the culture so much that it has become used as a verb in everyday life: “I will uber over!”
What about personal branding? Should a founder act as a spokesperson for their company, have an active social media presence and so on?
Startup founders usually have a massive mountain ahead of them – pitching VCs, building up revenues, product development, and all that jazz.
Building an online presence is surely important to push your name in front of the right people and appear accessible to your users. But, it all boils down to setting the right priorities. Building a great product and scaling your company should come prior to focusing too heavily on your personal brand.
If you can afford to have “personal hours” with your fans, do it. But be selective about the opportunities heading your way. Agreeing to each interview request, AMA, or Google Hangout session with your customers can eat up a good chunk of your productive time, which could be put towards building new product features instead. Not everyone can be Elon Musk :)
Yet being active on social media can help you gather better feedback from both potential customers and investors, land some partnership/collaboration opportunities, and so on. If possible, try to delegate certain routines and to devote your personal attention only to the important matters.
Alex Berman, founder of Experiment 27, does a great job here. He keeps producing content on social media, but also doesn’t lag behind on scaling his business further. I admire his content a lot: He tweets lots of relevant industry news, engages directly on Youtube with all the commenters, and appears highly accessible.
You are being pretty open about yourself online too. Do you think getting so personal publicly is a good or bad thing for one’s brand?
I’ve done interviews with both The Huffington Post and Forbes, in which I’ve talked very publicly about my heart conditions. In both cases, my business acquaintances told me that they were both shocked and envious when it comes to my risk tolerance. Other people might see my transparency, my honesty, as risky, but I feel that it is very important in eliciting trust and forging relationships.
A lot of young entrepreneurs look up to Gary Vee because he is honest enough to say how much he loves to win, but he is also honest enough to say how hard it is sometimes to keep grinding. At times he is overly confident and at times he might even seem a little harsh, but in certain respects we all see ourselves in him, he is human. Nowadays it is harder and harder to stand out without getting personal about who we are and what we care about. Sharing personal information, as long as it helps you build out your brand story, can be a really great way to build your own passionate tribe.
What about business transparency in general? How open the startup’s culture should be and how to “keep things real”? It’s been a hard beat for Uber since one of their former employees revealed some serious issues that had been conveniently swept under the rug from the public eye.
I’m advocating for maximum transparency, especially within startups. Employees at startups should know the company’s key performance indicators and how much progress they are making week-by-week. When things go awry, the founders shouldn’t be withholding the information either. Of course, your team doesn’t have to know every tiny detail, but it tends to make the crowd feel safer if they do know the company’s key metrics.
As for Uber, it is indeed facing a major crisis. Travis Kalanick responded pretty quickly to the claims Susan Fowler made on her blog and started the official investigations. However, regaining customer trust from this point will be much harder despite the outcome.
I suppose that the most graceful way of handling a situation like this one is being open step by step with both the public and with your employees about how you’re dealing with the situation and what the final resolutions will be.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.