Startup Marketing – Get Good At PR

In my last blog post I compiled some ideas around marketing strategies for your enterprise (security) startup. In this post I am going deeper on the topic of PR and I’ll provide some tips that I gathered from my marketing maven friends on how you can cost efficiently implement a PR strategy.

Why should you care about PR?

PR can be cheap. It ties in well with some of your other efforts like having a corporate (or product) presentation. It helps you shape your message and makes you think about how you want to communicate your value proposition. It can also help you get everyone aligned around a single voice i.e., a common way of talking about your company and products.

It’s also about credibility. It can help you look bigger than you actually are and start establishing your thought leadership in the market. Did I just write that?

How do you get started?

First, follow some of the advice from the previous blog post, especially about “Defining your positioning and value proposition”. Then go create content: Blogs, white papers, videos, info graphics, interviews, etc. After that, syndicate your content to other properties. This can get a bit more involved, but more about that in the next blog post.

But first, you need some good content. Here are some ideas on what you should focus on:

  • Blogs are cheap. Blog about product and industry related topics. Inga notes that a lot of startups make the mistake to only talk about themselves and their features, rather than talking about customer problems and how they are solving them.
  • Guest blogging on other properties is not that easy to do. You’ll need to be a recognized thought leader in the space to get those opportunities, but give it a shot. Work on your market position.
  • Webinars you can do through different outlets. You can organize your own if you have a good list of prospects to invite. Or you can work with a content organization like BrightTalk, SC Mag, Dark Reading, Infosecurity, etc.
  • Email campaigns can be good outlets, but you have to capture leads on your website and as Matt rightfully points out, they are an art. Getting into an inbox and being read is already hard. Getting a meeting out of that truly requires a master piece of an email.
  • Targeted emails as opposed to broader email campaigns can be challenging. How do you get someone to read your email? I am sure you get tons of these in your own inbox. I often get upset at the way these emails are written. As already mentioned, writing good emails takes time. Once your company is past the first couple of customer, it might make sense to invest in a couple of good SDRs (sales development reps) to help you manage your sales pipeline and manage these higher touch interactions with prospects; not just email, but also picking up the phone and just calling them. Obviously in the beginning of your company journey, you share that workload among the team. Often this is something the CEO would do.
  • Presentations and demos are a necessity in any case. Just get them done. Invest time into a great sales deck.
    These things need time. Ask friends and advisors for examples of good sales decks! And please, adjust your pitch to your audience. If you are talking to an end customer, gauge their knowledge. Make it interactive. When you are pitching an OEM deal or even an M&A opportunity, the interested party probably knows your space pretty well already. You probably have all kinds of technology people on the call. So please, get to the gist quickly. Don’t spend 30 minutes on talking about the market opportunity and the market problems. We got it, that’s why we are talking to you. Talk about what you do, how you are different, and what you have learned from your clients. A quick tip from Ariella: When it comes to presentation material, arm your SDRs with solid value-based messaging that is technical enough to resonate with the audience and bypass the hyperactive BS meter that security folks have.
  • Targeted events – Selecting events will depend on which segment of the security space you occupy and which job titles are important to you. If you target security analysts, the best shows are SANS, Black Hat, FIRST and smaller Threat Intel or Digital Forensics events. We’ll cover trade shows in our next blog post. Overall, don’t bother spending too much money on them in the early stages.
  • Speaking at conferences is great, as long as you don’t have to pay for it. Ideally you speak at events where your decision makers show up. And if you have a speaker at an event where you also exhibit, even better. Market around it!
  • Sponsor meetups. These are super cheap. Sponsor pizza and beer. Your name gets out there. The organizers also generally let you give a quick 2 minute spiel. Don’t forget to announce your job openings here. These events can be great to get in touch with your prospects in a more casual setting and they can help you with market research. All around a great investment.

A quick thought on speakers (or even writers, authors) for your outbound facing activities: If you don’t have a founder or employee that has street creds already and/or is a great speaker, you can hire someone. You could hire an independent industry expert or even someone who does the job that your target users are doing. Use that person for blogging, press quotes, and maybe also social media. Just a thought.

This is it for now. In the next post, we will explore the PR topic a bit more and discuss things like syndication, communities, marketing tools, PR agencies, and trade shows.

Startup Marketing

You are an enterprise software startup. You are in the security space. Your company is still early, trying to sign its first 10, maybe 40 customers. What should you be doing for marketing? What works? What doesn’t? What approaches yield the biggest return for your investment? These are some questions that I have been pondering lately with startups that I am working with. I decided to do some research among my marketing and startup friends to explore what marketing approaches work for them.

A huge thanks goes out to my amazing marketing maven friends who provided input for this post: Ariella Robison, Inga Weizman, Matt Trifiro, Katherine Nellums, Laura Pauli, and Mike Armistead.

Following is an attempt to summarize what I learned. To start with, there are two starting points for your marketing program:

  1. Define your positioning and value proposition: Some call this the mission statement. It’s simply one or a couple of statements about what your company does, who the product is for (buyer), and what sets it apart from the competition (“why does your company exist?”).
  2. Identify your top 200 prospects: Work every angle to get to the buyer within your top prospects. Take into account the full sphere of influence when it comes to the sales cycle (approver, influencer, etc.) Where do those people hang out? Where do they get their news from? Do you have personal contacts that can introduce you? Investor contacts? Are those people on twitter? Follow them, answer questions, and start interacting with them. Get creative to rise above the noise (more about that later). Jonathan makes a good point here: If your company is still in the customer discovery or product validation phase, you don’t really have a prospect list yet. At that point you still need to test your market.

From here there are a few different ways you can go. But as with any project, what you don’t measure you can’t manage. Set some specific short to mid-term marketing goals. The more specific the goals, the better. These goals then help inform further marketing activities. Kathrine gives some great examples for these goals:

  • Secure x number of early adopters for the beta program.
  • Generate brand visibility while in stealth / to recruit new employees / to influence my next fundraising round.
  • Activate / engage existing database of prospects.
  • Understand customers’ buying journey to better target them / shorten the sales cycle.
  • Warm up / nurture relationships with our top three prospects.

Before engaging in any marketing efforts, you probably need a Web site. Not just for prospects to see who you are, but also to have a platform to capture leads. You can get leads through other outlets as well, but eventually, you’ll need a decent Web site anyways.

Now you are ready to engage with specific marketing efforts. Following are a few tricks I learned from my marketing investigations:

  • Get reference customers and use them for case studies: Even if you can’t mention them publicly, you might be able to mention them in sales calls.
  • Keep your marketing clever and fun as Laura put it: “Rise above the noise.” She told me stories of many examples that she has implemented in the past. What exactly you do here also depends on your culture. Do things appropriate for your company. Above all, get creative!
  • Get good at PR: Mike is an expert in that. Build up your brand recognition. It’s possible to do this really cheap: blog, tweet, speak at conferences, etc. More details on this we’ll discuss in the next blog post.
  • Be data driven! For anything you do on the PR side, measure what does well. What content converts?
  • Ariella points out that if you can offer some kind of a free demo or trial, that can be a great lead generation tool.
  • Analyst relations (AR): Get connected to the analysts. Figure out who covers your product category at the different analyst firms and go introduce yourself. Often analysts will take a meeting with you to get an understanding of your product without you having to be a customer. Becoming a client of the analyst firms is something you want to do when you are a bit bigger. When talking to the analysts, make sure to ask them for feedback on your product, the roadmap, and the market. Some great tips you can find on my friend Anton’s blog.

While there are all kinds of marketing things you should do, there are also a bunch of things you shouldn’t spend too much money on in the early stages of your company (there are always exceptions):

  • Don’t spend time on SEO
  • Don’t spend money on ad words
  • Don’t spend money on analysts
  • Don’t spend money on speaking engagements
  • Don’t spend crazy money on trade shows

What are your experiences? Other things that work for you? In my next blog post, we’ll have a look at the topic of public relations (PR). Stay tuned.