In the glorious Web 2.0 startup world that many of us live in there’s a lot of noise. To stand out from the noise, startups need to do more to draw attention. Some startups are great at this. The folks at Xobni for example. They blog, use video, and spend a good amount of time promoting themselves. And much of that was done pre-launch.
Most startups don’t really have a comprehensive strategy for generating buzz and marketing. To a degree, this is understandable — they’re focused on building the product. And the strategy of “build a product people want to talk about” still holds plenty of water. Build something people really love and that might be all the marketing you need.
Chances are, even with a product people love, you’ll need to generate buzz. Here are 5 tips and tools for marketing your startup:
- Build Up Your Own Profile. Many of the most-talked-about startups are run by people who are high profile. These are people who work very hard to build their own personal profiles and brands. They’re promoting themselves as a means of promoting their companies. Focus on building trust, reputation and thought leadership, even at a small scale, and you’ll see results.
One of the masters of this approach is Mitch Joel. He’s everywhere in the web marketing scene and that provides incredible exposure (and you can be sure business) for his company Twist Image.
You don’t want to run a faceless startup.
- Participate Locally. In Silicon Valley where the startup ecosystem is so strong, this may not be an issue, but elsewhere startups aren’t participating enough at a local level. Sure, your client base isn’t exclusively local (or based there at all) but participating locally within the startup community has many advantages. Primarily, you’re building goodwill amongst your local peers; people who are more inclined to help out for the heck of it, to see a local success story. You’re building up friends, ones you’ve met face-to-face, who can spread the word, create buzz and provide leverage for further marketing efforts down the road.
- Start a Company Blog. There’s really no reason you shouldn’t have a blog. Yes, everyone and their cousin’s dog is blogging, but it remains an effective way to build buzz. Company blogs are interesting because they don’t just represent the voice of a single person; they represent the voice of a company. This is certainly different from a personal blog, and even different from many business blogs run by consultants, freelancers, etc. There are plenty of great examples of company blogs, including Demand Satisfaction! and Voodoo Ventures.
- Use Video. Video is hot, there’s no two ways about it. And startups can use video quite easily to get viral attention. This approach is more “shot in the dark” than a blog (which really should be a long-term, organic marketing strategy) but it’s worth trying. Connected Ventures kicked ass with their lip dub video. Humor works best, as we see with the Freshbooks video job ad. The guys at Thoof did a great job with an Apple spoof ad, comparing themselves to digg.
- Submit to Startup Listing Sites. Certainly, getting on TechCrunch, Mashable, CenterNetworks or one of the other big blogs that cover startups is great, but there’s no shortage of smaller players in this space that can build awareness and drive traffic. For example, KillerStartups allows anyone to submit a startup, and the community votes on it. I’ve heard several good reports of the traffic it can send. Other sites include Go2Web20, Listio, Simple Spark, StartupSquad and Feed My App.
One of the biggest challenges in marketing and generating buzz is to sustain it. Very few companies can ever accomplish this. Instead, they make some noise at launch only to disappear shortly thereafter. If you have a consumer app (like Twitter for example) that gains popularity and continues growing quickly, you have a good chance of sustaining and even increasing buzz, because consumers will keep talking. But this is a rare case, indeed.
Don’t just think about generating buzz and marketing at launch — think about how to sustain and grow your marketing efforts over time.
Quick Tip: Shortly after launch (whether in alpha or beta or “for real”) make sure you have a fairly major product announcement. Give it 2-3 weeks and then announce major feature upgrades. That will give you a chance to catch the fading spark of buzz you generated at launch and turn it into a second firestorm.