Hyper-growth brands

OK.  I’ll admit it. I watch Silicon Valley on HBO.

I hate admitting it because, of course, it’s both a characterization and just a little too close for comfort to the startup experience.

Last night’s episode had me laughing and crying.

Let me set the scene: The founder and the coders are desperately trying to hire new developers in a competitive market, time is short and so is money.  Meanwhile, in the board room, the newly minted but completely wacko investor insists the startup spend $30K on “schwag.”  It’s a classically stressful startup moment.

I cringe.

No one asks any questions – the founders are too caught off guard by the mere suggestion. And yet, it’s patently obvious no one except the wildly erratic investor, who also spend a load of cash on billboards, has started to even think about marketing and branding.

Everyone’s thinking “splash” and no one is thinking “strategy.”

Here’s a pro-tip: “Splashes” without “Strategy” are usually huge wastes of money.

I don’t care how awesome your product is – you HAVE to think about branding and marketing for your startup. But the worst way to do it is in a scattershot “yah, let’s spend money on that,” way. Every startup has a “Shwag” moment.

I remember one startup I worked on wanted to spend $100K on hiring a talent for a “viral video.” Another spent over five-hundred thousand dollars on print ads.

Both happened for one reason only: everyone was in splash mode and no one was in strategy mode.

Here are 5 Ways To Know Whether It’s YOUR Time for “Schwag”

1. Have you done a pre-launch marketing plan?

Before you go to launch, you’re going to need a marketing plan. Sounds obvious, except, it’s one of the hardest things for startups to focus on.

Through the haze of late nights and Redbull, frantic pivots and resource challenges, marketing strategy for launch is often overlooked.

Consequently, decisions like “we need to spend $30K on “shwag” happen in the moment and they happen quickly and then happen when everyone is actually focused elsewhere.

If there’s one place you need a plan for launch it’s in marketing. If you’re doing your pre-launch homework, you might just be well positioned for your splash.

2. Who’s Suggesting?

I know you wouldn’t take code advice from me. You shouldn’t. If I ever give it you, send me packing.

Get your experts and resources in order and more importantly, listen to them.

There’s going to come a point when someone or many people will start telling you what you should do, most of whom have no idea what you’re TRYING to do.  The better your relationship with your marketing expert, the more you’ll know whether you’re getting good advice from everyone else.

3. Who’s Implementing?

What’s the point of your “shwag?” Whose getting it, when and where. Oh, yah, whose distributing it?

How many times have I seen impetuous spending happen without thought as to implementation?

Chances are – no matter what kind of “shwag” you’re investing in, you, the founder do NOT have time to implement said “shwag.” Better figure that out before you spend that $30K.

Even if you’re a master of marketing strategy, get your implementors together and THEN you’ll be ready for your splash.

4. What Questions Aren’t You Asking?

Hey, I like a new idea probably even more than the next person, but some things work consistently and some things consistently don’t work. Some risks in marketing are worth taking, some are worth testing and some are just bad.

There should be at least one person on your team, whether in-house or outsourced who says “that’s a bad idea,” once in awhile.

I’m not suggesting you have layers and layers of processes for a simple decision, but I don’t care how many millions you have, marketing is expensive, someone better be prioritizing and someone better be comfortable with “no.”

Find your “no” person. Not because they’ll throttle  you, but because they’ll let you splash at the right time.

5. How Expensive is “Cheap?”

I get it, you don’t want to spend any of your money on “shwag” but you need to. So you call your nephew or niece because they’ll do it cheap.

Unraveling “cheap” is one of the most time and energy consuming processes you can not pay for. I bet you’ve been there in other forms of development. Marketing is no different. Not only that, but you’ll find unraveling cheap costs a whole lot more than “done right the first time.”

So, next time someone wants to drop big bucks on shwag, you’ll be ready for them. AND you’ll be on your way to being ready for your splash.

 

Listen up: Going viral is a benefit to creating great content, not the goal.

But if you’re really committed to creating a viral video marketing campaign:

Creating viral content is this easy.
And this difficult.
Here’s my fool-proof 3-step process.

Create content that strikes an emotional cord (funny, sad, inspirational) and is distinctly unique and you’re one step closer to viral. 
Create content that tells a story, not a tagline and you’re one step closer to viral. 
If your branding it, make the product part of the story, not THE story. 
Not all that helpful, right? Truly the devil is in the details. Storytelling. More art than science. That’s why there is no Einstein-esque formula for viral. If only “viral” were as simple as math. It takes time to create and make a story. Song writers, ad professionals, photographers, marketers, movie makers, writers, videographers, graphic designers. We’re all storytellers. And once in awhile a storyteller also gets lucky. And viral happens. Think of all the stories out there today. Not too many go viral, but does that make them not worth making? Of course not.

So, in honor of The Story, let me tell you one. About 4 years ago, I talked with Judson Laipply, whose own viral video 2006 “Evolution of Dance” received 70 million views in under 8 months. At the time it was the #1 most viewed video of all time on YouTube (waaay before Gangam Style). Judson’s performance tells a great story in an entertaining, unique way. When I asked him about his own viral video, he said that he put it up on YouTube as a fluke, that in fact, someone in the audience recorded it and sent it to him. Judson was as surprised as anyone at the response, he wasn’t already famous (like some other viral video creators)  and he didn’t have a huge social media following at the time.  Since then, he’s done several follow-ups but none so successful as the original. Today, Judson is a working motivational speaker. The point is, completely of the moment? Yep. Complete accident? Yep. Repeatable? Probably not. With all due respect to Judson, we’ve all been there, and done that.

It’s pretty rare that branded material go viral. If you look at the most popular YouTube videos of all time (YouTube Charts), not a single one is a branded video. Almost all of them are music videos (YouTube being to this generation what MTV was

to mine). Coincidence? No.  Does that mean that branded content can’t still be powerful? No. Check out the videos in particular categories. The all-time #1 video in the auto & vehicles segment is a COMMERCIAL. The Volkswagen/Darth Vadar commercial that originally aired during the Superbowl 2011 (you don’t even have to go find it do you? You remember it). Notably, none of the other Superbowl ads from that year or this year can claim the number one spot in any category. There were some great branded viral videos in 2012, my personal favorite was the Dollar Shave Club, which was appears deceptively simple, but once you break it down you realize its the product of a lot of talent and planning.

There is a theme here: either viral is completely planned, thought out and scripted or its completely of the moment, off-the-cuff. One is time consuming, expensive and lucky and one is JUST lucky.  Which are you? 

So go forth, my marketing compadres. Create amazing content in whatever medium you wish. Please. But create amazing content because its the right thing to do if your going to create content at all. Because by creating content, you’re saying something about your brand…whether 1,000 people see it or 1 Billion people see it. Create the best, most memorable content you can create. And move on. And remember, sometimes its about quality over quantity.