I believe that the way most SaaS companies launch their marketing function today is incredibly inefficient. For many, marketing and the brand are afterthoughts. A company usually knows they need to be doing “some marketing stuff” like having a website and social media accounts, but they don’t have a real strategy or guiding direction. Your marketing, though, should be a strategic lever in your business and how you go to market—especially your brand.
Over the past five years at High Alpha venture studio, we’ve launched over 15 new companies and marketing functions and invested in over 40 B2B SaaS leaders. One of our superpowers in building new companies has been our focus and investment in building strong brands for our new companies from the early days.
Marketing a new brand can be one of the most challenging roles in a startup—especially when you are defining a new market or trying to displace a commonly held practice. You are fighting an uphill battle against large incumbents or—worse—major aversion to change. Not to mention your tiny marketing budget.
Most startups, though, want to delay investments in brand marketing due to the lack of their ability to accurately measure and attribute revenue. They fear the investment in building a brand will take the focus off driving demand gen and hinder traction.
The truth is that your brand can be one of your biggest levers in building your marketing foundation and in going to market faster. Your brand is one of the only marketing channels that builds repeatable traction, not just one-and-done advertising returns. The long-term effects and impact on your business (and ultimately demand gen) cannot be overstated.
Where do you start, though? It’s not in full-page WSJ brand awareness campaigns or a Super Bowl commercial. Even the smallest startups can take small steps to build a strong brand from day one. Below are a handful of lessons around positioning, messaging, and “punching above your weight class” that you can start to implement as you think about your brand strategy.
1. Be “First”
You need to find out what you are “first” in. Being first is everything.
Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout—originally published in 2001—is still one of my favorite marketing books of all time. In the book, they talk at length about the need to be first, writing:
It’s better to be first than it is to be 'better’...If you can’t be first in a category, then set up a new category you can be first in.
What are you “first” in? This is where your brand is vitally important. Your brand and brand message are how you define what you are first in. It’s the lever to position your brand as the first in your audience’s mind.
And if you can’t be first in something that already exists, create your own category. We’ve seen the success of category creation with many of our portfolio companies. Zylo created the SaaS management category. Terminus and Flip My Funnel get a lion’s share of the credit for pioneering the ABM movement and category that exists today.
2. Show Up and Own Every Touchpoint
Another major impact on your brand’s strength is how you show up. Understand your buyer’s journey and show up at every step of that journey. Own every touchpoint.
Where does the phone number on your website lead? Are you covering your bases with your branded search? What do your G2 and Capterra profiles look like? Do analysts even know your company’s name?
These investments don’t even need to be monetary. It just takes time and intentionality. Spend the time to have a presence on these sites and show up in that touchpoint. Take the time to brief Gartner and Forrester, for example, and don’t let your digital identity look dilapidated.
3. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Repetition is king. How often are you repeating your messaging and brand story? How often are you repeating it internally in front of your employees? Is your whole company telling the same story in every first call and elevator pitch?
Remember, you get tired of your message far sooner than the market does. You may think you’ve given the same presentation a thousand times, but your audience barely notices.
It can oftentimes feel old and repetitive to keep telling the same story, but nothing builds a stronger brand than consistency and repetition.
4. Punch Above Your Weight Class
Very often I work with our portfolio companies to utilize their brands to punch above their weight class and compete with companies that are much more established than they are. As a new startup, you want to look much bigger than you are. This goes a long way in building brand awareness and loyalty.
This can showcase itself in simple things like always having open roles on your website, using customer logos strategically, and adding a login page to your navigation even before you have a login. It can also come through in who you define as your competitors. Do you want to compete with ankle-biters or the 800 lb gorilla in your industry? Separate yourself from the also-rans and show up as if you belong at the table with the large, established players.
5. Take a Side
Don’t be afraid to take a side. People want to work with other people and brands that have an opinion. Don’t be afraid to have a take or ruffle feathers. If you’re trying to be all things to all people, you will inevitably fail. If people disagree with you, it most likely means there will be people on the other side of the fence that agree with you just as strongly. If everyone is in the middle ground, you’ll never get enough traction and interest to spur people to take action and buy.
6. Repeat, Again
To drive home a final lesson, I’ll take my own advice and reiterate one of the points above—repetition is king. Repeat your message every chance you get. That’s the only chance you have at standing out and being a memorable brand.
Drew Beechler | High Alpha | @drewbeechler
Drew is the Director of Marketing at High Alpha, a venture studio that creates and invests in B2B SaaS startups. He leads marketing for High Alpha's own brand while also advising and running marketing in the early days for the High Alpha Studio companies. Prior to High Alpha, Drew worked on content marketing and product marketing teams at ExactTarget and Salesforce.
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