Fastest growing start-ups know how to get more brand for your buck

Start-ups usually don’t have any money – or if they do – it’s from investors for tech/product investment.Marketing often takes a back seat.
That being so – some simple but effective marketing techniques are developed out of sheer necessity.

Here’s an example from BRW – 26th April 2013

Fastest growing start-ups know how to get more brand for your buck

Keep it simple: Paul Sifis of Ocean Homes, which changed its name when it realised it might alienate some customers.

Marketing in the traditional sense is not a big priority for start-up businesses: almost three-quarters of the companies on BRW’s Fast Starters list spend 5 per cent or less of their annual revenue on promoting and building their brand. Tough economic times have forced entrepreneurs to get smarter about stretching their marketing dollar and the results are paying dividends.

Almost 70 per cent of the companies on this year’s list increased their marketing budget in 2011-12, with most preferring online and direct marketing to traditional advertising. They claim the rise and rise of social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as well as search engine optimisation through sites like Google allow them to build their brands by reaching more customers and suppliers.

Nearly half the Fast Starters companies spent the greatest proportion of their marketing budget on search engine optimisation and 23 per cent invested heavily in online banner ads. More than 10 per spent spent most of their budget on pay per click advertising (Facebook) and 40 per cent focused on direct marketing

David Payne, owner of outsourced financial solutions company Book Builders (ranked No. 86), says losing a major client earlier this year forced him to look at his marketing strategy.

Payne, a former senior accountant and chief financial officer of Prime Health (now Kinnect Health), admits accountants are not “born marketers”. Instead, he spent his early years in business improving the business’s processes and services to its clients rather than marketing and promotion.

In hindsight, Payne says the owner of former client Compass Health– a good friend and former colleague – had given plenty of warning that he was going to sell the business and that Book Builders’ services would most likely become redundant.

“He was telling me to get out and find more clients but I was too busy working 70-plus hours a week with the day-to-day running of ­the business. It was only nine months after Compass Health was sold that the new owner started to bring things in-house and I thought, ‘I better think of some marketing,’ ” says Payne.

A decade’s experience working for accounting firm Ferrier Hodgson had given Payne some experience in marketing and he has spent the past year attending sales and marketing seminars. He says his company had a bad experience with one agency.

“I asked them for a creative brief and they didn’t know what I was talking about. It [was] a good lesson for us.”

Payne has since hired a public relations firm and a former creative director of a major brand agency to rewrite the company’s promotional and marketing material. He also meets with a former employee who specialises in social media and online trends.

“I am very process driven so I wanted to ensure I got all our systems and processes right before we marketed the business further,” he says. “It’s only recently that I have actually wanted to increase the size of the business.”

With plans to triple the size of Book Builders by 2015, Payne wants to develop his social media presence and promote himself through his as an expert in the medical and labour hire sectors.

Marketing experience does not always equate to an expertly-executed brand strategy, according to Paul Sifis. After working for a decade in marketing, the managing director of Sydney architect and builder Ocean Homes (no. 63), looked forward to publicising his own business. Early on, the firm realised its name, Ocean Construction Group, was alienating would-be residential customers, so changed it to Ocean Homes.

“[The name] places us toward the premium end of the residential construction market. We also decided to change the tag line to ‘custom design and build’, pushing the idea that we do one-off architectural designs for our clients and distancing ourselves from project home builders.”

Having a strong online presence with its website and in social media was a priority from the beginning for Ocean Homes. It secured the company’s name as an internet address, a 1300 number, a Facebook page and company trademarks. A Facebook advertising campaign costs the company just $10 a week and a six-week arrangement for search engine optimisation through Google Adwords cost about $100.

“By the end of that six weeks we had reached so many searches we no longer needed Adwords to appear in the top result on Google,” Sifis says.

An experienced graphic designer and search engine optimisation copywriter were also employed to ensure the company’s website had good public visibility. Ocean also uses banner advertising on all its construction sites, which at $75 a banner generate further brand recognition for minimal cost.

“What we really want to do is merge our search engine optimisation and web presence with brand recognition. We want people to connect the dots in their subconscious so when they’re at dinner parties they can mention Ocean Homes in general conversation.”

Ocean Homes is in the process of targeting Chinese private investors in a new marketing campaign tailored to their needs. In addition to launching a Chinese-language version of the website, Sifis says the company is attending cross-cultural trade shows, partnering with trade organisations and speaking to influential investors to build its brand presence.

“In a very busy advertising market like China, we want to have white space with our very simple message on it,” he says. “In marketing, with all the messages out there you have to be very focused on what you stand for and keep it very simple. ­That way you and your customers don’t get confused.”

5 tips from the trenches: Fast Starters companies talk about their most successful marketing strategies

1. “I have found giving prospective customers a small gift works well. Our initial campaign [lollies in jars with company branding] cost $1000 and we still have a lot customers from it. It has netted hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue,” David Kane, managing director Power Access.

2. “We have partnered with industry member bodies such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants…and have sponsored many of their tax and audit conferences and golf days. This has been an extremely important way of marketing our business to a targeted market that our competitors ignore,” Craig Du Rieu managing director Lawson Elliot Recruitment.

3.“We launched a new website in 2012 and it is tightly linked to SEO [search engine optimisation] and social media platforms. In recruitment the key marketing tool you have is your consultants, so we ensure that our message to the market is consistent and simple,” Dave McKillop, managing director Talent Web Recruitment.

4. “[We use] old fashioned cold calling. We are a sales business and we live and breath it,” Malcolm Treanor managing partner Cohort Digital.

5. “Using LinkedIn as a direct candidate sourcing tool. We have increased our subscription levels and our return on investment has been very high,” Nigel Barcham managing director Perigon Group.

from BRW magazine 26th April 2013


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