So I am spending more and more time these days advising concept stage and seed stage startups. And I had an interesting conversation with a pair of entrepreneurs the other day about press releases and marketing. They had reached a significant milestone and put a release on the wire. They were waiting for coverage.
I had the break the news that you don't really get coverage from putting a press release on the wire. You have to work it like this.
Somewhere along the way it came up that they had dropped a low four figure amount on a PR agency to help them with their release and to create a list of potential writers to contact. I love using an agency at the appropriate time but for companies without funding or revenues getting attention is a core competency that someone on the team needs to develop. It will both save you some money and people that write about startups prefer to talk with founders over flacks.
While we were having this discussion one of the founders started having a bit of a text exchange with a writer for a national news website focused on information technology companies from startups to Fortune 1000 firms. Seems he had networked his way to the writer. Hot space. Got same day feature coverage.
While a number of articles have been written on startup naming by the likes of Guy Kawasaki, Jason Calacanis, and Dharmesh Shah, I but together my own simple five point framework for startup name characteristics. I hesitate to call them requirements because in today's day and age if you are going to meet all the requirements it would take a pretty good chunk of change that concept and seed stage companies can not afford.
I will also say this, I am not sure if the company name really matters. If might give you an edge but it may not be a big issue. It is an subject that deserves some serious cycles but if you take a peek at the winners in the Atlanta tech space it is hard to discern if the name matters at all on ultimate company success.
This is the most element to me. A startup name needs to be memorable. To be memorable it needs to be brief. Four syllables or less. Less is good. Think eBay, Google, Netflix, Twitter, and Yahoo!. All two syllables. Two syllable names also seem to have the best verb potential. Dropbox it to me.
Part of the reason is that you don't want the name to become too long is that people will have a tendency to cheat on your name. A great example of this is Internet Security Systems. Great descriptive name, but so long people just called it ISS.
A bigger part of the reason is that you want the brand and word of mouth effects that a memorable name provides. Having a memorable name greatly increases word of mouth marketing potential.
The name needs to be memorable not only to people but to machines. Machines such as search engine crawlers. You want to be sure it is unique enough that you can own it via SEO.
2. Easy to spell and pronounce.
You want someone to be able to spell and say your company name correctly unprompted after hearing it one time. This, along with shortness, are the two most important elements in my book. If it is not obvious know to spell you will spend the rest of your time with the company dictating the letters over the phone every time you talk to someone for the first time or they ask for your email address.
If it is not obvious how to say the name you are going to have a much harder time building a brand. And this may sound a little out there but people have to like the way it makes them feel when they say the name. Xobni does not exactly roll off the tongue with pleasure. You want your name to make people smile.
No hipster buy a vowel names allowed.
3. Reflect product capabilities or be evocative.
Some of biggest brands on the Internet today have names that do not reflect their product capabilities but are evocative. Amazon, Google, eBay, Yahoo.
Some of the biggest brands on the Internet today have product capability names. Facebook, LinkedIn, NetFlix, The Weather Channel.
While I prefer product capability names I will also say this. If you go down the road of your company name reflecting product capabilities it can create issues if you have to pivot. More likely than not you will pivot.
The key to the mark being clear is if it has the potential to create confusion in the marketplace. You find a trademark clear name you should start the process of registering it as soon as you use it in commerce.
5. Able to secure web properties.
You want to be able to obtain the .com domain and the company name on the big three social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) if appropriate for your market. The .com has to be available or available for a price that you are willing to pay, now or at some time in the future. Successful companies cheat on this all the time. Twitter was Twittr. Delicious was Del.ocio.us. Do what you have to do to grow the company and then getting the right web property in the future seems to be a enough common practice that you can pursue it if you have to do so.
It was a fun night. First and foremost Jim Flannery is doing a bang up job of building a startup community in Athens. It was interesting to see what is happening there and will be even more interesting to see how the community evolves.
While we were not technically road tripping, you put a few people in a car for three hours they are going to talk about stuff. Jacqui told me I had to write about my musings during the trip. Here they are.
Growth Hacking Is A Joke It is just another way to say customer acquisition marketing. And don't even get me started on viral marketing. The transmission of viruses does not typically happen through choice.
So Is Customer Discovery I love The Fours Steps to the Epiphany but I have to tell you that customer discovery is simply the first step in marketing. Marketing defined by the man who literally wrote the book on it:
"Marketing is the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market."
The science and art of exploring. Exploring and discovery are such closely related words they are almost synonyms. Customer discovery is just another way to say market research that is a little less intimidating to geeks. The term customer discovery makes marketing research approachable by non-marketers and that does have significant value.
My personal definition of marketing is a bit more straight forward. Figure out what people want and create it. The figuring out what people want is pretty hard.
And a big by the way, the problem with marketing is that most marketers stray from the purpose of the discipline.
Do Things That Don't Scale Somehow or the other we got on the subject of the recent purchase of Jim Beam by Suntory.
A long time ago Jim Bean was one of my customers. So was Maker's Mark (which should be the preferred bourbon of the maker's movement). Maker's Mark in beautiful Loretto, Kentucky. Maker's Mark that sells over a million cases of bourbon a year. Maker's Mark with demand is so high they considered reducing the alcohol strength of the whiskey (it takes a long time to build supply) so that they could keep up with demand. Maker's Mark with the trademarked wax seal.
You know how they apply that wax seal? The bottles are hand dipped by people at the end of the production line. I am sure they could automate the wax application if they wanted to do so. But having those people hand dip is part of the heritage. Part of what makes Maker's special. Part of why I am talking about it now when I observed it more than half a life ago.
Delight does not scale. Sometimes it is better to do things that don't scale. While I have developed my own thinking on this over the years Paul Graham has an excellent essay on the subject.
Atlanta Has Management Talent Someone made the comment that Atlanta has no management talent. I called BS. I could name at least 20 people that are capable of scaling and running a technology business in Atlanta. What Atlanta lacks is viable startup concepts. The city needs better ideas.
Atlanta Has Money If you have a viable concept and a decent entrepreneur or two you can get funded here. I bet we talked about 20 companies that are in the process of raising funds. To be quite frank I seeing things funded here at a stage and valuation that were never seen five years ago. If you want to raise money in Atlanta and can not do so you have to look no further than the mirror to understand the reason why.
"I as read this, I was recalling that these words sounded a lot like the MindSpring manifesto (I was one of the very early MindSpring subscribers) and then I saw who wrote this and laughed."
First of all I love any early customer. However Michael is not exactly right. MindSpring did not have a manifesto per se, we had some values and led with them. But somewhere along the way we did develop a marketing manifesto. Essentially how we wanted to communicate with customers and prospects. If I generalize it looked something like this.
Tell the truth plain and simple.
Avoid ad speak.
Talk with a voice that is your own. Make that voice someone you would want to go up and talk to again and again.
Promise only what you deliver.
Give people something to think about. Have a unique vision for the way the world should work. Let the world know.
Leave no doubt as to what is for sale.
I think it has stood the test of time.
Along with three or four good words and a solid positioning statement I think every technology company needs a marketing manifesto to ensure consistency in their communications. Not sure if the above holds for everyone out there but I could make a strong argument that it is a good place to start.
Every company should have a marketing manifesto. Seventy five words or less.
I don't think so. They are just not doing it right. At nCrowd our directly attributable social conversions are apporaching the referral traffic noted in the report. Of course that means our referral rate is much higher. My only conclusion is that the retailers in the study are not wasting their time investing on social. They have just not tuned the dials to see stronger results yet. They will, and over time the ecommerce traffic from social will rise toward its share of overall Internet use.
So the other day I got into a little conversation on Twitter with Johnson Cook and a few others about the branding of the Atlanta Tech Village. Here is
part of the exchange.
It was somewhat joking banter but there is also an important underlying marketing principle that is worth further discussion.
One of the most important things a small company can do is be
consistent with their marketing message. A core element of messaging is your company's brand name.
While Knox is a smart guy for the people that work at Atlanta Tech Village to
refer to it as ATV is just not a very good practice. And to be frank they are actually pretty good about not doing so though if you roam the halls you will see some signs with ATV this or ATV that. ATV, is it a vehicle or a venture
firm or an accelerator? No one should invite the confusion.
I am so adamant matter about
about I refuse to
use the term HOD to refer to Half Off Depot even in internal communications.
Those internal communications become a habit and make their way into the outside
world. Every time I refer to Half Off Depot I type those nine extra characters.
Don't cheat on your name. Find a good one and say it and type it the same way every time. If it is too
long to completely say or type and you find yourself wanting to shorten it to acronym in your communications you have the
One of the great misperceptions that people in the startup world have when it comes to marketing is that issuing a press release will result in people writing about your news. Nothing is further from the truth. The vast majority of press releases do not result in news coverage. It takes a little more work than that to get noticed. I am going to use the recent Half Off Depot acquisition as a case study.
We closed the deal mid January. We had planned to announce sometime in mid-February. At the Half Off Depot February board meeting turning the transaction into news became a topic of discussion. Here was our general plan.
We were to drop the release at 10:00 am EST on Monday February 11. At that time I personally put it on the wire using PRWeb.
But before putting the release on the wire we reached out to four national technology news outlets that we targeted. We provided them with some details of the release and offered to share it with them under embargo. Embargo tells a reporter they can not publish anything before the embargo time date. You have to slap this on the release in large font red letters. The embargo time/date we used was 9:00 am EST on Monday February 11. This gives a reporter a jump on the release, an opportunity to break the story. It gave us an opportunity to figure out who, if anyone, would be our national lead.
After getting this cranked up and some interest from two of the four targeted nationals I reached out to the trade press. In this case Street Fight and Daily Deal Media. We gave them a 9:30am embargo. I did not want them to dork up the national publication coverage. If a national sees local before they publish more times than not they will kill their story.
I also selected local press in Atlanta and Tampa (home of CrowdSavings) and did the same as with the trade press. In Atlanta I focused more on the Atlanta Journal than the Atlanta Business Chronicle because I thought I could get the former to bite and they are a bigger outlet with broader reach.
We did this ourselves, because if you can get a hold of them, a reporter is much more likely to listen if talking to management instead of a public relations firm.
This all worked.
All Things Digital turned into our national lead, publishing their story at 9:00am. That was picked up by VentureWire. It became a reference point for the locals and trade writers to update their stories. All, to remind you, before Half Off Depot officially released any news. This was also picked up by Pando, another of our target national outlets.
So it worked. The key is talking to reporters who you think might have an interest before you issue a release. I am not really sure you need the release at all. It is mostly a tool used as a basis to start a conversation with reporters about your news.
If it works for me, and I have seen this type of thing work countless times, it will work for you.
Update: My dear friend and marketing maven Erika Brookes provided great strategic directon on how to get news coverage of the CrowdSavings transaction. Or put another way, she told me how she would approach it and I did what she said.
As a company grows and starts to gain a little traction in the marketplace a wealth of partnership marketing opportunities can be pursued. These are business development channel type deals that can get a small but growing company much broader distribution and market credibility by associating with larger brand names if the right partners are chosen.
The key point being the last sentence. Once you reach a certain scale a small technology company needs to focus on continuing to grow by pursuing deals with larger companies that can give them more credibility and reach.
This week was pretty exciting at Half Off Depot. Google announced that they were expanding their Offers program to include more cities and more deal partners. Half Off became one of 30 Google Offer partners. We have long considered ourselves to be a top ten participant in the online deal market so this in some way validates our position. And given the number of deal companies out there that puts us in pretty elite company.
But the same response from almost everyone that I talk to about the deal is this. "Google Offers is a competitor, why do you want to work with them? Aren't you worried about Google stealing your customers or merchants?"
The answer to the latter is not really. The Google folks seem ernest and well intentioned. They are very professional and responsive. They care more about the customer experience then about money.
The answer to the former is that it seems to be a really good fit. Half Off Depot has a sales team that is second to none backed by a behind the scenes service offering that is really interesting to merchants and a unique approach to the space. This enables us to secure great local deals. Google is Google. They have unsurpassed reach on the Internet. A vast audience. When you combine our great local deals with Google's vast reach I think there is a way there is a way for us to work together to help both of our causes.
So we did the deal. It has great promise. Sometimes doing a deal with a competitor is the right thing to do.
Beyond the potential of the Google partnership itself the deal signals something even greater. Half Off Depot has grown to the point where there are a number of logical partnership opportunities. Time to pursue them.
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The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone (with the exception of comments by others of course). They do not represent the opinion or position of any other person or entity. All postings adhere to my personal values.