From banking to bedding, superannuation to shoes, startups are flipping marketing on its head

startups marketing

July co-founder Athan Didaskalou.

As a former brand strategist, I’ve seen some incredible marketing campaigns — and some incredible flops. I’ve also seen brands afraid to take a risk and try something new, who end up boring their consumers.

But here’s the thing. There is no such thing as boring categories, only boring brands.

Startups are proving this constantly. From banking to bedding, superannuation to shoes, startups have the opportunity to break out from boring due to the simplicity of their team structure, ability to move quickly and appetite for risk.

You don’t have to be a startup to move past boring marketing. With a few changes to your marketing process, and rethinking where your customer fits into your approach, you can adopt the marketing structure that startups naturally allow.

The startup content creation process

In the traditional marketing approach, content may take six months or more to produce one creative component. It can include multiple agencies, stakeholders and approvals. Often, there’s still the reliance on a hero campaign — the one piece of creative that’s supposed to do it all.

Instead, startups are flipping this model, using channels such as paid social as a mechanism for defining what creative gets the awareness and attention from the target audience.

For instance, mattress startup Koala produces 10 different pieces of content in one campaign, releases them to see what sticks, and then drops nine of those pieces of content to double down on the one that resonates. This kind of multivariate testing may seem riskier, but this frequency offers more insights and more options to take cues from an audience.

Running a range of ads with the same message but unique content can be a solution for trialling a sensitive message to your audience. Online men’s healthcare startup Pilot runs multiple creative campaigns across platforms such as Facebook that gets its product out to its target audience while working within the confines of what they can say — and show — on the platform.

Startups are also proving the benefits of diverse types of creative content can form an integrated campaign. Allbirds takes the basic shoe concept and creates simple campaigns that talk to the product benefits, using illustration as well as film to test new messages. By testing the message and the medium, it’s making its advertising work harder to deliver insights.

A more connected customer relationship through team empowerment

Building on this marketing approach, startups are demonstrating how to reconsider your customer relationship.

While the startup brand marketing funnel may still have a consistent, high-level brand aesthetic, tone, colours, a more connected relationship with potential customers helps startups do things very differently at the granular level — think customer service, social posts and retail interactions.

Building on a high frequency of creative content, social media offers the opportunity for your brand to show personality with less-serious comments and responses, while customer service wins like surprising a customer with a hand delivery help to build credibility and trust with your audience.

In order to make this work for your brand, you need to empower your teams to make decisions for customers and the brand on a tactical level.

At July, we’ve implemented a ‘happy dollars’ system for our customer service team, empowering them to add gifts with purchases or expedite shipping when necessary. Instead of the traditional marketing hierarchy, our customer service team can actively help problem-solve or surprise and delight the customer, building the connection with our customers before, during and post-purchase.

I believe every founder, marketer and product team has the ability to create engaging and relevant marketing. Whether you’re a brand new startup or an established player, you have two clear areas of opportunity to have some fun — a high frequency of creative churn that results in crazier and even more engaging content to capture awareness, and customer service wins that show personality and builds trust.

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