Panel Write Up: Marketing to Investors

Panel Write Up: Marketing to Investors

Team Rider Oasis: Kevin Bielawski, Aaron Mass, Andrew Rudzitis, Ping Gong, Jess Hamilton

Introduction

We had the joy of mediating a great panel consisting of two people with a vast knowledge of the angel investing community, and an entrepreneur who is starting to seek out funding for her product. Nathan McDonald is a UW grad who is currently the CEO of Keiretsu Capital which has 315 investors throughout the northwest region and has facilitated $58 million in investment worldwide. Joshua Maher is the president of Seattle Angel which is a non-profit for educating angel investors and fund-seeking entrepreneurs, and he is finishing a book about angel investing. Stacia Pashe is the founder of itBandz which is a knee support system currently being marketed towards women. She has been working on developing the product for the past two years and is currently looking into seeking investment to finance an expansion of the company.

Highlights

All three panelists were asked about how a new venture can seek its first $10K, and each gave the answer of seeking money from “friends, family, and fools.” Stacia also gave a caveat to this piece of advice, as she wanted to emphasize that you should only take money from those that can afford to lose it, and that you should try to seek expertise that comes with your first set of money.

When asked about the ideal pitch, Nathan explained that one should provide just the right amount of information to get people excited about the business and want to learn more. The company should emphasize their top three strengths, and the the business will eventually get to speak for itself during the due diligence process. Josh mentioned that he would want to know how fast the business is growing, what that means for margins and the number of units sold, when the next funding cycle is, and whether the investment will be able to fuel the next stage of growth for the business. Stacia explained that when she has pitched to retailers, she emphasizes the product and herself, but plans to pitch more of the financials and business plan when she pitches to investors.

Josh gave an excellent breakdown of the ways in which entrepreneurs and angel investors can connect. The most common methods are angel groups which facilitate interactions between startups giving pitches, then perform the due diligence and let investors choose which company to invest in. Accelerators and incubators have funding from angels and allow the angels to be heavily involved to get a sneak-peak of the company before choosing to fund more. There is also a growing secondary market which can allow an employee or investor to sell stock while the company is still private.

Stacia broke down the process she used for customer discovery and validation. She took sewing lessons to get the first product out, which enabled rapid prototyping and input from users for future iterations. She was able to sell products 10 at a time to small running stores. All of the initial input came from user feedback, and then doctors and PTs said that it mimicked the knee naturally. Upon hearing this, Josh and Nathan agreed that having the customer validation of a product is a great way to overcome what may be perceived as a lack of expertise of the founder who does not already have a product. If she had sought funding earlier, before the customer validation, angels may have been concerned that she was not a doctor and whether should could deliver on the product.

The conversation also went into pricing strategy where Stacia mentioned that she looked at what the customer is willing to pay, what can your manufacturing processes incur, and what is the competitive landscape, including peripheral products? Josh then mentioned that investors will go and talk to those same customers and ask the same questions. He has found companies who are charging 50% less than what customers would be willing to pay for the product.

When asked about crowdfunding sources, all three panelists agreed that it can be great for validation of a particular product, but may not indicate success for a business. Josh mentioned that successful businesses can have bad Kickstarter campaigns, and vice-versa. One piece of advice Nathan gave is that if a company can continue to build and deliver on crowdfunding campaigns, then the company may not need outside funding beyond the crowdfunding sources.

 

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Panel Write Up: Optimizing Pricing and Distribution Plans

Panel Write Up: Optimizing Pricing and Distribution Plans
Team ClearHome (Heather Lewis, Jeff Kinney, Mary Ke, Sarah Abramowitz, Sungjoon Kim, Michael Pamphlet)

Introduction
This past Monday, our class was fortunate to hear from three very accomplished and visionary entrepreneurial thought leaders; Leigh McMillan, VP of Marketing at Avvo, Steve Banfield, Digital Executive at Rightside, and Brant Williams, Founder of Tenacious Offense and Guided Products. The panel was a split discussion, first focused on pricing and distribution and then around customer retention and referrals. Each of these topics is relevant to our class start-ups as we begin to explore what it actually  looks like to take our products to market, and retain the amount of growth and engagement that we have established through our digital marketing efforts thus far.

Key Insights
The speakers gave great advice during our discussions of pricing and distribution. They had a lot to say regarding the importance of choosing the right business model to drive pricing strategy, and understanding the pros and cons of online retail channels vs. brick and mortar stores,  as well as  the importance of SEO as part of distribution strategy.

Before landing on a pricing strategy, it is critical that we think about our business model. For ClearHome, we assumed that our product would be sold as a one-time purchase of the in-home air quality monitoring device and we would provide the app as just part of the deal. However, Brant Williams challenged us to think about whether we were selling the “razor” or the “blade”. In other words, are we focused on being profitable against the one-time purchase of the platform, or is the platform simply the open door for ongoing customer purchasing for services or add-on benefits?

In this vein, Leigh McMillan stated, “Once you have shown people there is something they can take advantage of, you have the ability to show them volume for other solutions. Get as many out there as possible and as we present problems to them with the mobile app, we make money on the backend as the entity providing the solution.” With just a business model, we may not price the device as high-end but instead competitively to increase our adoption. These were great points that our team has now taken into consideration. Similarly, she suggested that we make the app available for free download with limited functions. As users became more engaged with the app they would be encouraged to buy the hardware device in order to receive all the benefits of the product.

In thinking of distribution channels, it matters how we want to cut our profits across distributors and which channel would be most effective at getting the attention of our audience. Traditional retail may not make the most sense for us, considering the high margins taken by the stores and the fact that our potential customers are not yet aware of the ClearHome brand, and our device may suffer from bad placement on big box distributors’ shelves. Instead, we should leverage online retail to go directly to the consumer, and save significantly on shipping (single shipping for an online retailer such as Amazon, versus multiple shipping to a brick and mortar distributor). However, there are pros and cons to selling directly from our site and using other eCommerce platforms, such as Amazon. With our own site, we would not have the brand awareness to reach as many customers as established channels, like Amazon. However, with established channels comes cuts to profits. Online retailers are a friendlier place to distribute. Traditional retail usually results in a $10 sale price if the cost of goods is $1. Approximately 40% goes to distribution costs. Think about Pro.com and Porch, they are serving the connector role between consumers’ money and the services they want.

They also cautioned that if we do elect to go through traditional retail as a distribution channel, we have to be careful to avoid channel conflict. If we decide to later incorporate online sales and start selling our product online for a lower price than in stores, box retailers will be alienated and will be concerned about experiencing a drop in their margins.

We also were reintroduced to SEO as a channel strategy. This was a significant paradigm shift for many people in the class and on our team. Whereas, we often thought of SEO as the amplifier to a channel, Leigh McMillan positioned it as such a vital part of her lawyer business that it essentially was at the top of the channel strategy for her. According to Leigh,”You need to create liquidity in the market.” Her company created a free Q&A space, allowing consumers to get free answers to their questions from actual attorneys. This service was good for both customers (who received responses) and lawyers (whose expert answers worked as free advertising for their services). All the while this resulted in detailed, long-tail content which is valued highly by Google, particularly questions formatted as How Do I…? Leigh was strategic in her formatting, adding key words that would assist in the SEO, and she was careful not to tag duplicate content. Leigh also used referrals and offered a first-time complimentary service to new customers, resulting in more traffic and ultimately more search power to her site. Similarly, this quality SEO allowed her company to initially get around branding and recognition. Once this SEO strategy resulted in significant traffic, they then shifted to accelerating their growth which requires gaining consumer trust, by creating a known, recognizable brand. This multi-pronged SEO strategy could be a critical part of our ClearHome plan, especially with a new product space like home air quality assistants, because the market is not yet saturated.

How to Create an Effective Online Presence

On January 26th, we had a great panel discussion centered on online marketing and user experience for mostly small businesses. The panel featured 3 professionals representing a pretty diverse range of industries, expertise and professional backgrounds which made for a great discussion on a rich topic. The panel featured Thyra McKelvie, the founder and CEO of Rendezvous Strategies. Thyra specialized in developing web strategies, positioning, and marking communication strategies.  Charlie Claxton is the Chief Creative Strategist at Up Top Design and Development and the firm was recently merged with another company in order to increase overall web and mobile platform solution.  Shannon Evans McDonald is a Community Manager at Crown Social.  Her experience includes social media and tactics. To recap, we’ll share some of the questions that were posed (in italics below) followed by a summary of anecdotes and takeaways from the panel’s responses.

The tips for startups of how to create an effective online presence:

The landing page has to be clean and the customer has to understand what the company is selling right away.  The website needs to persuade both types of the audience: analytical through quantitative, and emotional through pictures and qualitative.  For startups, it has to be very straight forward and clean.

Then, it would be the content in order to create an effective online strategy.  For startups, the marketing budget is normally so tiny that there is only one shot.  By being your own creator and the brand image, it would significantly increase the company’s credibility in the long run.  Thyra suggested the four steps to create contents: Be your own publisher, create your community, break into other communities, and integrate social media tools.  As Shannon pointed out afterward, the content becomes the king and she recommended that it is more important to provide fewer great articles than a lot of average ones.  From the website perspective, Charlie stressed the core benefit of creating a well optimized website and integrated contents will significantly increase the brand presence comparing to spending a lot of money in SEO.  From a strategy perspective, both Thyra and Charlie touched on leveraging not only online, but offline, to increase awareness through interesting people around the network.  Leverage the traditional methods to interact with people such as phone calls, drop in visits, meeting over a coffee, etc. Finally, pair up with partners in a faster growth area will also help the business out.

Pet Wearables – Owen Ho, Deepak Batra, Vivian Sun, Nini Wu, Nicky Yi.

Related Links:

Rendezvous Strategies (http://www.rendezvousstrategies.com)

Up Top Design and Development (www.uptopcorp.com (Links to an external site.))

Crown Social (www.crownsocial.com (Links to an external site.))

Marketing to Investors and Crowdfunding Panel Discussion Summary

The March 3 Entrepreneurial Marketing panel discussion on marketing to investing and crowdfunding featured Seattle Angel Conference’s Josh Maher, Robot Turtle’s Dan Shapiro, and Curious Offices’ Kelly Smith. Read on for a summary of the conversation.

For Dan Shapiro:  Robot Turtles was the best-selling board game in Kickstarter history. What do you believe was the secret to your success in your crowdfunding efforts?

Dan: The premise for the Robot Turtles board game is to teach programming concepts to kids as young as three, in a format that engages parents as well. The success of the Kickstarter campaign was a convergence of factors.  Dan had friends running Kickstarter campaigns who provided tactical advice (e.g., it is imperative that the campaign raise 25-50% of goal in the first day or two), a high level of media interest, and a talented artist who assisted with high-quality video production.   His goal was to raise $25K – the board game went on to raise $630K.

What do you need to have to launch a successful Kickstarter?

Kickstarter provides preorders on an investment.  Successful campaigns involve either a thing people want or a cause they believe in.  It’s a conversion funnel and nothing else – it creates an urgency.  In the case of Robot Turtles, 20% of people who watched the video converted.  A company cannot do Kickstarter without a thoughtful, robust marketing campaign. A conceptual hook that can be described in one sentence is needed. The video should be no longer than 90 seconds. The page should include lots of information about suppliers, researchers, prototypes, etc. Then be prepared to dedicate a huge part of your life to it.

What factors should an entrepreneur consider when determining which type of investment support is right for their idea?

The size of the deal needs to be big enough (what constitutes big enough depends to a degree on the investor).  What the capital is being used for is also important – is it for growth, team, or marketing? If ready to scale, angel may not be right at this point. The horizons are long, but there is interest in near-term gains.

For Kelly Smith: What do you look for from companies you’re investing in?

I look for entrepreneurs who are hands-on, highly attentive to the product, tenacious, and willing to take it as far as it can go.  I look for someone with certain “X factor”, a compelling vision and the ability to recruit as well as sell –  sell the product, the company – to investors, to employees, and to the customer. Getting the cultural fit right is very important: What do they value?  What are they looking for from me?

A strong lead investor is needed to make a funding round come together. It’s vital to have someone with strong connection to you who can pull in a broad network – someone who can say, “I believe in this person and you should too.”  People investing at the $25K level fill in the empty space.

Where do you find these “X factor” people?

The typical angel investor is making a trade-off between an investment in a startup and an investment somewhere else.  Successfully getting investment comes through two categories – a relationship with the investor prior to and outside of the context of this company OR that the investor saw the deal less than a month before closing. Either have the infrastructure in place based on the relationship OR have metrics in place for a successful close.

Learn how to fine-tune your personal brand is the first step forward.  Start to learn the middle ground between being too charismatic and too data-driven.  Don’t underestimate the importance of social proof.

How do you reach out to investors early on – in ideation?

First of all, bad timing can torpedo your opportunity.  Go as far as you can toward a viable product before meeting with investors. Take your ideas and make them happen.  It’s easy to raise money for something that’s already successful.  Think about how you can leverage whatever assets you have.

What’s your take on valuation?

Either raise enough money to get to profitability or get to a scalable milestone where VCs will give you money. Tech startup valuations are rising while established company valuations are declining – there’s some discrepancy there. Non-tech valuations not rising at same pace.

Tips for approaching investors and influencers at events:

  • Do your research ahead of time. Don’t take up time at event, give them the hook, but leave it at that.
  • Find something to make yourself to stand out.
  • Focus your skills and excel at one thing.
  • Kelly: I look for people who I know can ship what they tell me they’re going to ship. Throw yourself in knee-deep and figure it out.  I respect people who can actually do what they’re pitching. I taught myself how to design and code in order to have control over my destiny. How are you going to cultivate yourself in order to get what you want?

February 24th – Pricing, Retention and Referrals Entrepreneurial Panel

On February 24th we had a great panel discussion centered on pricing, customer retention, and referrals. The panel featured 3 professionals representing a pretty diverse range of industries, expertise and professional backgrounds which made for a great discussion on a rich topic. The panel featured Ralph Derrickson, President & CEO of Carena Inc. Ralph has a background in venture capital at Vulcan. Jen Kellum Nausin is VP of Marketing at Trover and was formerly Director of Marketing at Cheezeburger.com. Michelle Saro is currently VP of Marketing and Business Development at iJet Onboard. Her experience includes involvement in 7 start-ups. To recap, we’ll share some of the questions that were posed (in italics below) followed by a summary of anecdotes and takeaways from the panel’s responses.

What are your biggest hurdles in retaining customers?

There was some great discussion here with a couple of commonalities echoed by the panelists. For one, all stressed the importance of figuring out and qualifying 1) who the target customer actually is and 2) which customers are most likely to be retained (since retention is typically much cheaper than acquisition). A lot of time and money can be spent just trying to figure out who the target customer profile should be, and marketing needs to figure out who this is, especially in a startup with limited means. Ralph and Jen also noted that their industries’ pace of change often requires them to pivot to figure out how to continually address their customers’ needs.

Discuss your customer base from the standpoint of new versus repeat and existing users. How do you think about them and how do they differ in terms of value?

Panelists really stressed the value of existing and repeat customers given the major investment (in both time and dollars) necessary to acquire new customers. This is especially true in industries such as Michelle’s (airline) where the target customer base is very finite and those clients are especially valuable and time consuming to obtain. Ralph stressed that rejection by customers is as important as success. Learning who isn’t going to buy your product and why is at least as important as learning who is buying. This traces back to the point above and the importance of defining your target customer.

What systems or strategies have worked in the way of obtaining referrals?

All panelists underscored the importance of referrals in growing their customer base. Jen took special focus on highlighting the importance of early stage partnerships as a means to obtaining referrals. When your company can work with another company to serve your customers both of you benefit and it can be a great way to grow your business. For instance for Trover (a travel startup) they have created some early stage partnerships with MSN and Bing. Ralph mentioned that the damage of one bad referral from Business to Business could be higher compared to Customer to Customer. Thus, it’s important to find the dynamic of the market to obtain referral by focusing on the 2 M, Marketing and Model to Make Money.

What steps have your companies taken in building their public images?  Did the image evolve organically or was its evolution deliberate and strategic?

Every panelist echoed that their firms had very intentional and deliberate focus on constructing their public image. All had varying reasons for caring but noted the importance of how their firms were perceived within their industries, the press, and with customers. This can’t be left to chance. In Michelle’s case her customer base is so finite (and accordingly, each player so important) that iJet must exert a lot of control over its image. For Ralph, controlling the public image is especially important because his firm straddles two industries, technology and healthcare (which is very sensitive to image), which have very different cultures and values so he needs to manage his image accordingly. He very purposefully created an environment that would inspire others by combining cultures from health-care, technology and marketing.

How did you develop your pricing strategies and have they evolved over time?

The group had a really rich discussion on this topic. In Michelle’s case her pricing must be cost based because so much of the airline industry’s pricing is already rooted in a cost-plus model, so iJet needs to conform to this industry norm. Ralph noted that his company tried to employ cost based pricing but it was hard given industry dynamics (for one, costs are obscured in the healthcare industry). Carena’s pricing has become more value based over time as they’ve become better known in the industry and they’ve better understood the value of their product to the customer.

Ralph also stresses that you’re never going to get pricing right. You’re going to scrutinize and debate it, but it won’t be perfect. Pricing is fickle and developing it is a trial-and-error process to some extent that is shaped by your company’s culture, product or industry. It’s never perfect and it’s often hard to construct (especially in the case of a startup) because you often have no data or value system. Strategy plays into pricing significantly at all stages of the growth curve, but as your industry or product matures it tends to become clearer.

–AllergenAware: Bijal Ghedia, Chris Daily, Max Sun, Pei Yu, Rob Penney and Jenn Brock

Local Entrepreneurial Advice on Customer Retention & Referral

Last week, we had the following local entrepreneurs and marketing executive come speak on a panel about Customer Retention and Referral: Jen Nausin, founder of Detaale, a marketing consulting firm; Nathan Kaiser, founder of 2bar Spirits, a Seattle-based craft distillery; and Kelby Johnson, an associate director of Integrated Media Strategies at Wunderman. Each had a different perspective on customer engagement. Here are the key learnings from the discussion:

  • Acquiring Customers – Listening is key and so is relationship marketing. This could mean literally knocking on doors, but most important is talking to potential customers. You want to share your vision and the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s the “Why” not the “What”.
  • Retaining Customers – Be your true self. Set expectations right from the beginning in order to retain the relationship. Keep them engaged and determine what motivates them to action. Consider contests, games, incentives, or an ambassador program. Also, what would make your customer switch to a competitor? What are the barriers to switching? Think about the businesses who have you as a repeat customer. Jen’s example was Nordstrom. Do something special that goes above and beyond. Understand the reasons why you return for to those businesses and services, and incorporate those aspects into your own customer retention strategy.
  • Customer Referrals – Deliver quality always. Start with your local customers first. Provide a great product or service and your customers will talk about you.

We had a great discussion with our panelists and also had an opportunity to talk to them individually about our product ideas. Thanks again to Jen Nausin, Nathan Kaiser, and Kelby Johnson for taking the time to speak to us. We really appreciate your advice!

– The Ring of Engagement team

Three Lessons from the Panel “Marketing Segmentation and Analysis”

The second panel discussion of the course gave the MKTG 555 class the opportunity to get know three Seattle based entrepreneurs. Each of them provided valuable insights on the work and struggles of an entrepreneur. Three important lessons are highlighted below.

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Brant Williams, a former director at Amazon, bought a manufacturing business Guided Products. He’s also co-founder of Apple Pie, a retailer/database for American made items, which is becoming increasingly valuable to retailers.

Ruchit Garg started 9slides in 2011. 9slides helps customers share and deliver presentations, by letting users easily synchronize their presentations with audio/video. The company operates off a subscription model, providing options ranging from free basic membership to various levels of priced upgrades.

Britta Jacobs is the founding partner and COO of Zealyst.   Zealyst designs software that matches people on their interests and other commonalities.  They achieve this by engaging their users via games, extracting information in a fun and engaging way.

Our pivot was spurred by opportunity knocking several times before we realized it was something we should pursue.”

The first customer

The first customer will always be special. Britta recalled how a combination of personal contacts and member referrals marked the first milestone in creating Zealyst’s initial customer base.

Ruchit from 9slide.com also got his first customer through referral from a mutual contact – he wasn’t quite sure how much his prototype product was worth, but the customer was willing to pay $500 for 9slide’s services.  Ruchit authored and maintained the website by hand in the beginning – even though it appeared automated to the end user.  Once he had a few customers, he transitioned to using automation.  The main takeaway from this was that he wasn’t quite ready to invest in the automation, since he was still figuring out what his products and customers would look like.

Brant’s story is somewhat different. After having acquired Guided Products – including the company’s existing customer base – he was confronted with losing customers during tough economic times, despite having done extensive up-front analysis and due diligence on the company.  Faced with this issue, Brant highlighted the importance of reaching out to potential customers:

Call them! You’ll find out you’re so wrong, that’s how you get your first customer.

This panel also built upon concepts learned from the previous week, especially on the aspect of self-marketing.  Self-marketing is a critical aspect of acquiring customers, and the first customer in particular.

In terms of segmentation, the panel emphasized that finding the first customer may not follow a planned model.  Ruchit described it as throwing “darts in the dark”.  Through this process, Ruchit started to find segments.  While initially thinking that teachers and professors would be a good market to target, he soon realized that while it was useful for them, they weren’t necessarily a customer segment with extra money to spend on these kinds of services.  He then began to shift more towards business professionals.  Britta agreed, mentioning that finding the right segment for your product is a process – it took them awhile to figure out they should shift their focus to enterprise; she mentioned that they’re still working to find the right segment even to this day.

A good pitch

The panelists highlighted the importance of delivering a good pitch, particularly when it comes to delivering it to potential customers. Finding answers to questions such as “What is special about your product?” or “How can you market your product differently to different audiences”  is essential. Britta:

The more you talk and pitch, the better and more convincing you sound”.

Brant:

Saying your pitch to some random person seven times [one after another] in a row is very therapeutic.”

Share your idea

Don’t hold back on telling people about your business idea. Brant:

You’re not the first person with your idea, so don’t keep it to yourself. It will evolve and become more bulletproof. Share and socialize.”

Britta shared a similar opinion. Even though she and her co-founder were concerned about someone “stealing” their idea, she learned it was more important to talk to your peers, go to networking events and bounce ideas off people. Though someone might steal the idea, they won’t be able to steal the vision of the idea – it is all about execution.

Recap for Robi Ganguly, Robert Frederick, and David LeClaire on customer retention/referral

On 2/11 we were fortunate to have three speakers, Robi Ganguly as CEO of Apptentive, Robert Frederick as CEO of Gripwire, and David LeClaire as CEO of Wine, World & Spirits, to share their experience on customer retention and referral. It was an unusual combination of guest speakers, as Robi and Robert’s companies worked on mobile technologies, while David’s company operated traditional retail stores. The discussion panel was host by the Happy Back team.

The speakers started the discussion by discussing the various ways to retain customers. While Robi and Robert talked a lot of customer connection strategies using software, for example email newsletter, algorithms, A/B testing, focus group studies, and interview, all of them agreed that being passion to your customers’ needs was the foundation of customer retention. To achieve this, David especially focused on providing excellent first experience for his customers and having an engaging team in his store to help solve customer’s problems.

As for discussing the uncontrollable factors that affect customer retention, all of the speakers pointed to that technology was the critical factor to customer retention. Robi and Robert especially pointed out the importance of having their services running at all time, as any down-time would decrease reliability in the eyes of their customers and result into churn. As a result, having reliable software infrastructure seemed to be very important for every start-up, in particular new software companies.

The discussion then digressed into whether it was good or not to have companies collect user information through various social media sites and mobile applications, and use the information on marketing. While our speakers had different opinions on this, they pointed out that eventually it depended on whether collecting user data could better serve the customer’s need or not.

Finally our speakers talked about several ways to refer customers. Robert pointed out that currently there was still a lot of improvement to be made on mobile applications to make it easier to go viral, and he talked about the importance to reach the right influencers for referring company’s product. He then pointed out some referral strategies for mobile applications, such as multiple-players, gamification, and tying the application into real world.

To summarize, our guest speakers Robi and Robert provided many strategies for customer retention and referral with web and mobile technology, while David reminded us with his experience that having passion to the customers and putting them into our own shoes was the foundation of any marketing effort in customer retention and referral. While using mobile applications and social media data might help us better understanding our customers, it was the sincere interaction and care to them that had the best retention and referral effort.

-discussion panel by Dave Knight, Chris Loeffler, Alan (Yuan Lung) Luo, Cameron Rementer, and Evan Uchaker

 

 

Web Marketing Panel: Feb 25th

Last night’s panel featured the energetic and passionate Joanna Lord.  Joanna spoke about Web Marketing, SEO, blogging, content curation, entrepreneurship, and much more.

Joanna is on her fifth startup, four that she worked on and one that she founded.  She is currently VP of Growth Marketing at SEOmoz where she is in charge of customer acquisition and retention.  Joanna’s wealth of knowledge in digital/online marketing kept the class highly interested and engaged.

Joanna defined SEO as making your site accessible to search engines (through taxonomy, code, engineering, etc.), and Web Marketing as a broad topic that involves marketing your presence online and spending money to get people to your website.  SEO is changing.  For mobile, developers are creating unique value for the user; for websites, content curation is key.  Google and Bing are the obvious search engines, but Facebook should also be included for its focus on social discovery.  Do not try to game the system, but instead create true value for the user.

Blogging with a strong content strategy is important for entrepreneurs.  People love reading about authentic, vulnerable pieces.  You should post daily, even if that means only 100-200 words or simply a picture and a sentence.  Beware the “death valleys” for startups, and be prepared to pivot when necessary or advised.  Agile marketing (involving fast, hard sprints) and transparency are critical to success.  A startup should tell you everything that you want to know upfront.  If they do not, run away!

To find your first 100 customers, go-to-market strategy should involve: 1) website and/or blog, 2) proof of traction and dual value, 3) branding yourself, execution on idea, and accountability, and 4) finding influencers (followers, press, etc.).

The SEO industry moves so fast.  To stay up to date, read the influential bloggers every morning and constantly update your social profiles (Google+, LinkedIn, etc.).  Find a schedule and stick to it.  Attend networking events; just get out there and shake some hands.  Pay attention to the super connectors such as Dan Martell, and read Rand Fishkin’s blog post “There is No Work/Life Balance”.

Lastly, beware of egos, secrets, and not being willing to pivot fast enough.  Egos and secrets kill a startup.  Know your strengths, own them, and staff for your weaknesses.  This will help you build a great company.

Related links: Joanna’s blog, @JoannaLord, and SEOmoz.

Posted on behalf of the Travel Fit team

Getting your pitch just right – a mission impossible?

The marketing class this fall has been quite an experience. We have had so many great speakers share their experiences, opinions, and ideas. We have built our own “startup”, pitched the ideas, and tried tweaking the pitch to get it just right. We have been knocked down, criticized, and encourage over and over again by entrepreneurs, business angels, and venture capitalists who kept seeing room for improvement in our pitches or business ideas. I think we have all discovered, that getting your pitch right is harder than you think. The key learning is really, that it is crucial that you are able to explain in clear terms what you are doing, so investors, employees, and customers can easily decide if you are the right fit for them.

Here are some of my favourite key learnings and quotes in relation to formulating the perfect pitch.

“Maximum 30 seconds”
– (the famous elevator pitch)

“If you can’t state your position in eight words, you don’t have a position”
– Seth Godin

“If you don’t have a story you won’t succeed”
– Richard Tait, Golazo

“Entrepreneurs need to be storytellers”
– Julie Sandler, Madrona Venture Group

“The story needs a villain and a hero”
– Andy Boyer, (after attending the Seattle Interactive conference)

“Decide what you are NOT going to be”
– John Scrofano, Founder, Nearlyweds.com

“Be able to explain the business to your mom or a ninth grader”
– Rebecca Lowell, CBO, Geekwire

It seems simple, right? It is not, believe me. It isn’t a mission impossible, but it takes some work. A good way to learn is to look at the companies who have done it right. A company I am impressed with in having a clear pitch and positioning, is Dropbox. Use their positioning as a benchmark to get an indication of how well you are doing. Dropbox does in general just do a lot of things right when it comes to marketing, and I suggest you keep and eye out for what Dropbox is up to, I know I will.

Retention and Referral Panel

Students were prepared to hear about metrics and tools for retention and referral, but were pleasantly surprised to gain insight into creating a meaningful relationship with consumers through human engagement.  Both of the panel members for “Retention and Referral” are some of the brightest and most passionate professionals in the Seattle area.

Kate Matsudaira has spent her entire career working as VP Engineering/CTO at several Seattle startups – including SEOmoz and Delve Networks (acquired by Limelight).  She spent time as a software engineer, tech lead, and manager at Amazon and Microsoft.  

Kushal is the founder and CEO of Vittana. Today, Vittana works in 12 countries, reaching thousands of youth and continuing to grow exponentially.  Vittana is an award-winning organization (Fast Company, Seattle 2.0) and its impact has been highlighted in the Economist, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and many others.  Kushal ran technology for a $1+ billion team at Amazon.com and is the author of 20+ patents, papers and talks. In his free time, he runs Ironman triathlons and trains guide dogs for the blind. Kushal was recently named as one of Seattle’s Top 40 People Under 40 and voted the #1 Game-Changer in Philanthropy by 1.7 million readers on Huffington Post.

As you can imagine the students were willing to cut into other class time to allow the panel to continue their discussion.  They panelist were fine with going longer because both Kushal and Kate were also learning from each other’s experiences.

Both Kate and Kushal talked about the importance of genuine human contact with your customers, especially in the beginning of a startup.  Kushal said “your first 1,000 customers should be your best friends, because they are the ones that are taking a chance on you and will be your brand advocates”.  Both panelists agreed that it is important to maintain a close relationship with your customers, especially as a non-profit.  One strategy is to create a blog that puts the CEO/Founder in the public eye, to establish a more personal brand.  Photos on a website are another way to give a personal touch to your company.

In the nonprofit space specifically it is important to focus on the emotional side of a product.  People are not donating to see numbers or figures assuring them their money is well spent.  That is important, but it is the emotional side that donors want to fell an attachment to.  In the for profit world this is also applicable.  The quantifiable benefits of a product or service are obvious such as the benefit from buying a shirt, so it is important a brand focuses on emotional messaging.

Decide.com and Vittana are able to foster these personal relationships through multiple retention and referral strategies such as direct emails.  The panelists stressed the importance of personal email addresses such as joe@company, instead of using support@company.  It is important that the early adopters, brand advocates and super customers know that they are appreciated through personal communication.  “People like buying products from other people, not websites”.   

To end the discussion Kushal gave words of support to the entrepreneurs of the class who are in the startup phase.  He advised us to “enjoy the ride”, which includes failures, victories and mistakes.  He stated that every entrepreneur has moments of doubt whether they admit it or not. 

Related links:

The Struggle: http://bhorowitz.com/2012/06/15/the-struggle/
Stop Building Dumb Stuff: http://www.obviouslywrong.org/2012/10/21/stop-building-dumb-stuff/
Story about the mom from Peru: http://blog.vittana.org/ana-lizbeth-a-mothers-dream-and-determination

Rand Fishkin’s blog: http://moz.com/rand/
Linkstant: http://www.linkstant.com/
Optimizely: https://www.optimizely.com/

Campaign Strategy Panelists

Our most recent panelists – Melissa Herron and Rob Newton – discussed campaign strategies. Melissa, currently a Senior Strategist at Blast Radius, has years of experience at creative agencies designing campaign strategies for organizations such as Starbucks, Nike, and Chateau St. Michelle. Rob moved from a start-up career with Ontela and Photobucket to become a Marketing Manager at Google. He has experience working alone as the marketing department to serving an integral part in driving Google’s strategy.

Our panelists discussed the importance of knowing your product and your audience when designing a campaign. Survey, survey, survey! Social media is also a cost effective ‘social listening’ tool that will allow you to understand what is going on in the space you’re launching. (However social media does not mean free media, it is only as good as you make it.) Both surveys and social media will provide the metrics to understand what people are looking for and how to reach them. Product testing is also critical to identify the demographics that are most responsive and to understand your competitors.

Building brand is also critical. Make the investment in brand assets such as company and product logos and business cards. Having a professional designer is worth the investment. Also, there is no excuse not to have a web presence! Know who your customers are and be where they are looking for you (paid and organic search). Know who you are and your elevator pitch. Community involvement, volunteering and internal initiatives provide easy PR.

Lastly, Melissa and Rob emphasized that a successful campaign takes time. Many organizations get caught up changing gears too often. By changing the messaging or creative, people are unable to know who you are so let them develop familiarity with your product and company before introducing new messages. And measure everything along the way!

Distribution Panel

On Thursday, October 18, the students of Entrepreneurial Marketing were treated to a lively panel discussion regarding distribution strategies.  The panel included local Seattle professionals Steve Banfield, Adam Brown, and Nathan Kaiser.  In addition to speaking from his current role as Chief Product Officer at Korrio, Steve was also able to pull from his years of experience at Microsoft and Sony, sharing a ‘big business’ perspective.  In contrast, Adam shared his experiences in filmmaking and production, detailing the launch of the independent documentary Sonicsgate.  Nathan rounded out the panel by offering his expertise in technology startups Blue Box and nPost as well as insights gained from his newest venture, the craft distillery 2bar Spirits.

The facilitated discussion covered distribution topics from startup planning and legal considerations to mid-stream strategic transitions and scaling issues.  The key takeaways are outlined below.

On non-traditional distribution strategies:

Adam spoke about distribution for Sonicsgate, arguing that “people are going to steal your content anyway” so it doesn’t make sense to go to great lengths to keep it to yourself;  rather, he recommended working on building buzz, making content easily accessible, and working to cultivate an audience that will want to pay to support your work. Steve reinforced this approach, explaining that he prefers it when there are “no channels” because it grants more freedom and flexibility and cuts out layers and barriers to new customers.  Especially when it comes to media, content is more powerful than the means of distribution and being cognizant of that will enable media companies to remain competitive in an era of rapidly changing media consumption habits and technologies.  Steve pointed out that up until recently, big media companies were essentially dealing in plastics (i.e., tapes, CDs, DVDs, etc.) and not content.  The move away from this business model represents a huge shift for larger companies where the re-orientation requires a fundamental change in corporate culture if they are to keep pace with the changing marketplace.

In order to promote Sonicsgate, Adam removed all barriers between the film and potential viewers, providing the film online and at no cost.  This strategy is contrary to traditional mainstream distribution channels or prepaid downloads.  Adam’s strategy was uccessful, spurring both buzz for the initial release date and popular support which eventually led to Sonicsgate getting picked up by CNBC.  Interestingly, they had been driven to release the film for free because it had initially been rejected by networks when they first shopped it around. Even if the documentary hadn’t been picked up for commercial distribution, Adam had planned ways to generate ”octopus income,“ i.e., giving one thing away for free to bring in income through 7 different sources (through merchandise, DVDs, extras, etc.).

On generating an audience:

The theme of building buzz to aid in establishing distribution channels was repeated at multiple points in the panel discussion.  In addressing the issues inherent in attempting to establish a distribution network prior to a product’s launch date, Nathan volunteered that it can be very difficult for a startup with low SKUs – such as his new liquor business – to get distributors on board without a product in hand, but recommended working on building a customer base first in order to influence distributors to come on board.  Toward this end, he hosted a ‘first batch release’ party last weekend (complete with a mechanical bull!) to encourage sampling and spread the family story behind his product line, which would begin building a dedicated group of customers who will ideally begin to request his spirits at their regular bars and restaurants.  Nathan is using his ties to family and the land to imbue his venture with a story that will continue to resonate with consumers after their first sip.

On legal issues:

It was also clear from the experiences of the panel that legal issues can play a significant role in developing an appropriate distribution strategy.  From Adam’s perspective, it was especially convenient to release his product for free as that side-stepped the issue of using multiple clips of NBA footage in the final cut, which was allowed according to “fair use.”  At the same time, this presented a huge hurdle once the documentary was picked up, requiring the laborious process of legally clearing each frame prior to the official release.  Obviously, legal issues are also a big consideration for Nathan in navigating legislation around alcohol sales.  Luckily, recent changes have opened up more channels than previously available in Washington.  However, the legal status of alcohol also imposes a strict structure around potential distribution channels for the distillery, meaning that there is less freedom to establish creatively different distribution channels.

On pricing considerations:

Nathan also must contend with the ways in which legislation impacts pricing due to the heavy weight of excise taxes on liquor purchases.  This means that 2bar has to develop different pricing for different channels to accommodate the different amounts of tax burden associated with purchasing the spirits from a retailer such as QFC or whether they are consumed on-premises in 2bar’s tasting room or at a bar.  Adam expanded on this point, emphasizing the importance of developing pricing that is competitive to each specific channel, and encouraging the discontinuation of any channels that don’t pay for themselves.  To illustrate he explained how customers are more familiar with making purchases through Amazon than through a company’s own website; as a result they are likely to pay more for the comfort and convenience of buying the product through Amazon.

On scalability:

A big concern for companies hoping to grow is the extent to which their distribution network can cope with anticipated growth of demand.  Adam pointed out that this is barely an issue with digital video, which can be distributed as widely and quickly as demand grows.  The panel agreed that for tangible goods, the issue becomes more complex.  But Nathan pointed out that even with software, finances and infrastructure must be in place in order to scale quickly.  All operational structures must be in place to support growth.  Steve furthered this argument pointing out that Korrio is only as scalable as its sales force; if demand were to increase rapidly, they would need to scale up their sales staff as well in order to keep up.   However, Nathan added, “if you do it right, it can scale indefinitely; it’s beautiful.”

*

Ultimately, it is clear that there is a wide range of factors that must be considered when developing a distribution strategy for a new venture.  Experience can be helpful but also misleading, legal issues and scalability concerns can either place limits on your growth or challenge you to get creative you’re your strategy.  Knowing and engaging with your audience can lead to unanticipated opportunities and unconventional revenues streams.  The was key takeaway is that it is helpful to eschew any pre-conceived notions you may have about what strategy or channels will work best for your company and product, and be nimble and ready to adapt to changing circumstances and unforeseen influences.

Positioning Panel Interview: 10-4-2012

Team BargeBar
RECAP: OCT. 4 – PANEL INTERVIEW
POSITIONING
Panelists
▪ Ruchit Garg: Founder and CEO, 9Slides.com
▪ Maggie Finch Boyer, CEO/Founder, King of the Web (KOTW)
▪ John Scrofano, Founder and CEO, Nearlyweds.com

Topic 1: Process, how to make a positioning statment

Branding and crafting a positioning statement is an iterative process. Rarely will you “nail” it on your first try, and never need to revise. John Scrofano at Nearlyweds uses three adjectives to act as a guide and govern their brand: imaginative, organized and approachable. Nearlyweds also follows a structured format for their positioning statement, “One Wed is the only ____ that does _____.”
Maggie at King of the Web follows a les formal process when crafting a positioning statement. Her original positioning statement became obsolete as business progressed because they noticed their primary users were not the target consumers that they anticipated. She later updated her positioning statement to “discover and vote for independent web video.” Her original positioning statement was a narrow focused hypothesis, she has now morphed it to fit a broader target audience.
Ruchit at 9Slides used his positioning statement to identify his “battleground”. Who do you want to compete against? Their positioning statement is “a way to share presentations online, not just slides.” He began with a broader positioning statement, then fine tuned it to adapt to his target audience.

Topic 2: How to bring your positioning statement to life

It is difficult to follow or make everyone understand your positioning statement, businesses constantly reposition. Ruchit recommends that you brainstorm often, and write down what you’re thinking, as it is constantly evolving.
John has a staff of 6, and frequently makes his employees write press releases as an exercise to make sure they understand the company’s positioning. He also tapes goals and metrics to their window for weekly review.

Topic 3: Evolution, the challenges of re-positioning

Maggie suggests considering the following before considering re-positioning: Is the project making money, or growing fast enough? One should constantly question the direction you are going without being afraid of thinking you are constantly wrong. Be very clear about what “not” going to do, have stamina, and respond to feedback. Know how to take a punch and get back up; customer feedback can be cruel.
John emphasized that it’s important to look for product-market fit, and keep changing until you achieve that.

Topic 4: Key take-Aways

At Maggie’s office, there is constant discussion about the consumer. It is important to be constantly researching your consumer base and responding to live feedback. She also recommends hiring employees that reflect your customers, to better understand them. Keep a lively reminder that what the consumer wants may be different than what you think they want.
John finds it helpful to develop use case stories, and developing a product against it. “I want to look at lots of wedding dress photos”, then develop something to meet that goal. John emphasized that it’s important to find a co-founder when starting a new business. “Don’t get into business with the wrong people, and fire quickly if you have to.”

Focusing on Retention and Referral through Buzz Marketing

Our most recent guest speaker panel focused on buzz marketing and how customer retention and referrals develop from successful buzz marketing campaigns. The guest speakers consisted of accomplished marketing professionals Jason Reid, Jen Nausin, and Adam Tratt. Jason is an Emmy-winning Seattle filmmaker and owner of 2R Productions, a Seattle-based production company with clients such as Microsoft, Google, and Nordstrom. Jen is the Director of Marketing at Cheezburger, Inc., a collection of websites with the goal of making each visitor happy for five minutes of the day. Adam Tratt is the CEO and Founder of Giant Thinkwell, providing an online video platform that is consistent across all platforms. This exceptional panel provided the audience real life examples from their varied marketing backgrounds

There were many common threads throughout the night, primarily; a great product is necessary to long-term success in marketing, the concept of maintaining a “scrappy” mentality, specialization builds efficiencies and expertise, and a passionate consumer base cultivates effective buzz marketing. First and foremost, each panel member agreed that the product is the driving factor to any marketing campaign. A great product generates word-of-mouth, giving weight to the marketing side of the equation. While a concrete definition of scrappiness was never stated, Jen may have said it best that flexing your creative muscle while on a strict budget fosters a sense of scrappiness. From my perspective, scrappiness is an ideal combination of efficiency and effectiveness. As a marketer, specialization allows you to become an expert in a given study. Expertise leads to the appearance that you (or your firm) are large in stature, regardless of the size of your portfolio. Finally, a passionate consumer base will provide useful feedback and cultivate any marketing efforts. Jason referenced the fact that it is significantly easier to tap into an existing passionate fan base than to create new fans. Buzz marketing is the process of cultivating the passion in your consumer base. As Jason puts it, a good marketing campaign evolves the consumer’s passion into a movement.

Maintaining a customer-centric focus is key to customer retention and referral. Adam provided a great example of Pagliacci Pizza surprising and delighting customers through such strategies as offering 1984 pricing on Leap Day and seemingly random free pizzas presented to loyal customers. Furthermore, Adam advocates that many tactics can be used in optimizing a marketing strategy but the strategy itself has a singular objective: get people to love you. You, as a marketer, must promote a core belief that resonates with your target market. Adam’s core believes may boil down to: 1) Make a great, consistent product; 2) Surprise and delight customers (don’t be afraid to give it away); 3) Amplify this effect through social media. Each of these objectives is reliant upon customer relations.

The notion of putting the customer at the center of product development was brought up throughout the night. This product development feedback loop builds a relationship with the customer that not only improves the product but provides invaluable data points for future buzz marketing campaigns. Maintaining customer relationships is a long-term process, not a chore that you accomplish on an annual basis.

Another hot topic on the night was that of relevancy. In order to retain your customer base, you must remain relevant to the customers. For the Cheezburger Network, this means constantly scouring the internet for the next meme and staying on top of what the internet as a whole is discussing. For Jason at 2R Productions, relevancy is releasing follow-up films to Sonicsgate at opportune times, such as releasing a video of Shawn Kemp discussing Blake Griffin’s dunking during the NBA’s dunk contest. Relevancy keeps your customers from switching to the newest and brightest competitor.

Finally, the panel discussed how the measure success in their marketing campaigns. Adam feels too many marketing professionals view marketing as an art and fail to practice the science of marketing. Being systematic about measuring results and taking on only ROI positive projects are disciplines that too few marketers adhere to (a phenomenon that is especially true in larger companies). Jen takes an opposite view and believes there is definitely an art to having a goal in mind for your marketing efforts while focusing on maintaining relevancy. When viewed objectively, this is an argument between analytic marketing and fundamental marketing – a tangent that could quickly derail a discussion about buzz marketing. In short, as long as you spend less on marketing than the revenues derived from your marketing efforts (time value of money aside); your marketing efforts could be viewed as successful.

Hosting Kelly Smith and Andrew Dumont

This week in class, our guest speakers were Kelly Smith cofounder of Curious Office and Andrew Dumont, business developer at SEOmoz. Before Kelly decided to become an entrepreneur, he did a lot of different types of jobs he didn’t enjoy as part of a very natural soul searching process.  He started working in high tech, and in 1994, joined a Seattle company called Spry, which worked on one of the earliest web browsers. He joined Progressive Networks (now known as RealNetworks), which went public 5 years later.   Since that time, Kelly has started 4 companies and invested in around 20. Similarly, Andrew ‘s past is littered with startup experiences:  At the ripe old age of 18 he became a founding member of a company called Tatango.  This was his startup “boot camp”; complete with 90-hour work weeks, $500K in funding, and a nod in the Wall Street Journal. Along the way he served as the director of business development at Seesmic where he got a taste of Silicon Valley.

During their presentation, Andrew told us that the best way to identify good ideas is to address an issue that you face on a daily basis.   If you see a problem that needs solving, there’s a good chance someone else has the same needs and might be willing to pay for a solution.  Building on that idea, Kelly explained the importance of asking questions.   He believes that successful entrepreneurs ask “an abnormal number of questions,” and are curious about everything.   These questions and curiosity feed the conscious and sub-conscious parts of the mind.   According to him, the human mind is constantly processing information and drawing conclusions, even during unexpected times like sleep.  To take advantage of this, he recommends always leaving a notebook by your bedside to record inspirations.

Both entrepreneurs pointed out the importance of being voracious consumers of information.  Information and ideas can inspire creativity.  For instance, SEOmoz’s blog, Topsy, Reportit, Reddit, and Hackernews all came up as great ways to keep up with changes in technology.  Andrew spends the first half hour every day scanning his favorite sites for news.

Their main message for would-be entrepreneurs? More than anything else, they agree that it can be scary to put an idea out there.  Andrew recommends testing out possible business ideas quickly, before overanalyzing them.  Despite the risks of disappointment with a start-up, both believe it’s important to be daring and open to new adventures.  As Kelly explains, “It’s a little bit like deciding to start a family. That is, you’re never truly ready.  Just dive in.  You’ll never be fully prepared. “

Pitching to Investors with Chris and Mary

During the February 8th class, we learned about pitching to investors from Chris DeVore and Mary Jesse.  Chris DeVore is a general partner at Founders Co-Op, a seed-stage investment fund focusing on Web technology investments in the Seattle area.  Chris DeVore has been an investor, operator and executive at both public and private companies. Prior to Founders Co-Op, Chris was the other co-founder of Judy’s Book and served as the company’s COO and member of the board of directors.  Mary Jesse is founder and CEO of Ivy Corp, a technology company providing communication tools and services to businesses and individuals through the web, email and mobile technology.  Ivy Corp was recently funded by the Women’s Venture Capital Fund.

Both Chris and Mary agreed that making a pitch is difficult and requires passion and grit to make it happen.  Mary went on to say that the hardest part of the pitch is that each investor has a different perspective and they all want to see different things.  Her advice was to understand as much about the potential investor in terms of their previous investments, personal backgrounds, whether they have kids or hobbies and to use that information in the pitch to attempt to relate as much as possible to the potential investor.  Chris mentioned that it is important for him to remain active so that entrepreneurs look for him.  Chris believes that it is important to be as transparent as possible about what you do and what you won’t do.  Building a big network is important for Chris so that deals will keep flowing to him.

Chris and Mary both agreed that the freemium business model is a great way to drive sales.  There’s a cost to acquire customers – the freemium portion could just be that cost.  Chris and Mary both agree that traditional marketing has been turned upside down.  Small technology businesses can now be agile disrupters and drive their businesses through LinkedIn, social media, etc.  The key is that there isn’t one technique – you just need to stay up-to-date to the various mediums and get your word out there effectively, using all your capital (social, relationships).

In terms of product validation, Chris looks for the following: Can the team execute a great product experience?  Have they solved a problem?  Do the current customers represent a larger class of customers?  It is important that the product is different and that there aren’t a thousand other companies doing the exact same thing.

 

Creative Campaigns

This week in class we learned about developing creative campaigns from Jim Copacino and Lee Lefever. Jim has years of experience in strategic planning and advertising and is a co-founder of Copacino+Fujikado, a Seattle advertising agency. Lee is a co-founder of Common Craft, which produces short explanatory videos. Lee started out the discussion by showing us one of their new videos on “Copyright and Creative Commons” to give us a taste of what he does. These two men offered insights on advertising for companies both large and small.

During the discussion, Jim and Lee talked about both their failures and successes as advertisers. The failures were particularly intriguing as they offer a way to learn from other’s mistakes. The main take-away message is that while content is important, it is not enough on its own. One must have a diverse campaign including an online presence. Also, the most important thing for coming up with new ideas is to know your target audience and to put yourself in their shoes.Once you have decided on your target audience it is much easier to determine what medium to use for your advertisement and how much money you need to spend on it.

Both Jim and Lee agreed that social media is a good, cheap place to start your advertising campaign. When using social media, you can’t use the language of a press release, it’s much better to use an authentic voice. Advertising through social media involves educating, rather than trying to sell and requires transparency. The worst thing you can do is delete negative comments or try to censor people. So far as coming up with new creative ideas goes, staring at your computer screen is completely unproductive. The easiest way to break away from expected and ordinary solutions is to get outside the office and not push too hard trying to come up with a solution.

MKTG 555 – Public Relations Panel discussion

             

MKTG 555 – Public Relations Panel discussion

By: Jigar Mody, Pravin Mittal, Nilojyoti Dutta Roy, Niraj Agarwal and Rudra Mitra

Last week we had the privilege to host a panel of distinguished guests, Paul Owen from Owen Media, Cara Jacobson from Edelman, and Linda Thomas from KIRO-FM, to discuss and debate their views on Public Relations and the perception of Public Relations by the media.

Background of Guests:

Paul Owen is the founder of Owen Media, a high-tech public relations firm. He started Owen Media in 1997 when IBM, Intel and Microsoft approached Paul about launching a new technology initiative. Owen Media has grown to four US offices with overseas affiliates and 36 full time employees within 12 years. Today Owen Media provide PR, social media, web marketing and event support to technology and new energy brands worldwide.

Cara Jacobson is Vice President, Consumer at Edelman (2006 – present). Edelman is the world’s largest independently owned public relations firm. Before Joining Edelman, Cara worked as News Wrangler at Soapbox Communications (2004 – 2006) and has also worked as a Public Relations Manager at Real Networks (1998 – 2003). Cara has closely worked with firms such as REI, small tech startups, and Microsoft, and is also an alumni of the University of Washington.

Linda Thomas of KIRO-FM is widely known for her show “Seattle’s Morning News”, Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. – 9 a.m. Linda loves radio and sees a strong connection between social media and radio broadcasting. She is very active on twitter and goes by the name “The News Chick”, and has received multiple recognitions for her contributions through social media. Linda has been named one of the top 20 women journalists on Twitter and is ranked #4 in journalists retweeted more than top newspaper sites

Key Insights from the Panel Discussion

The panel discussion provided some key insights about public relations and how it is viewed by the media, which is useful for entrepreneurs involved with marketing to understand, beyond a theoretical understanding of public relations. The first insight was that that in both PR and Journalism an entrepreneur needs to think about what makes a great story, except that in Journalism there is the luxury to decide on the story. This is key for entrepreneurs that think that might have a great idea/product/service and are looking to get the word out – the story is what makes both the media take notice as well as a public relations firm do justice to the area, if outside media is being used – in addition to of course connecting with customers/consumers/users.

Over the years PR distribution channels have evolved. But with the advent of social media, the PR distribution channel has never been easier, especially for smaller firms. People now have easy access to journalists they follow or idols they admire through their blogs or twitter posts. Companies and their consumers can engage with one another in a way that was not possible before. However, it will be mistake to think that all of this comes for free. One needs to put investment in both time and effort in producing consistent messaging and great content across public relations and other marketing channels. The use of social media for public relations needs to be a dialog with customers and not simply an avenue for announcing promotions or new products.

One of the panelists made an interesting comment about how a PR release can potentially be a waste, as it gets ignored by media and does not cut through the clutter. The panel had some good suggestions on how to cut through all the noise in social media – one of the key things is to find out which journalist will be interested in your story and then building a rapport and relationship with the person. One should be ready to provide “exclusivity” to a selected reporter in order to interest him/her. The power of personalized content also came up as a key aspect of differentiation.

For entrepreneurs an oft thought about question is whether public relations firms are only for large or successful companies and how the media might think about public relations coming from in house versus from a specialized public relationship firm. The panel provided interesting insights about this area by noting that although there is a minimum amount that start-ups should think about when working with a specialized public relations firm (~5K a month), it is possible to work with PR firms on smaller projects which cost less. If a company needs broad reach (geographically, multiple publications, etc.), then that is typically another reason to hire a PR firm. But in-house PR is also very much a viable option, and was recommended when firms are smaller or are just getting going. From the media’s perspective the power of the story is the key differentiator in PR, whether it is produced in house or externally.

Our panelists were divided in their opinions around how far they thought companies should go to deal with negative feedback about their brands on social media. Some of them thought that it was really crucial to engage with those people and address their concern while one of our panelists questioned whether it was worth the time. But all agreed that companies need to think about social media both as a tool for engagement with their customers as well as an avenue to understand opinions and attitudes of customers.

We also discussed individuals as brands, which many entrepreneurs getting going in their fields, might be looking to establish and where public relations fits into this. Our panelists reaffirmed the power of individuals having brands and needing to build these up as part of adding credibility to themselves as well as the ventures that they are involved with. The media pays attention to individuals as brands, and although PR firms typically aren’t involved in the development of individuals as brands, an entrepreneur has to work hard through networking and industry events to continue building their brand.

The panel also provided tips of Do’s and Don’ts with regards to social media strategy for entrepreneurs.  One should refrain from using social media as promotional tool rather trying to engage in conversations with people. One needs to be positive, proactive, and patient when dealing with people on social media. It is also important to be transparent especially when there is potentially a conflict of interest. Finally, it is important to engage, to build relationship and to always remember that nothing is “off the record”.

Overall, the panel discussion was insightful, provided some different perspectives and was fun. As entrepreneurs involved with marketing, the attention that needs to get paid to public relations was apparent, and the decisions one should be ready to make around engaging with media and customers in a world of changing media distribution channels.

Thanks

Golazo Visits: Our Class Speaks with Richard Tait

This past Wednesday Richard Tait dropped by class to speak with us about his latest venture, Golazo (www.golazoenergy.com). In the spirit of our topic for the week—market segmentation and analysis—Richard shared some of the key market trends that motivated him to start this company.

UW MKTG 555 - Richard Tait

For those that do not know, Golazo makes a beverage combining elements of hydration and energy using all-natural ingredients. But it didn’t start out as a beverage. It started with a desire to build a brand that embraced the global passion for fútbol that resonated with players and fans alike.

Like co-founder Alex Rosenast, Richard is a long time soccer player and fan(atic). Together they were witness to three trends occurring in the US: the ever-increasing popularity of soccer; the natural foods movement; and several demographic shifts. Some numbers help put this in perspective.

  • Half the planet’s population claims to be passionate soccer fans and over 27 million registered soccer players in the US.
  • According to the US Census Bureau, there are over 47 million Hispanics living in the US, concentrated in distinct geographical regions, with a population growing at ~3x the national growth rate. Collectively, this represents a spending power equivalent to the 9th largest economy in the world.

UW MKTG 555 - Richard Tait

While there are certainly bigger markets of Hispanics (think LA, Texas, etc), Golazo got its start here in Seattle.  The biggest reason was that the founders lived here. But Seattle had a few more things that made it the perfect location to launch Golazo. Seattle has an extremely popular MLS soccer team (Sounders FC had recently been established) and has an 11% Hispanic population. Richard was able to make (and learn from) mistakes in this smaller market before heading into larger markets.

To tap into this huge potential Richard has embodied Golazo’s passion for soccer in everything they do. From a logo resembling a soccer team’s crest to a name that soccer fans around the globe immediately appreciate, Golazo is soccer. Richard predicts their 2011 momentum will make 2012 a big year. We wish him the best of luck!

UW MKTG 555 - Richard Tait