Make yourself heard
Make yourself heard

Digital strategist and entrepreneur Mark Evans—a long-time technology reporter for the National Post, Bloomberg and the Globe and Mail—shared his experiences marketing his own brand. He said a layoff in 2008 inspired him to start off his own business, ME, a consultancy that “works with start-ups and fast-growing companies looking to create and deliver their stories to a variety of audiences.”

As Evans says, the problem of marketing communications can be paraphrased as “Hey, pay attention to me!”

Before you craft effective messaging, you must figure out who you are. The exercise of self-discovery took Evans more than a year. It was only through countless pitches that he could effectively summarize the essence of his firm.

Answer the basic questions:

  • Who are you? Seems simple, but it takes a long time to figure this out.
  • What do you do? Try to pass the “mom test”: Can your mom explain what you do?
  • What problem do you solve?
  • What’s in it for me? If you have existing customers, make it your business to get their insight into this. Why did they choose your service?

These help make up the so-called “elevator pitch”. All the pitch really needs to do is to win your audience’s permission to give them more information.

Evans’ thoughts on some key marketing tools:

Web sites remain crucial
While social media is the current darling, don’t neglect your web site. This is the “workhorse” of your marketing communications efforts.

  • Your homepage should offer instant gratification. People don’t read everything; they scan instead for interesting parts.
  • Remove all “grit”—awkward navigation or unnecessary clicks.
  • Include clear calls to action, aided by direct language and clear visuals.
  • “About” and “Contact” pages are important. Evans dislikes contact pages that force users to submit queries via forms, or which don’t offer telephone numbers and email addresses of actual people.

Love your data
Web traffic analysis tools like Google Analytics—free and rich with data—are invaluable for crafting targeted messaging: they give information not only about current but also potential customers.

To tweet or not to tweet
The benefits are social media are clear: You get feedback, can gather competitive intelligence, can deliver customer service, help generate media coverage, even cast yourself as a thought leader in your niche (through a blog, for example). But blogs, Twitter and Facebook are not a magic bullet and they aren’t free either: A useful presence on these platforms will require a lot of effort to build and maintain.

Rather than dabbling in all the social technologies, Evans suggests tacking one platform at a time. Make the decision based on your resources, your target audience, your estimated “bang for the buck” and also by considering what the competition is doing. If your competition isn’t using Twitter yet, maybe that’s one reason to start there. But when it comes to social media, always be able to answer, “WHY am I doing this?”

Evans’ rules of PR

  • PR is NOT the same as getting media attention. News coverage depends a lot on luck, timing, relationships with sources and gaining it is an art form.
  • Don’t hire a full-service PR agency just because you are too busy with other things. Big agencies may not be that sympathetic to your plight as a start-up. Try to partner with like-minded PR entrepreneurs who understand what it means to start on a shoestring.
  • Better yet, manage your own PR. Begin with tools like Google Alerts or MuckRack.com to at least keep track of what others say about you.
  • The best PR is success. Media are attracted to astonishing success, or tremendous failure. But it’s impossible to get noticed in the middle-of-the-road.

Other branding tips
Your creativity should be your strength. Avoid defaulting to expensive graphic designers or slick commercials. Evans’ example is BlendTech’s Will It Blend? commercials sensation on YouTube – a simple promo so successful that companies are now clamouring to have their own products blended to bits in upcoming clips.

There’s no substitute for 1-on-1 meetings
Coffee (or non-decaf-soy)  is your friend and a coffee shop can be your best PR office. The people you meet and chat with aren’t just potential customers, but future evangelists for your message. If they don’t buy, they can still talk you up.

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Pat Tanzola

Pat Tanzola is a writer and serial social entrepreneur enrolled in ENT 101. He is a founder of PunGents.com, the Giro T.O. bike ride and the Toronto Neighbourhood Brunch Club. He worked on digital media at The Walrus and currently at the University of Toronto. He also writes for The Mark and his personal blog. See more…