Creating Buzz for a Start-Up

Stephen DeAngelis

January 06, 2011

Rosalind Resnick, a small business consultant, reports that all of her clients face the same challenge: “How to get the marketplace to sit up and pay attention.” Her answer is: “Be the brand.” [“Me & My Brand: Lively Entrepreneurs Ring Up Sales,” Wall Street Journal, 4 October 2010]. She begins her article with the story of a man who billed himself as the “Tire King” and dressed in all sorts of costumes and tried all sorts of antics to get people into his store. It worked. Resnick continues:

“I’m not advising you to put on a cape and crown and belt it out on cable. What I am suggesting is that you figure out what your company stands for and start leveraging your personal brand. Once you get past your fear of making a fool of yourself, the rest is pretty simple.”

Rather than provide a list of tips about how to generate buzz through branding, Resnick highlights five entrepreneurs “who’ve managed to take their unique personalities and turn them into money-making brands.” The entrepreneurs come from a variety of fields but they all share a couple of things in common — they are successful and well-known. They are: Barbara Corcoran, Richard Branson, Donald Trump, Mario Batali, and Cesar Millan.

Resnick reports that “Ms. Corcoran built … a $5 billion [real estate] business in part by splashing her photo across billboards, newspaper spreads and city buses. After selling the company for $66 million inCorcoran Barbara 2001, Ms. Corcoran wrote a memoir called ‘If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails’ that became a national best-seller and turned her into a sought-after media personality.” Richard Branson, best known for his Virgin Branson brands, garnered headlines “attempting to break speed and distance records in boats and hot-air balloons. … Mr. Branson prominently displays the Virgin logo every time he makes a record-breaking attempt, intertwining his personality with his company.” Donald Trump may be the king of self-promotion. Resnick calls him “a flamboyant real-estate developer with an ego as big as the city that spawned him.” As she notes, “he’s slapped the Trump name and logo on hotels, casinos, resorts and luxury apartment complexes in New York, Atlantic City, Las Vegas andTrump Donald clear beyond.” Resnick crowns Mario Batali “America’s king of Italian cuisine.” He Batali Mario clear created buzz through branding, Resnick reports, “using the Food Network (‘Molto Mario,’ ‘Iron Chef America’) as his platform, Mr. Batali has teamed up with business partner Joe Bastianich to build a restaurant and culinary empire that spans New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Singapore.” Almost everyone has heard of “The Dog Whisperer,” aka Cesar Millan. “In 2004, Mr. Millan’s series, Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, premiered on the National Geographic Channel,Milan Cesar clear becoming the network’s top-rated show in its first season.” Resnick concludes:

“What’s the secret to leveraging your personal brand? Think about it this way: If your company was a T-shirt, what would it say? ‘Service With a Smile,’ ‘Expensive But Worth It,’ ‘Rock-Bottom Ricky’ or ‘Last-Minute Louie?’ Or would it be a plain white shirt that lets your customers write all over it? As an old editor of mine at The Herald used to say, ‘If you don’t know the headline, you don’t know the story.’ The same is true of personal brands.”

Sunayna Malik, managing director for Text 100 India, a global public relations firm, has her own ideas about how to create buzz through branding [“Unleash Social Media to Build Your Brand,” Wall Street Journal, 9 December 2010]. As the headline for her column states, Malik believes in the power of social media. She writes:

“For most, if not all, start-ups the challenge of building a brand is integral to the success of the venture. In the past, the expense involved in doing this has been prohibitive. Without a doubt, social media allows start-ups to build a brand presence faster and cheaper than ever before, and in many instances can help level the playing field against larger and more established competitors.”

Malik offers five “principles” that should be used when developing a social media strategy. The first principle involves the worldwide web:

1. Search is King — Studies have shown again and again that search engines and directories provide better results than other forms of online advertising. Frankly, if your company is not found in the top 30 rankings of a search engine (and many would say even higher), you’re really invisible on the web. It’s critical to know what terms and language your customers are using and reflect that in your online activities. Use the words your customers are using on your website, in your tweets and so forth.”

Milind Mody, founder and CEO of eBrandz, an Indian search marketing company, agrees completely with this first principle [“SEO Strategies for Startups,” Wall Street Journal, 23 November 2010]. He offers six tips to help you improve your search engine optimization (SEO):

Keyword Research — One of the biggest mistakes I see start-ups (or, for that matter, even larger companies) make is in the keyword selection process. … The mistake they make is to ‘select’ a Broad Match and not an ‘exact’ match. For all SEO purposes, you need to consider only the ‘Exact’ match numbers. I would advise going one step further and running a small ‘Adwords’ campaign for your website. That will give you the most accurate data as to which keywords get you leads or sales. Once you have this data, you can start using it for SEO.

Adding Content — Content is king. But most people are puzzled over how to add content to their websites. Do a keyword research and find out what problems people face in your industry. Once you know the problems or questions people ask before a purchase, use those as the basis for creating content. You can then upload this content, perhaps to your blog. This will ensure that you add relevant content to your website.

Going Social — Once you add content, you can also summarize the content and post it with a link to your blog on your Facebook page and to your Twitter account. This will make your website active on social websites, which these days play an important role in Google rankings.

Going places with Local — … Local search has become a very important factor in getting your business visibility on the first page of Google. So make sure you submit your listing to all major local search engines. … Make sure you submit it to the right categories and also use your keywords if possible in the business title and description. Utilize all the features of the local submissions and enhance the listing wherever possible. But submission by itself is not enough. You need to try to get good customer reviews on these local search engine and review websites. If customers are happy, ask them to share their experience on the review sites.

Getting Links — One of the most frustrating and time-consuming tasks of doing SEO is getting links to your website. But getting links is also one of the most important aspects of SEO. So how do you get the links? Start with submissions to free website directories. Write informative articles about your industry and submit them to important article directories. Make sure you use your keywords in the article and link back to important pages on your website using those keywords. … If you really want to generate a lot of links then create a free tool or service. And share it with bloggers. They can start reviewing your tool or service which will spread awareness and get you traffic and links from other websites.

Analyze it — Most people go wrong in not analyzing their SEO effectiveness. Install Google Analytics or any other free analytics service to see your traffic sources and which keywords and websites and search engines bring you maximum traffic and leads or sales. Make sure you create Google and Bing webmaster tool accounts as they will also provide you invaluable information about your website.”

Those are some pretty good suggestions in helping you follow Malik’s first principle. Her second principle deals with the creation of media content. She continues:

2. Develop Your ‘Owned’ Media — There are social media channels over which you have a lot of control and they typically include your brand’s web site, Facebook page, Twitter stream, blog and YouTube channel. Unfortunately for a lot of businesses, simply creating these sites is viewed as the sum total of their social media strategy. But the days of ‘if you build it, they will come’ are over, and you need to bring customers to these sites by encouraging conversation and participation.”

Luke Johnson, an entrepreneur and columnist for the Financial Times recommends getting some expert advice when developing your owned media [“A good PR consultant is worth the money,” Financial Times, 7 December 2010]. He writes:

“Today every chief executive needs to understand PR and how to make the best use of it. … PR is not advertising: journalists usually only cover items they think will interest their readers, viewers and listeners – and they will put their perspective on it. That means you and your PR adviser must generate real news stories, facts and interviews – with a hook. … If you decide to embrace PR to promote your business – and I recommend every business does – then prepare to get involved personally. The media likes start-up entrepreneurs, so don’t be shy. Use an agency to gain access to the press, bloggers and so forth, but then tell the tale yourself, because no one can sell your product better.”

Malik’s third principle recommends targeting your message and focusing your attention on individuals or groups that have broad influence over others. She writes:

3. Know Where Influence Lies — It’s critical to know your audience and establish where conversations are taking place and where the influential discussions and people are, so that activity can be prioritized effectively. This is particularly essential for start-ups with tight and limited resources. A key element of this is to determine which channels and individuals amplify your messages and help to energize your brand.”

Recently, I have attended several conferences that draw representatives from the types of large consumer package goods manufacturers that Enterra Solutions is trying to attract as customers. I have been very pleased with the contacts I’ve made on those occasions. I agree with Malik that being in touch with the right audience is critical to success. Her fourth principle involves reaching beyond your “owned accounts” to outlets that can help you spread your message. She continues:

4. Drive Conversations Between Owned and Other Media — You need to build a trusted and relevant role in the communities you have identified as important, by adding real value and conversing freely. There needs to be consistent engagement, including checking channels regularly and commenting on a regular basis. … As long as this discussion adds value to the community and is relevant and authentic, it will be welcome. A key distinction to make is that you should not be selling, but rather talking about your company, a subtle but crucially important difference.”

Malik is correct. Reporters are looking for stories that attract readers, listeners, or viewers. Sales pitches don’t accomplish that for them. Good interviews inevitably attract interest and generate opportunities where sales pitches can be made. Malik’s final principle is focused on collaboration.

5. Build a Community of Advocates — Engage and energize your customers so that they do your promotional work for you. Brands open the door, but people close it, so if you can create a community that is enthused and engaged by your product and services, the return on investment should be clear.”

Malik is spot on. Enterra Solutions has been very fortunate. We created the Enterra Supply Chain Assurance Platform™ (ESCAPE™) in collaboration with Conair Corporation. Executives at Conair have been extremely helpful assisting us to get the message out about the effectiveness of ESCAPE in reducing retailer penalties. To learn more about ESCAPE, read my post entitled Supply Chain Digest Highlights the Enterra Supply Chain Assurance Platform™ (ESCAPE™). Malik concludes:

“Of course, social media isn’t a silver bullet and a poorly executed and misdirected social media strategy is as bad or possibly even worse than no social media engagement at all. It’s important to start out by asking some key questions: ‘What do we want to sell?’, ‘Whom do we want to sell it to?’; ‘What’s important to our audience?’; ‘Which channels influence this decision?’ As long as you are clear on the answers and act accordingly, a strong online brand presence is yours for the taking.”

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal answered a readers question — “I’m a freelancer looking to build a company around my services. What tips can you offer for creating a solid brand? — by asking five young entrepreneurs what they would recommend [“Creating a Brand for a New Business,” 14 December 2010]. The answers provided reflect many of the suggestions noted above. Kris Ruby, founder of Ruby Media Group, recommends tapping social media just like Sunayna Malik suggested. Jake Nickell, co-founder of Threadless.com, recommends listening to your community just like Milind Mody suggested. Tina Wells, founder of Buzz Marketing Group, similarly recommends understanding your customers. Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding LLC, recommends planning a long-term strategy just like Rosalind Resnick suggested. Finally, David Hauser, co-founder of Grasshopper Group, recommends focusing your branding around the problem you are solving. Excellent suggestions all. Now go out there and start some buzz.