If you look for underlying commonalities between iconic marketing campaigns throughout history, you won’t find many. Humor, sex, emotion, even blatant offenses have been used to create legendary campaigns. One distinct commonality, however, is that they disregard accepted standards of their time. Great marketing forces you to take notice because it’s plain different.
Marketing, like art, is culturally relative. Its success depends on its relationship to the expectations of the present. Take what is maybe the most famous and successful commercial of all time, Apple’s “1984” Super Bowl spot, and run it today. It would hardly be noted.
When starting a company, it’s easy to let marketing and brand strategy fall off your priority list, as it can be expensive and hard to find. As a result, startups often settle for obvious concepts dictated by trends. If you want to get the most value out of marketing, you must realize that the worst thing that can happen is no one will notice your company. Great marketing is created from mitigating the fear of doing something unexpected. The biggest risk, as they say, is not taking one.
No, marketing alone will not turn you into a good company. But it’s another place to add value and make starting up a whole lot easier.
1. Don’t be afraid to get serious
For the modern tech startup, the overwhelming trend is cartoony and light-hearted brand personalities that value humor and cleverness. New startups pop up every day, and most don’t stay in business very long. Marketing your company this way may cause customers to question your legitimacy. It’s a great time to infuse your brand with a serious and passionate voice, as it creates an impression of honesty and legitimacy.
2. Find the expectation, imagine the opposite
This is a habit you should tattoo on your brain while making marketing decisions. When choosing colors, names, graphics and the voice of your copy, take note of the first thing that pops in your head. This is usually the expectation. Then, imagine the exact opposite. Apple had a clearly defined niche as the human-oriented tech company, so Motorola successfully positioned their Droid phone by imagining the opposite: a powerful, robotic phone. The opposite solution is usually not perfect but gets you closer to something great.
3. Use a serif typeface in your logo
The vast majority of tech startups use modern sans-serif typefaces in their logo. Serif fonts convey timelessness and are an easy way to differentiate your company by establishing a sense of credibility and trustworthiness. Just because you’re a tech company doesn’t mean your logo has to be hyper-modern. There are plenty of other places to add more dimensions to your brand.
4. Lead with the big vision
A lot of startups explain their company, whether in their elevator pitch or on their website landing page, by relating it to an existing company (we’re the [insert famous company] of [ insert your industry]). Instead, try to whittle down why your company exists in a simple, overarching sentence. Make it passionate if possible. This serves the dual purpose of differentiating you and helping people understand your company faster. It makes it easier for the human mind to understand a group of actions if they first understand “why.” This company is a good example.
5. Invest in strategy and a brand standards guide
While creating a marketing strategy, confusion and uncertainty often lead to settling on the obvious choice. A good marketing strategy and a brand standards guide will help you establish what you stand for from the beginning so you are less subject to trends. At the Redesign Agency, we created a package specifically for startups that helps them set solid marketing foundations and stand out from the crowded landscape.
Guest author Adam Carney is the founder of the Redesign Agency, an integrated marketing and design company in Chicago. He believes marketing can be used to promote goodness in the world, and that it will play a crucial role in initiating necessary change for the future.