We live in a world of noise. The proliferation of digital channels means we see many more marketing messages than we did in the past, when there were four (or even three TV) channels. This partnered with the fact that many people’s response to this is to try to reduce that noise through spam filters, ad blockers and PVRs just makes it harder for new companies to be noticed by potential customers.
For anyone looking to make sure their start-up stands out in the market, there are two simple rules. First, you have to be different. Second, people have to know you’re different.
If you’ve recently invested in a start-up, you’re probably pretty confident your due diligence has taken care of the first part. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s more than one way to be different. The reason customers come to your business may not be the one you think. And the reason they come back may not be the reason they tried your product or service in the first place.
One of the benefits of Eric Ries’ Lean Start-Up approach is that by focusing the business outward, on what customers and users are saying, it keeps matters like these high on the agenda.
Understanding your customers’ behaviour is key to part two. It means you can talk about what you do with confidence, knowing it is what existing customers appreciate. By continually checking what those customers are saying, you know whether or not you’re meeting their expectations. Furthermore, you can also identify new areas in which you can make yourself distinctive, maybe in the quality of your customer service, for example. All of this feeds your word-of-mouth on social media.
However, this is only half the story. The other half is branding. Brands are the stories that we tell each other, and ourselves, about the products and services we buy. Faced with similar offerings, those stories are the reasons we make our choices and they can be powerful enough to overcome significant barriers, such as markedly higher prices.
For start-ups operating on limited resources, it is important to remember that whilst branding might have once been synonymous with big budgets, this is no longer the case. Brands nowadays are built step-by-step, at every point of contact between the company and its customer base. Therefore, every decision you make has repercussions for your brand, from your choice of suppliers to the way you talk about yourself.
This means two things: there needs to be an understanding of what your brand is and what it stands for, and there needs to be someone in the company whose job is to consider these things from a brand, as well as a customer perspective. Because although you need to be different, only when you understand your customers can you make the crucial decision about how different they need you to be.