The first thing any marketing or advertising wizard must know about branding for entrepreneurs is that entrepreneurs have no money.
It can be a self-funded start-up or a start-up with a $100 million funding or a start-up that has bagged some of the largest VCs in the world. They still have no money, essentially no money to spare. There are millions of things to spend the money on - to build the next iteration of the product, for customer acquisitions, for market acquisitions and the list goes on.
The second thing that the marketing wizard must understand is that the entrepreneur expects you to do a brilliant job that makes his company and him stand out against the largest players in his segment. This is because there is really no brand recall. It is a start-up. No one knows the founder/s. The marketing person has to brand the entrepreneur and his company to build recognition and create a positive vibe so that when he goes to customers, they give him the time of day.
Crucially, the branding of the start-up is, more often than not, closely intertwined with the branding of the founder. Now, when you pick up Dettol, you really don’t care who the Marketing Head for Dettol is or when you buy an LG TV, you don’t really care a whit about Koo Bon-joon, but Elon Musk is as big as Tesla. Sachin Bansal, despite being low key, is as famous as his company. Entrepreneurs and their behaviour very often define the brand. Today, the chaos with Facebook and the low level of trust that Facebook has is in many ways a by-product of how Mark Zuckerberg behaves.
An article in Team Your Story rightly points out, “What most entrepreneurs fail to grasp is that it is not only their company that needs branding. For a consumer, the company is synonymous with its maker.” While large companies can afford to brand just one product, having already built their brand equity, an early stage entrepreneur has to brand himself, his company, and his product, and at the same time, build his community of staff and clients. He has to be viewed as an expert in his field and do the hard yards to gain the respect of his peers, the trust of his investors, and the loyalty of his clients/customers.
So, how does one brand oneself on a shoestring budget?
Start-ups are leveraging digital marketing effectively and marketing themselves to drive brand awareness and sales. Here are a few examples. Flipkart, owned by Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, is one of India’s largest e-commerce portals selling a wide range of products. Flipkart came up with a campaign to create a buzz around their revamped mobile application and increase new users. They used the hashtag #DoThumbThing to get people to use their app. The idea of this campaign was that people use their thumb to do almost all their activities on their phone, so why not shopping? Using “Thumb mein hain dum” or the power of the thumb, they directed their customers to their app, and made them use their thumb to unlock discounts and other goodies and shop on their app. They also engaged their buyers by fun activities like asking them to tweet how their thumb changed the world and win a power bank (a utility gift) and also Instagram a photo of their decorated thumb with the hashtag “Do Thumb Thing” and win prizes. Their campaign was successful; their app got an overall rating of 4.3 in Play Store with almost 10-50 million downloads.
Another interesting way the social media was used to build a brand was the #ChaloNiklo (let’s go out) campaign of Ola, a popular car booking app owned by Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati. Ola has almost 40,000 cars across 22 Indian cities and this figure is growing. The brand leveraged
Twitter and Facebook by posting engaging photo ads and video ads featuring content of their #ChaloNiklo campaign. By generating a buzz around this hashtag, they directed people to their website with link ads in the news feed and right column and ran mobile app ads to drive people directly to their mobile app.
The timing of ads is important. One can link content with popular events to make one’s ads trend instantly. Ola did this with its “Types of Fans” hashtag campaign run during the Indian Premier League, Season 5. By doing this, they engaged their drivers and riders by offering the former’s perspective of different types of cricket fans. Their amusing videos and Twitter contest struck a chord with a cricket crazy country and drove the cricket fans to their app.
Even a corporate doesn’t need to spend much on ads. Hemas, a diversified conglomerate of Sri Lanka, branded itself effectively by its app. As one of the largest pharmaceutical distribution company, which owns a few hospitals, it started an app called Ayubo.live. Now, the market is flooded with lifestyle and wellness apps offering free health consultations, dietary supplements, medicines, health advice, fitness gadgets, and products to count calories and measure activities etc. In such a saturated space, the challenge was to attract users to its app. Ayubo.live came up with an interesting activity-based campaign called “W2K” or Walk to Kandy, the country’s largest reward-based walkathon from its capital Colombo to the beautiful hill station of Kandy, to do this. It involved a prize of 10 lakhs. The walkathon was for 25 days (around 170,000 steps). People started using this app as with every 1000 steps they took, a discount offer or a gift in Ayubo.live app was unlocked. This made the people health conscious (they started counting calories and measuring the steps they took per day) and it also directed them into using this app to buy health-based products and gadget sold on the app. Further, health food companies like New Zealand’s Fonterra, started advertising. Simultaneously, there was an increase in customer traffic and ad revenue generation.
Branding campaigns need to be unique. Another recent example of such a branding campaign is that of the mattress maker, Casper. While all mattresses promise to offer comfort, Casper launched the chatbot, Insomnobot-3000 to offer virtual company to those who could not sleep at night. Its homey message was that while it could not guarantee sleep, it could guarantee company. Thus, Casper positioned itself as a company genuinely concerned about its customers. The brand was perceived to be practical and transparent.
The “father of advertising”, David Ogilvy, had said in his famous essay on selling Agha cookers (AGA ovens) that those who can make people laugh, can make them buy what they are selling. This does not mean one has to be a comedienne. What he meant was that while selling something, one needs to engage people at the human, emotional level. Preachy (“this is how things should be done”) and pompous (“we are the best at what we do”) advertisements won’t cut the mustard. Perception-building advertisements need to be interesting to attract investors and customers. Intelligent advertising on a limited budget is the challenge of branding. One has to know how best to use technology to appeal to human emotions. As Ogilvy said, “The good salesman combines the tenacity of a bulldog with the manners of a spaniel. If you have charm, ooze it.”
The first advertisement on Dollar Shave Club by its founder, Michael Dubin, which was released on YouTube, combined humour with product information in such a way that he managed to break the internet without breaking the bank. This ad gave the company instant brand recall. Dubin’s humourous and straightbat style burnished his company’s image.
Start-ups need all the help they can get. The shop-worn line of “follow passion, not money” is easy for those who come from cushy backgrounds to spout. Start-ups need the money to invest in their passion. Most don’t have godfathers or fall-back options and work round-the-clock to get the job done. They cannot afford big-buck PR events to host influencers or run large print ads or hoardings. They need to rely on the social media and make their branding campaigns work. To appeal in this format of the media, one has to be less wordy with one’s content though content is extremely important. It is not about how much you say but what you say and how you say it. Activity-based content, which serves a recreational or utilitarian purpose, is one way to get your customers to click with you.