Startup CEOs: Look outside your team for the skills to craft your brand

There’s a saying in the American startup world: “Don’t mow the lawn if you’re a founder.”

Translated: A founder/CEO’s time is too valuable to spend on non-core tasks outside building the team, developing the product and getting to market.

The problem is, peripheral – yet critical – tasks such as advertising, marketing, public relations and publicity still have to get done.

Too often, we see these functions fall to people on the startup team who don’t have the skills, inspiration or time. Startup founders often ask their tech talent to double as messaging strategist. (Would they ask bloggers and marketers to double as engineers?)

In the end, crafting your company’s public image often falls to a person who might see it as a burden, not a mission-critical assignment they embrace. And, of course, there’s always the temptation to bring in that friend’s cousin who has an amazing Justin Bieber fan blog.

Which is how founders end up with killer startups struggling to overcome amateurish messaging. Public images that scare off potential investors and customers.

This is our second startup, so we understand the ethos and the challenges. And during the last seven years, we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly in building (or damaging) brand identity.

The biggest mistakes we see include:

• Not using colloquial English in communications

English is, for better or worse, the universal business language. Native speakers know there’s a dramatic difference between “classroom English” and the colloquial American English people use on social media and in day-to-day conversations.

We see way too many websites, news releases and promotional materials with content written in “English,” but with bizarre syntax, structure and grammar only a non-native speaker would use.

English evolves almost daily, with new buzzwords constantly entering the lexicon. Confusing word choices and clumsy phrasing are an immediate turn-off, making your company appear less than professional.

Startups using non-native speakers or Google Translate to craft their messages run the risk of undermining their credibility.

Not leveraging social media effectively

Facebook and LinkedIn have created these free global platforms through which you can reach clients, customers and talent in every country in the world.

Yet, “free” social media isn’t truly free. You have to devote a lot of time and resources to using it effectively.

Too many startups with tiny staffs and not a lot of capital only have the time and resources to post sporadically on social media. Big mistake. If you’re not diligent about updating your content, it’s better to not post at all rather than post sporadically.

It looks like you’re lazy.

Developing a social media strategy is tricky. Should you pay fees for added functionality and reach for LinkedIn Premium? Is a Facebook campaign more effective than Google? Do you use both Pinterest and Instagram?

Each social media platform has its own audience and rate of engagement. You can’t necessarily use one image or piece of content with the same message across all platforms. You need to understand how each is different, when the audience engages on the platform, and how best to establish your presence.

Any long-term business plan should include how your social media messaging will evolve as your company grows.

Not understanding the value of sponsored content

Who can tell your story better than you? Or, as the old saying goes, “If we don’t tell our story, fools will gladly tell it for us.”

That should be front-of-mind for startup teams considering turning over their brand identity to third-party copywriters.

At Dispatches Europe, we find a lot of European clients are biased against sponsored content. Our analytics prove they shouldn’t be.

Our data from two separate media companies – one in the United States, one in Europe – shows the right kind of sponsored content is far more effective than static advertising. And it should, in fact, be run in tandem with more conventional advertising for maximum impact.

Several of our best-read posts include sponsored content with solid tips about finding housing, air travel and transferring money.

Whether native content gets read is a function of the quality. If the post is entertaining, helpful and relevant, you’ll reach your audience.

• Thinking locally, not globally

Don’t waste precious operating capital on vanity advertising … another mistake we see over and over.

The internet provides a global messaging capability with an ultra-low barrier to entry. Yet we see startups spending money to promote themselves only in their own tiny ecosystem and in their native language.

It’s a big world. Update your friends from uni on your personal FB page. Use paid and earned advertising to reach clients and investors.

• Not thinking big enough

One of the biggest handicaps we see with Europe-based startups is that modesty restrains their messaging. European business culture frowns on bragging. So presentations and messaging come off as vague, passive and almost apologetic.

We know from personal experience: Investors are not looking for modest startups run by modest people.

Be bold. Be like Sean Parker.

There’s a great scene in “Social Network” in which Parker (Justin Timberlake) tells Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”

This actually happened in real life. And you know what? Parker was right.

If you don’t believe, why should investors and talent?

Drop us a line

We’ve been where you are: Trying to do it all and do it perfectly in an intense startup environment. So, we can help startups and scale-ups craft their message … and we can help you. We realize startups and SMEs don’t have money or time to waste, so Dispatches Europe lets clients choose from à la carte services. You can reach us at: [email protected]

Our best advice is free: Find a professional firm that knows not just marketing and communications, but how startups work, and how they build their brands.

And let your friend’s cousin down easy.

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