What we offer

Marketing Strategy

Discover, identify and engage your target audiences with well-defined plans that reflect goals, priorities and the competitive landscape.

Messaging

Creation of compelling brand stories featuring unique value propositions and leading benefits to attract customers and drive them down the sales funnel.

Content Marketing

High-quality content for Websites, videos, blog posts, infographics, email newsletters and press releases delivered on a subscription basis.

Product Marketing

Strategic and tactical insight on how your product should be positioned, priced and promoted within the marketplace.

When Should Startups Embrace Marketing?

Is there a right time for startups to jump on the marketing bandwagon?

Do they wait until the product is ready to launch? Do they spark up the marketing engine before product launch to get customers engaged?

It’s an intriguing question given many startups are afraid of marketing, reluctant to invest in marketing, or don’t understand how it works.

In a recent post, Buffer’s Joel Gascoigne suggests the sooner startups get into marketing, the better. “I believe that what feels like “too early” is, in fact, a great time to start marketing,” he wrote. “Most people have probably delayed much longer than they should.”

Gascoigne says Buffer attracted attention and received valuable feedback by publicly talking about its social media sharing product. (Note: For startups looking for insight into how to create a marketing machine, do some digging into Buffer’s activities.)

It is not a surprise that I agree with Gascoigne. In an ideal world, marketing is a core part of how a startup develops and grows. From the beginning, it is important for storytelling (aka marketing) to be created and nurtured. It doesn’t mean a startup throws itself into marketing. But marketing is being integrated into the corporate DNA.

Notice I said “in an ideal world” because most startups see marketing as a necessary evil. It is something to be done when there is a point of pain (aka few leads and sales) or strategic urgency such as the need to raise money. Marketing is not something happily embraced by most startups because they are excited.

The fear of marketing ranges from not really understanding what is involved to seeing other areas such as product development as more important. These are legitimate reasons but they leave startups wondering why they have no brand awareness or traction. In simple terms, they fail to see how marketing drives the sales funnel.

Even startups that show interest in marketing often stumble when it’s time to pull the trigger tactically. In theory, marketing sounds great until you ask them to approve marketing activities and write checks.

Unfortunately, startups unable to embrace marketing are setting themselves up for failure. They are trying to compete with one hand tied behind their backs, while their rivals are furiously sprinting ahead. And by the time they realize the value of marketing, it’s often too late.

A better, smart approach is thinking about marketing from day one. When deciding to do a start, an entrepreneurs is often creating a story in their heads to win over family, employees, partners and investors.

Here’s the thing: They are marketing but don’t realize it. The trick is to keep the marketing mojo going. Instead of just focusing on product, entrepreneurs must develop a a narrative around it.

Truth be told, it is not difficult or complicated. I truly believe most people are storytellers if they let themselves stumble and experiment while trying.

The most important reason to get into marketing from the beginning is it lets a startup evolve its story over time. It is a natural and logical approach because stories are polished based on a series of events rather than building something from scratch.

Maybe the best advice for startups about marketing is not to think about marketing. Instead, they are telling a story about their history, product and story.

For startups looking to jump-start their marketing, I provide strategic and tactical services – core messaging, brand positioning, marketing strategies and content creation.

 

Who Says Email is Dying? It’s Not Going Anywhere!

Email is evil. Email is a productivity killer. We spend too much time in the inbox. It’s time to move on from email.

You know what I say to that: “Yeah, right!”

Email is good. Email is a powerful communications medium. Email is an effective way to drive business.

It’s why I love the inbox. It’s where I connect, build relationships, drive leads and discover what’s happening.

It’s why I have “enhanced” my GMail account with tool such as Rapportive, Streak and Assistant.to.

It’s why I’m fascinated with iOS email apps – Accompli being the current tool of choice.

If email is so good, why are so many people anti-email?

It probably comes down to a single issue:

A lack of discipline. Email is addictive. Email is a time-suck. Email captivates but it also sends you down digital rabbit holes. Productivity gurus dislike email because it is easy to spend hours engrossed in emails that have little or no value.

This is your fault, not email’s problem. You’re the one who can’t resist the urge to constantly check your inbox. You’re the one with the digital ADD that compels you to flip back and forth between email and the thing you’re working on. Don’t blame email for a lack of control.

We live in a multi-tasking world where everything happens at the same time. Email is dangerous because it’s always on; a relentless and seductive siren that calls your name at all hours. People believe checking email is good because it keeps them in touch. But it is also distracting and stops you from living in the moment – be it personal or professional.

To get the most out of email, you need self-control. You are the master of email, not the other way around. Your inbox is always dutifully waiting for you. It’s not going anywhere. There is no need to check it every few minutes, which only exacerbates your email anxiety.

And here’s another reality about email: Most people don’t expect instant replies. There is no penalty for taking hours to click on reply. In fact, you do both parties a favour by not responding right away. First, you have time to think about the message so you can decide on the best answer. Second, there is less pressure for the other person to respond quickly because you have responded right away.

Looking for another way to embrace email discipline? Stop sending people email messages at night and during the weekends. It means you’re spending non-work time doing work and, as important, forcing people to spend non-work time doing work. This is a lose-lose proposition.

Here are some more email tips:

1. Keep emails short and to the point. The tighter the email, the less time it takes to read.

2. Be clear about the expected response. If you want a reply, ask for it. If not, say so.

3. Not every email requires a reply. Many email strings can come to a dead-stop.

4. If you need to see if emails are opened, use a tracking tool such as Yesware, Signals or BananaTag.

5. Give yourself a number of slots during the day to check email, rather than checking throughout the day.

Bottom line: Email isn’t evil or a time-killer if used effectively. There is tremendous value from email, which explains why it continues to thrive as new tools emerge. With the right approach and discipline, email is a workhorse that helps get stuff done.

More: My email “tool box” includes the following:

1. Clients: GMail, Sparrow (acquired by Google), Accompli (iOS)

2. Extensions: Streak (CRM), Rapportive (CRM), Assistant.to (scheduling)

3. Unroll.me (subscription management tool)

For startups looking to jump-start their marketing, I provide strategic and tactical services – core messaging, brand positioning, marketing strategies and content creation.

Five Reasons Why Your Startup Messaging Changes

In previous posts, I have looked at how messaging plays a critical role in startups articulating what they do and why they matter.

But as much as messaging is an important exercise, it is also dynamic and constantly evolving. In other words, messaging is drawing a line in the sand, not etching it in stone. Even the best messaging has a shelf life before it changes.

messagingA messaging refresh is not a bad thing. In fact, this is the reality of playing in a competitive and fast-moving marketplace. There is no room for complacency or accepting the status quo if startups want message that is powerful and vibrant.

As a result, startups must scrutinize their messaging on a regular basis to ensure it is still relevant and effective. If it doesn’t ring true, it’s time for a change.

Here are five reasons why messaging needs a refresh:

1. Product: For most startups, the product constantly changes. New features emerge, removed or given less of a profile, the user interface gets updated, prices change, and pivots happen. In the process, messaging becomes stale because it no longer reflects the product’s benefits, features or focus. Even if the product/messaging misalignment is minor, it can create a lack of clarity and confusion that causes a startup’s marketing and sales activities to hiccup or stumble. As important, it can give customers reason to reason to pause, reconsider or not make a purchase.

Takeaway: On a weekly or monthly basis, review your messaging to see it still rings true. If there’s any doubt, drill down into what no longer is working as effectively. Even better, solicit advice from key stakeholders who can bring a different perspective. It’s a constant feedback loop that ensures you’re on top of things.

2. Competition: Startups don’t operate in silos, so it is important to track the messaging of their leading rivals. How is their messaging different or better? How does it resonate more effectively? What are the key ideas or themes being thrust into the spotlight? It’s  challenging for startups to objectively compare themselves with rivals, but it is essential to examine interesting or smart things being successfully embraced.

Takeaway: First, create a list of startup rivals to monitor. This can consist of the leading competitors, as well as small players who often approach the market with new ideas. The check-list includes messaging, benefits, features, pricing, design, etc. Then, study the messaging of each rival. Write down the keywords or phrases being used so you can compare them over time. When something jumps out, think about why it’s effective and how it impacts your startup’s messaging.

3. Customers: One of the realities of having customers (a good thing!) is figuring out how your marketing and sales efforts are resonating. Are their value propositions, benefits or features that capture their imagination? Do some marketing campaigns work better than others? Ideally, there is a healthy amount of experimentation happening (A/B tests anyone?) to discover the marketing and sales magic.

In the process, customers will tell you how well you’re connecting with them. If the messaging is well positioned, customers may respond in a certain way. If the messaging is missing the mark, there are other indicators (aka no leads or sales). In an ideal world, startups are constantly talking to customers to get feedback about messaging, product, customer service, etc. It’s always a great opportunity to reload or keep humming along.

Takeaway: Listen to your customers and watch how they behave. If asked, customers will offer valuable insight. A willingness to experiment is a key part of getting the right answers to many issues, including messaging.

4. Marketing: When you boil it down, marketing is storytelling using different campaigns and channels. To connect with customers, a startup crafts stories that trigger curiosity, interest and lead generation. Some stories rock the house, while others fall flat. The most important consideration is keeping close tabs on your storytelling efforts. What stories get customers excited? What stories disappear into the ether? Track successes and failures to get insight into how the overall story needs to change to work better.

Takeaway: Keep close track of all your marketing campaigns to see how customers respond. Create a variety of stories to discover the right formula, and then drive hard on the stories that customers like.

5. Investors: As much as investors look for high-potential startups, they have investment philosophies. They have expectations and biases about how startups should operate and position themselves. If they’re pro-active, investors will have their own ideas about a startup’s messaging. This is good insight because it comes from a different perspective.

Takeaway: Investors have the benefit of seeing how many startups operate. It gives them unique insight about a startup’s messaging works relative to other startups. Investors can also make introductions to people who have different perspectives.

Bottom line: Over time, messaging evolves for startups that operate in a market in which the dynamics are constantly shifting. It means startups are tweaking their messaging to stay aligned with customers and the marketplace. Success with messaging happens when a startup realizes that complacency is trouble. Instead, messaging is a dynamic creatures that evolves with your business.

Should the Canadian Government Stop Investing in Startups?

As Canada’s startup ecosystem gathers more traction, the Canadian government is delivering more direct and indirect support.

This involves programs that provide tax credits, grants and, more recently, direct financial support to venture capitalists and accelerators.

The $64,000 question is should the federal government be investing in startups? Does it make sense for the government to give money to third-parties so they can invest in small, high-risk companies?

To some degree, it comes down to how you see the role of government. Is it good for the government to actively stimulate business activity? Or should government focus on creating a fertile investment environment and putting the global spotlight on the startup community?

At a conference last week in Toronto, a startup panel waded into the fray. David Ossip, a serial entrepreneur, declared he was “against any kind of government funding. The government should say away from entrepreneurship.’

Karl Martin, co-founder and CEO with Bionym, said government support such as grants is “great but addictive”, adding it’s “something that let you go a little bit further but it’s not that helpful”.

On the other side of the fence, Ariel Garten, CEO with InteraXon, said the federal government’s research and development credit program is “the number one reason I’m still in Canada”.

The role government plays drives great conversation because it is a polarizing issue. We want the government involved but don’t want the government too involved.venture capital

We want support for the startup sector but don’t want startups artificially propped up.

We complain about the lack of growth capital for startups but have mixed reactions when the federal government says it is committing hundreds of millions of dollars to the venture capital sector.

In many respects, we want to eat our cake and have it too. We want support for startups but not in a way that makes them state-supported creatures.

The federal government finds itself in a difficult spot because it needs to drive innovation and the New Economy. As much as pulling oil from the ground and chopping down trees is lucrative, a key part of the country’s economic future hinges on our success in supporting the startup ecosystem.

So what should the federal government do? Is there is an appropriate approach?

Personally, I think the federal government should focus on setting the table for investments in technology, innovation and startups. Whether it’s R&D credits, programs to encourage the hiring and training of talent, or investment incentives, the federal government has many tools at its disposal to support the startup community.

And we’re not talking about mega-dollars to distribute to venture capitalists.

Maybe the government feels there is an investment void it needs to fill for a while, but truth be told there is corporate and institutional money sitting on the sidelines. Instead of investing in startups and innovative technology, they’re accumulating cash or focusing on less risky investments.

That’s certainly their prerogative but government has a role to play in creating incentives for this money to get into the game. This is where the government could make a major impact to get the private sector to drive economic growth.

When you boil it down, the government creates the stage for investment but doesn’t have to invest itself. It can develop attractive incentives to invest in startups but not act as a quasi-VC.

Canada’s startup community is getting stronger and more vibrant. There are more smart and aggressive entrepreneurs who can attract capital because they are building agile, innovative startups. At some point, the government will realize being a direct investor is no longer necessary.

Growth Hackers Are Sexy and Shiny But Elusive

By Mark Evans

About a month ago, a client got excited about using AdWords to drive traffic and leads.

“Great idea,” I said. “Let’s hire someone to manage it for us”. This reflects my philosophy of tapping into the expertise of others, while sticking to what you know best. In my case, AdWords does not qualify.

“No,” the client responded. “Let’s do it ourselves”. By “ourselves”, he meant me. First thought, this is not a recipe for success. Second thought, let’s dive in and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, we can always go back to the original plan.

While I have not become an AdWords expert, things are going fairly well. After some false starts, the client’s campaigns are running and the ads are driving leads, particularly demo requests. In the process, I’m learning more about AdWords by tweaking the dials, reading content and experimenting with some good tools.

Playing around with AdWords got me thinking about “growth hacking”, a term used to describe a startup marketer who, in theory, can do a bit of everything. It’s an attractive concept because what startup, after all, wouldn’t want have a multi-talented marketer.

But is it realistic for a startup to actually have a Mike Trout-like marketer – a five-tool player who can do everything?

Personally, I think it’s a huge stretch because few people can do it all. And even if someone can do it all, does it make sense to give someone so much work and responsibility?

On the surface, growth hacking is sexy because it reflects our fascination with multi-tasking and doing whatever it takes at a startup to get the job done. Maybe there’s a financial angle given a startup can hire a growth hacker for “X dollars”, rather than paying “Y dollars” to two or three people.

Don’t get me wrong, if a startup can discover a growth hacker, hire them. At the same, it is important for startups to realize growth hackers are few and far between.

More realistically, I think it’s possible for startups to challenge their marketing people to do more. While a startup wants someone to focus on their strengths (e.g. content marketing, social media, SEO), it is also beneficial to make people learn new things and stretch themselves intellectually. This is good for them and good for a startup.

My experience with AdWords reflects how you can teach an old dog new tricks. It is not likely I will become an AdWords ninja but there’s a good chance I will learn enough to become competent. This will let me do more for clients and, as important, provide valuable insight into the skills that a startup needs to grow.

This is the key to growth hacking. It’s about having the interest, curiosity and willingness to learn new skills to expand your marketing repertoire.

By learning more, a marketer can do more and, at the same time, have the knowledge to know when to hire someone with better skills or different expertise.

In theory, five-tool marketers are a great idea. But I also believe that playing to your strengths is important and often necessary. As a startup grows, there is less of a need to have a growth hacker. Instead, it is better to have a cohesive team of people with expertise in different areas. This lets people thrive and sets the stage for success.

Personally, the most interesting thing about growth hacking is how it makes marketers get out of their comfort zones. It is important for marketers to expand their skills to grow, thrive and enjoy their work. But it doesn’t mean they have to be amazing at everything or do everything.

How do you define growth hacking? Is it a short-term proposition for startups to have someone who does it all?

For startups looking to jump-start their marketing, I provide strategic and tactical services – core messaging, brand positioning, marketing strategies and content creation.

The Magical Powers of Case Studies for Startups

By and large, case studies are not terribly sexy but it doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable.

Case studies are good things because they celebrate the customer, and put the customer success into the spotlight. This is something for startups to embrace to establish their credibility, while making potential customers more confident.

case studiesAt the heart of the case study is how they reflect a customer-centric approach to marketing and sales. The focus of case studies is how a customer benefited from using a product. Case studies are not about a startup’s product. It’s a subtle but powerful difference.

Another thing about case studies is they don’t have to be boring or self-serving. In fact, it is easy to make them interesting and newsworthy.

So what’s the magical formula for a successful case study?

The best approach is embracing storytelling. Instead of following the age-old, dull as dish water formula for case studies, it is better to look at case studies as an opportunity to create a good narrative.

It begins with identifying themes or topics for case studies rather than writing about a particular customer. This means a focus on how your product saved a customer a lot of money, attracted more Website visitors, or sparked a flurry of leads. These are stories that tell a story that resonates with potential customers.

While stories are a key element, case studies also thrive with the right structure and design.

First, case studies are effective when they are relatively short – 350 to 500 words. This makes case studies accessible, user-friendly and a snap to get the point. No matter how good a case study, few people will read a document that requires them to make a big time investment.

Design is also important to provide case studies with some sizzle. It means using eye-catching colours, information boxes, pull quotes, and other elements that make it easier to encourage people to read case studies. Many companies fail to do case studies justice by giving them any design love – and we have all seen boring, black and white examples.

case studiesIf you’re looking for a good example of a startup doing well at case studies, check out Chango’s portfolio.

With the right approach, case studies are effective parts of a startup’s sales and marketing efforts. They are powerful ways to show the world how your product delivers value to customers.

This makes case studies a must-have at a time when there are so many competition options. While customers make purchase decisions based on benefits, feature or price, they also need assurance that a product actually works.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when it comes to case studies is the ability to see them in a new light that can drive the sales funnel.

For startups looking to jump-start their marketing, I provide strategic and tactical services – core messaging, brand positioning, marketing strategies and content creation.

 
 

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