Unless your concept is entirely original, most start-ups will have some form of pre-existing competition. While not a problem per se, it certainly poses a challenge.
For instance, a new search engine, no matter how innovative and seemingly unique, will always be compared with Google. Whether as a Goole Killer or simply another in a long line of ambitious wannabes, the pre-eminent business will always be the basis for comparison. It is also where you need to wrestle visitors away from.
This leads very neatly onto the first tip…
Know your enemy
Okay, so ‘enemy’ might be a little strong, but it’s important to understand exactly what it is that you’re up against. How many businesses, apps or services offer direct competition? What do they offer that you don’t (yet)? Where are they getting most traction?
Ideally this will be done a long time before you actually launch, so that you’re fully prepared with some ammunition of your own. If you have no idea what level of competition exists, you will never know how you can differentiate your brand.
But that’s basic business of course. If you’re flying in blind, or simply assuming that your product is unique, there’s a good chance you’ll come unstuck.
Know your audience
Even when there are massive competitors in the same marketplace, you can always find a niche. Within every niche, there is a unique audience. So, as a brand new start-up, it’s up to you to find out who those people are and the best way to approach them.
Let’s say you’re on the verge of launching and you want to get a press release out there; where are you going to send it? Out on a general newswire, through a free submission service or to a specialist blog/magazine/newspaper? To get maximum traction for minimum expenditure, approach journalists or bloggers beforehand to build a rapport and establish interest levels, then send your PR with all the fluffy marketing terms included. Sure, they can’t run every start-up story, but you need to give yourself the best chance possible.
Of course there are other ways of reaching out the people…
Engage with your audience
Anybody who has created or marketed a start-up will be fully aware of how much work is required to gain that initial momentum. You can’t simply assume that people will find your product. Sure, there are plenty of stories where an app or new business has gone viral almost instantly (Dollar Shave Club being a good example), but more often than not it takes a lot of graft.
You have to find out where your audience resides, what kind of content they like (serious, tech, humour, video, images etc.) and then put your start-up in the middle of it all. Get on Twitter and Facebook, create your own Pinterest community, start posting videos on YouTube; whatever it takes to get noticed, that’s what you need to be doing. Don’t spread yourself too thin or blunder in without knowing what the etiquette is, otherwise your impact isn’t likely to be overly positive.
Remember, if you get it wrong at this stage, you could end up getting more bad press than good – worse still, you could just get ignored.
You can also engage with them online, by building an eCommerce store on platform such as Shopify.
Look for quick wins
There’s plenty to be said for developing a clear on-going strategy with meticulous precision, but you also need to be prepared to take early risks. As part of my work at Ziffit.com, a new UK-based media buyer, it was evident that simply waiting for social followers, links and search engine rankings wasn’t an option. Equally, due to the nature of the business as well as a need to test logistical elements in a live environment, attempting a massive PR offensive would have been foolhardy at the very least – but of course this won’t be true of every start-up.
In short, we were invisible. Nobody searching for ways to sell CDs online is going to click through to the fourth page of Google. Likewise, the Ziffit name isn’t one that you’re likely to pop into a search query. So some quick wins were needed.
Online, one of the quickest ways to gain instant visibility in any marketplace is to engage in Pay per Click advertising (PPC). You can get your product in front of thousands of eyes and, most importantly, set your own limits. So choose your keywords, create strict budgets and avoid broad match at all costs. You can follow this up with display ads, banners and all other manner of paid online advertising – if your budget can stretch that far.
In the early days of Ziffit, the majority of our traffic is paid. However, the end goal is to turn this down as long-term strategies start to take effect. For now though, awareness is key.
If you’re going down the social route, then you could look to incentivise followers by creating competitions, producing surveys or anything else that will get their attention. Going viral might be the objective of most, but it is very rarely achieved. So by all means give your quirky video a go, get involved in some ambush marketing or go crazy tweeting everyone and anyone. However, don’t bet your business on it working.
Be prepared to show off
If you believe your idea/business/service/product/application is better than the alternatives, don’t be shy about telling the world. There are obstacles of trust and awareness that all start-ups need to overcome, but the more effective you are at communicating the benefits, the more likely you are to find a captive audience.
Returning to the earlier point, it’s always worth creating working relationships with journalists, industry aficionados and influential folk. If you can get them on board, then they can provide a platform to shout about your new project. As well as featuring you in a news story or social media update now, they may think of you again in the future. Never a bad thing.
Above all though, you need to remain active. Answer queries, get new content out there and be prepared to hunt down promotional opportunities. There are economies of scale to consider of course; but whatever your budget and no matter how large your competitors may be, there’s nothing to stop you from carving out your own niche online.