June 12, 2014

Five Ways to Add Sizzle to Your Startup’s Story

By Mark Evans

In my last post, I talked about how most startups aren’t that interesting or, for that matter, newsworthy. Even startups with good products may not have the goods or sex appeal to attract media or blog coverage.

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But there’s still hope for startup intent on capturing the spotlight. With creativity, agility and luck, it is possible for a startup to add some much-needed sizzle. And even it doesn’t attract the media and bloggers, the exercise will make your startup more interesting.

Here are some tips on how be more interesting:

1. Discover how your startup is different or unique: While most startups have plenty of competitors with similar products, it is still possible to identify how to stand out from the crowd. You’re looking for any kind of angle to stand apart from the crowd. It could be the founder’s personal background, why they created the startup, or how the original idea morphed into something completely different.

Freshbooks emerged after Michael McDerment couldn’t find an online invoicing service. A client created an online property management platform because he lived in a condo with bad services. The key is identifying things to separate your startup from the pack.

2. Play off the news: When news is happening, you want to make yourself part of the story in some way. With the media spotlight on a particular event, reporters and bloggers are looking for different ways to provide insight or context into a story. This is where an opportunistic startup can position itself as a participant in some way.

This approach requires creativity and agility because you need to move quickly. StickerYou, for example, is looking to capitalize on the World Cup and the interest in collectible stickers. Key lesson: When news happens, jump on it.

3. Position your startup as a part of a bigger story: Too many startups are intent on being the story but don’t have enough of a story to pull it off. A better approach is positioning themselves as part of a bigger trend. This usually involves talking about other companies, including rivals. But it’s better to participate in a larger story than not part of a story at all. Here’s an example: With the recent Ontario election, it was an opportunity for an online voting startup to talk about how elections could be digitized.

4. Put your successes in the spotlight (and celebrate them): The media likes two kinds of stories: negative and positive. Everything in between is not interesting because there is no drama. For startups, success is a seductive creature for the media and bloggers. Everyone likes a story about how David outflanked Goliath, or how a scrappy, little company won the hearts and minds of customers.

A good example is WattPad, which battled away for several years before becoming one of the leading story creation platforms. It wasn’t that long ago that WattPad struggled to get the spotlight; today, it’s the belle of the ball.

5. Build relationships with reporters and bloggers: This isn’t a particularly sexy strategy because it involves a slow process to win the trust, confidence and faith of reporters and bloggers.

It is a process that happens slowly because it’s about nurturing relationships as opposed to quick wins. It happens during conferences and coffee meetings, and by offering insight with no expectations of coverage. At some point, a reporter or blogger will see your startup differently than other startups trying to get their attention. When the right time comes, your relationship will deliver dividends and coverage.

For startups looking to jump-start their marketing, I provide strategic and tactical services – core messaging, brand positioning, marketing strategies and content creation.

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