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Startups, stop doing your marketing the easy way

Startups endlessly pore over the quality of their product, but traditionally fail to nail their marketing. By comparing how startups and traditional ad agencies go through the marketing process, a happy medium can be found, winning your startup loads more business.



easy button

easy button

Startup marketing rarely matches coding efforts

Tech startups write hundreds of thousands of lines of code, alpha and beta test among friends and painstakingly obsess over UI/UX nuances few people care about to perfect their product. Yet when it comes to the actual marketing of the product, in most cases, it seems like a complete afterthought. As a tech startup veteran who started out in the cruel world of big ad agency creative departments, I cringe at nearly every launch’s logo, tagline, and messaging.

I have a difficult confession to share with you. I own a marketing agency and I hate my logo and my website.

It’s because the hardest thing to do is market something you’ve created yourself (read: we’re all cobbler’s children). You can’t see the haystack if you’ve convinced yourself you’ve created a pile of needles. Often, the same somewhat delusional optimism fueling the long hours that brings a startup to life is what kills its success by skimping on the messaging which is supposed to convince others of its value and why they should check it out versus play the latest move on Words With Friends.

When working with startups, an outside marketing firm can often be the voice of reason that tempers the irrational enthusiasm from “Everyone and anyone who owns a computer or might think about owning a computer will use GYDZPOOZ to share their innermost thoughts and fantasies with those that matter!” to “We’ve found a core group of over-sharing 45-year-old divorcees who can’t afford therapy to be our biggest growth opportunity.”

How startups come up with their marketing:

The name: is available! We’ll spend a little more money branding it but I like how “Zwqeelio” rolls off the tongue!

The tagline: ___________ the easy way! or The easy way to _________!

The logo: Hey, I have this free font on my computer. I just typed out the name and it looks pretty good. I can’t believe people get paid millions of dollars to do this!

The copy: We’re so awesome! Can we just tell you how incredibly excited we are that we came up with this idea and raised $450,000 in Group Z, Series 45 funding from the fine folks at HFDSI Capital? We got to fly in a Lear Jet and sign the docs at 35,000 feet while slurping Krug from a swimsuit model’s belly button! Sign up now!

The positioning: Everyone needs ZWQEELIO! We can’t imagine why a single person, even some highly trained chimpanzees would not want to use it!

How ad agencies come up with ideas:

The name: Ideally the name should be somewhat descriptive of what you do. Even if you have to pay a fortune for a domain name, it’s far less expensive than the amount of marketing it takes for someone to remember a gibberish name just because you were able to snag it for $8.99 on NameCheap. Sure, you can create a “brand” from scratch. You just need 100 years or $100 million. Let me know which route looks best to your investors.

Good names: Meetup, Instagram, TaskRabbit, Airbnb, Hotel Tonight, Living Social. When I started a social network for advertising creatives I called it Adholes – a good name because it also set the tone and vibe for the site filled with snarky, irreverent, bitter art directors and copywriters; a bad name when Adobe expressed interest in advertising and the executives found the name “offensive.” Still, it was short, memorable, and generated word of mouth when there was zero budget to promote it.

The advisable method is to use a working title, but find a third party to negotiate buying a memorable domain name and put it into your budget for your first round of investment. It may be the best $5,000 to $10,000 you ever spend.

The logo: This is where it’s fine to go the cheap route. If your product is truly useful, people are not going to care much about a fancy logo. Leave those for craft beers and fragrance bottles. FourSquare’s logo is pretty awful. Facebook is the aforementioned typeface…typed out. I doubt a single user ever said “Wow, it’s really great that I can connect with all of my friends and share everything with them on this free platform that magically advertises things to me that I’m interested in, but I really don’t like their logo so I think I’ll stick with MySpace.”

There’s the famous story where Phil Knight was working with a freelance designer on the Nike logo. When she gave him the swoosh, he hated it but was late for an investor meeting and took it with him anyway. “I guess I’ll have to learn to like it.” That’s likely the process you and your audience will go through even if you don’t do a great job on the logo.

The tagline: This is where you should probably enroll in Miami Ad School, work in an ad agency creative department for two years, binge watch all five seasons of Mad Men, and read lots and lots of books on marketing. Or leave it to a professional. And by professional, I do not mean your cousin who minored in Creative Writing at the University of Lake George Online.

A tagline is between three and eight words that very succinctly sums up the brand philosophy into a single statement. And “Just Do It” is taken. To give you a sense of how long we spend on taglines in an ad agency, it’s not uncommon for a single copywriter to fill an entire yellow legal pad with tagline ideas. We then bring the best 50 or so to our creative director who says things like “We thought of that back in ’72 when we were working on Brill Cream. Nice try though. Out of all of these, these two are ok, I guess. Go back and come up 500 with more like these.”

Multiply that by several teams working at a big agency. I’m not saying it’s not possible that a talented founder who is passionate about their startup can’t come up with something succinct and usable, but it is important to understand that there’s a work ethic involved with finding the best option, just as there was in writing thousands of lines of code and extensively testing the product. There’s no reason why some more effort can’t be put into a tag than “The easy way to order chocolate-covered tofu online!”

If you don’t have time to go to ad school and can’t afford an agency, you can probably ask some of the advertising schools to give you some recent grads who will likely have some fresh, insightful and snarky ideas at a price you can afford (and no, that does not mean free, you monster!).

The copy: Again, it is best left in the hands of a professional, but here’s one key tip. Every time you have the urge to write “we,” try to find a way to replace it with “you.” Remember, no one really cares about what your team did or why you did it. You work for the customer because hopefully they, times millions of others, will make you very rich.

The positioning: This can be somewhat trial and error. The best thing to do is to try to actually describe a very specific ideal person, who they are, and how they will use the product. Then come up with other scenarios and people. Following that, when you launch, you’ll realize you’re wrong, and you will talk to your users and find out what the real deal is and adjust accordingly.

But trust me, there really are people who don’t find Facebook useful. There are many more who won’t find yours interesting either. An example of narrowing down a profile: “Nancy is a 45-year old chain-smoking divorcee whose husband left her for his 19-year-old co-ed Ultimate Frisbee coach. She recently lost her job as Assistant Brand Manager at The Dress Cave and is supplementing her unemployment by being the off-the-books hot wax operator at the local car wash. Her life sucks and she’s distrustful of major social networks, which is why she shares her frustrations with her closest confidants on ZWQEELIO, whose privacy algorithms and policies are unmatched.”

A great book to check out when creating your messaging is Made To Stick. In it, they describe the “tapping test” where one person taps out the song “Happy Birthday” to another person and asks them what song it is. As the person is tapping, they hear the song “Happy Birthday” in their head. Without this audio cue, the person being tapped to has no idea and just hears a bunch of random taps. Often our ideas fail the tapping test because what’s so obvious to us based on our exposure to the problem/solution is not apparent to someone encountering it for the first time. I failed the tapping test with my own website – when on a Skype call with a partner agency in Brussels, the owner said “You know, you seem really talented and accomplished, but I still have no idea what you do.”

Succeeding at marketing your startup

In order to succeed at your startup’s marketing, you have to be your own most brutal critic. Optimism is great, but here’s the reality: you must face the fact that it’s entirely possible that no one cares about the problem you’re solving. Often, startup ideas are hammers looking for nails. Remember that we live in the future.

There is a new Jetsons-like technology and an amazing new free app to download nearly every hour. When we finally get our hoverboards, we’ll just yawn and go “Well, it’s about time.” Understand that you’re likely releasing a product to an apathetic, drained audience who will forget you ever existed in a week unless your messaging is clear about what real problem you’re solving.

In advertising we say “good is the enemy of great.” In startups, “great is the enemy of good enough.” Those two philosophies are constantly at odds when trying to combine an ultralight startup mentality with a successful marketing program, but truly striking messages come only from a combination of creativity and hard work. There’s no doubt that loads of effort is put into any new product development – why squander it by only spending 10 minutes on the message?

Marc Lefton is a creative director and tech entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience. He’s a partner in Digikea Digital based in NYC and Gainesville, Florida.

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  1. Tinu

    March 1, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Truer words were never written. Mostly because people believe that if they hoard this knowledge, they have more to gain than they do by sharing it. The truth is that people who want to succeed are reading this to find people like you who can better help them. I, too, hate my logo and…when was the last time I updated my tag line? Thanks for the fresh perspective.

  2. Jeff Beck

    March 2, 2013 at 10:38 am

    This a really good piece, although you have a problem in the 1st sentence…

    “Startups endlessly pour over the quality of their product”

    • agbenn

      March 2, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      Great catch, should have been caught in edit.

  3. Ethnic Assets

    March 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Bravely and well said! … a little close to the bone on how start-ups do concepts! #owch!

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Business Entrepreneur

Embracing productivity apps, how entrepreneurs can control their time

(ENTREPRENEUR) Owning your own business comes with great reward, but one major risk is inefficiencies – let’s discuss how you can streamline your productivity efforts.




As we all know too well, entrepreneurs are time-poor.

Changing the world of technology, developing a life-changing product or finding a new process to a complicated, lengthy task, entrepreneurs are continually moving, shaping and evolving their world around them, but frequently run out of time at the end of their day.

Now many modern entrepreneurs have some form of productivity in place. Whether this is an A3 piece of paper with jottings of what needs to be done next or a manageable to-do list provided by their smartphone where they can brain dump all of their ideas and to-dos into one space.

Working smarter, and harder is usually the object of all those looking to create a new business. But respecting the value of productivity applications can play into the hands of those building the next Facebook or Amazon.

By all means, this doesn’t mean you need the correct productivity tools to become the next prominent entrepreneurs, if that’s the case we’d have much fewer businesses than we have now thriving, the thesis of this is for entrepreneurs and business owners to begin embracing productivity apps to help them scale and capture essential parts of their day to help get more done.

So where does an entrepreneur start?

It’s straightforward. Begin with three core tools.

* A to-do list application.
* A note-taking tool.
* A calendar application.

These three resources will provide you with the fundamental pillars of productivity in your hectic schedule. Let’s examine how that is the case for each one.

A to-do list application can be a primary list of actionable items for to the next 30-days. Think of a to-do list application as your day planner, an actionable set of tasks to get done on the workday.

This window of to-dos will determine your ground level work and checklist for the day. Traditionally they are prioritized allowing you to accomplish the most critical tasks first or getting them done by the end of the day so that you can help progress forward.

This is a potential master tool for the entrepreneur. A to-do list app can help you capture, deter and plan things to do helping to reduce stress and reliability in your brain to remember critical tasks and actions. A proactive theory from the book Getting Things Done by David Allen helps to define this as “open loops” a process that highlights a need to reduce active to-do’s in your head and to capture them on paper or another form of capture method to relieve your brain’s activity focusing on this.

A note-taking tool provides you with a way to capture essential data or information. Unlike a to-do list application, the information you’ll be capturing is static. This means it isn’t necessarily actionable but provides value for reference or planning. Notes are handy for planning and reference purposes. When it comes to planning your projects and high-level work (like clients, product updates, accounting, etc.) using notes will help you to collect everything into one hub to help you to complete all your major projects and tasks.

And finally, a calendar application works as how you’d expect. A way to capture events and activities. Not to be confused with a to-do list application, the calendar application should solely include events and activities, not tasks. Feel free to use the calendar layout to block out time but don’t get into the habit of adding tasks to your calendar application, it’ll make things very messy!

So what productivity apps should I start with?! Let’s give you some recommendations.

For a to-do list applications, an entrepreneur should look for flexibility to scale with the application but the patience to stick with an application to help them get more done. To-do list applications perfect for entrepreneurs include Todoist, TickTick, Asana, Nozbe or Trello. They are strong starting points and will provide you with all the features you’ll need to start capturing and sorting those important to-dos.

Note-taking tools come highly recommended. To help the scale driven entrepreneur, there are two tools that standout as the resources entrepreneurs should consider when looking at note-taking applications. They would be Evernote and OneNote. Both provide you with functional experiences for bringing notes in from email, documents and other files helping you to free up time and space. Avoid Apple Notes as your default and sole way of the organization as due to the lack of folders/notebooks you struggle to keep things as organized as you would with the likes of Evernote and OneNote.

Calendar resources are rare to find. Entrepreneurs will discover themselves freeing up a lot of stress by using a calendar tool, by being able to see all the activities coming up and help free up your calendar for important meetings. The features within the calendar tools like “invite a guest” will provide a way to connect with your invitee and avoid any miss-capture of time/date for the meeting.

Try Fantastical 2 (Mac/iOS), Google Calendar, Kin Calendar or Calendars 5 (iOS). These are more advanced calendar tools, so if you are concerned, it’s okay to try Apple Calendar or Outlook Calendar, just make sure you solely use one calendar and not multiple to avoid missing those meetings.

In essence, entrepreneurs should consider productivity app to help control their time. Helping to implement a system might take a few weeks to get used to and a few tweaks along the way, but it’ll undoubtedly free up time from stress and worry, helping you to do the more valuable things like communicating with your customers, chatting with your clients or growing your team.

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Business Entrepreneur

The 7 most improved cities for tech startups

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) While there are several reports about which cities are the best for startups, a new report shows which cities have improved to most for tech startups.



atlanta most improved

You’ve seen enough lists of the “hottest startup cities” at this point. Thankfully, this isn’t another one.

According to research by the US Chamber of Commerce, presented by their Free Enterprise blog, seven cities have improved the most as tech-friendly cities. Officially, they looked at “how well-poised [cities] are to leverage capital into successful tech industries.”

7.) Pittsburgh, PA rounds out the list with an improvement of two spots. Pittsburgh’s access to engineering talent is its biggest strength in these rankings. Other pluses include “small business-friendly tax incentives and an increasing number of software, biotech and artificial intelligence startups.”

6.) Portland, OR rose two spots from last year’s ranking, thanks in part to a “five-year high” in venture capital funding. Other positive signs include an increased startup density and an improve startup culture, as well as increased access to talent.

5.) Seattle, WA is the highest-ranking “legacy tech” city on the list, rising three spots from past year’s rankings. While Seattle experience “significant losses in industry and culture,” they made up for it by drawing in more startups, talent and capital. As a result, the availability of all three is plentiful in this rainy city.

4.) Philadelphia, PA received a nice capital injection from “city leaders,” improving access to capital and cultural acceptance. Government leaders have achieved this by establishing alliances between the public sector and private corporations. As a bonus, the city’s lenient regulatory environment is a boon for new business.

3.) New Orleans, LA jumped six spots. Given the gap between third and first/second place, it’s a huge testament to the work by Dallas and Atlanta. New Orleans ranked well for local support, “[outshining] other startup enclaves on measures of access to civic institutions and corprorations, and startup partnerships as well.”

2.) Dallas, TX, much like Atlanta, worked to foster relations between the city’s large palate of legacy corporations and local startups. As a result, they jumped twelve places this year to 7th place. The rise of the city’s profile as a whole, more tech talent is moving in, which also boosts the city’s profile.

1.) Atlanta, GA improved 15 spots from last year, making it “the biggest mover” on the list, jumping from 21st place to 6th place. According to Free Enterprise, significant improvement in “network connectivity, access to talent, industry specialization and startup culture” caused the leap. The improvement in connectivity and culture may be due to the work of Invest Atlanta, an organization working to “bridge the gap between startups and the broader business community.”

Community matters a lot. There’s a consistent trend of public/private section collaboration making a difference. It’s a major factor in the two cities who made the biggest strides, but you can also see the trends across most cities on this list. That relationship goes a long way to removing barriers to startup excellent and cultivating a culture that encourages new business.

Talent can also show up in unlikely places. I wouldn’t have expected Pittsburgh to be on this list until I looked at schools in the area. Universities can be a catalyst for building and retaining critical tech talent.

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Business Entrepreneur

Get your team on the same page with Slite

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) Slite is the notes taking app for teams that helps keep everyone on the same page.




When you’re working with a team, the biggest challenge is staying organized. At meetings, everyone takes their own notes and unless prompted may keep those notes all to themselves.

Without a system in place, many great ideas can be overlooked while others may not be heard at all.

This lack of communication hurts productivity across the board, making the entire team ineffective. These are just some of the problems that Slite, a new team-focused note taking app, plans to solve.

Slite is a one-stop shop for team communication. The dashboard allows all members to keep their notes in one place, collaborate on tasks, upload documents and communicate without ever leaving the app. In their words, your team will literally be on the same page.

Slite’s main focus is to create, collaborate and organize. Users can create tasks and lists with custom formatting to prioritize responsibilities. They can add an image, upload a document, and embed or attach a link to give more context to other team members.

In addition, users can tag other team members to assign and communicate about a task, keeping everyone in the loop.

The easy-to-use dashboard lets users prioritize content. Slite has also installed a search feature that will check every note across the board in order to find what you need fast. Team members can also create channels that pertain to specific projects to keep everything in the right place.

There are other note-taking apps out there, but Slite is definitely making strides to make their site one of the top choices. To gain traction, they are currently offering their services for free.

Once the new year starts, teams up to five will still be able to use Slite for free. Larger teams will have the option to choose from one of their flat pricing tiers. Teams with ten or more members will pay $8 per user per month.

Overall, it’s a low cost compared to the money and time a company can save by using Slite effectively.

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