As we ate the Spring rolls last night in Mountain View, the core team was ebullient. Their first game was on track to launch in March, and the office and apartment space we toured fit their budget. When the spicy Vietnamese fish soup arrived, our talk turned to plans for communicating to the world the arrival of their company and the launch of its first game. By the time the desert treats were consumed, we knew a lot more work remained to be done to prepare the stories about the company and the launch of the first game. I told them "This kind of work always makes my head hurt, it is not easy." They agreed.
Marketing communications is the work required to prepare the start-up's message and its delivery to the ideal customer and other stakeholders.
Marcom, as it is dubbed, requires a lot of work to prepare the message and to plan its targeted delivery. It calls for boldness, courage and creativity as well as skill executing the marcom plan. Together that makes it very difficult to do well, especially for first-timers.
Naive founders expect to simply launch a product, tell their Facebook friends and watch it "go viral" immediately. In the real world the likely hood of that happening is close to zero.
Serial entrepreneurs plan their marketing communications months in advance and use it to gain the upper hand in the competitive race they are in. That's how they became serial entrepreneurs (instead of serial start-up terminators).
Here are some tips about what is so hard and what to do about it when working on your start-up's marcom plan:
- You have two messages to craft: one about the company, the other about the product that will be launched. They are different.
- Your company must be focused on winning a new market category (words). Search is taken (Google) as is social networking (Facebook). The wars are still raging for who will win dominance of new markets such as location-based services (Foursquare is in the lead) and digital retail product coupons (GroupOn is running fast). Each new market gets a new name. Yours must also.
- Your message must be unique. No other company must be able to use it.
- The message has to be short. One short sentence, a few words, is all that is allowed. If you are using a lot of sentences to explain your positioning, you have not yet completed your work. Short is hard. But is powerful. You must do it.
- New words and new metaphors are most likely. These are words that were crafted to label new market categories: motel (motor + hotel); rental car; micro-processor; desktop publishing; smart phone; social networking. Those are not just "cool" names, nor are they simply clever. They are what worked to tell people that a new category had arrived. Your start-up must fit into such a new category. You may have to invent a name to label it.
- Marcom is psychological. It triggers emotions. The message must fit an empty slot in the brain of the end user.
All of that requires hard work to craft. And then you have to have a plan to execute, to deliver your message.
- List the top 12 bloggers you want to hear your message. You need to get them to write about your launch and the company.
- What traditional media such as newspapers (Wall Street Journal) and magazines (Wired) do you want to carry your story?
- Which trade shows should you attend? Which booth should your start-up be in (e.g join a strategic partner's booth).
- What events should you join or create? These can be on-line or on the ground.
- Which Facebook groups should know about your start-up and its first product?
- How will you use your professional contacts (e.g. Linked-in) and personal ties (e.g. Facebook)?
- What is the calendar for your messaging? What months will you do what things to promote your message?
- What is your $ cash budget for marcom? Will you use a PR firm? Who and what's the cost? What will the travel costs be? And so on.
Yes, this is a lot of work. But it is central to winning via Marketing. Without a great marcom plan, you will launch your first product into the wind and wait and wait and wait and wait for people to notice. With a great marcom plan, you will start your engine and propel your message to the ideal customer and end user, bloggers and the media. You will be in charge, in control. Going viral is about hard work, not luck.
And a final tip: Test your marcom messaging by challenging each other to write the headlines to the blogs and stories you want writers and reporters to use when first talking about your start-up.
BOTTOM LINE: Plan on spending lots of hard, long hours preparing your company and product message. Crafting the details of words and dates and spending takes lot of time. Put your emotions into it. Expect to be discouraged along the trail to completion. Keep at it until your friends rave at your message. Continue until you are confident the media will say "Wow!" to your company and product. That is what this is all about: figuring out what to say to people so they can't wait to pass it on to friends. That's how you go viral. Marcom plans are critical to building an unfair advantage. You can do it. I'm sure of that.
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!