Flip the switch: what a tireless 19th-century inventor can teach us about startup marketing

Important questions to ask with regards to startup marketing and how to go about marketing your personal brand.

6th Mar 2020
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Photo courtesy: Unsplash


Circa 1887. Two geniuses fight the ‘current’ war. Tesla proposes the maverick AC (alternating current) system. Edison proposes the simpler, less effective DC system (direct current). Tesla’s invention is superior, but Edison becomes the ‘father of electricity’. Why? Edison was far more adept at marketing.

As entrepreneurs we tend to think a great product is an end in itself. “We can do that later,” is a common response to marketing campaigns.


But forward-thinking entrepreneurs, like Edison, understand that conscious, systematic marketing is not a distraction from your product. It is your product.


Ask yourself these two questions:


  • Do the right people know my product exists?
  • Do they know why they should work with me?

#1 Marketing your product 101

Don’t tell. Flip the switch and show them!

To attract investors for his light bulb, Edison invited them to an upscale banquet at his expense. He led them into a dark ballroom and flipped a switch. The room was magically illuminated with his bulbs. Stunned investors were eager to fund him.


Find ways to demonstrate your product instead of listing out its benefits. People will forget what you tell them. But they won’t forget how you make them feel.

Create a hardworking website

Don’t have a massive budget? Grab low-hanging fruit. India has 700 million internet users and 800 million phone users. Draw them in with a website. But having a website that doesn’t work hard is as good as not having a website.


Email it to all your contacts. Promote it through Facebook ads. Have a ‘get in touch’ button and engage with leads. If you’re selling through the site, you need good customer experience. If you just need awareness, create an informative site with the help of a freelance developer, or even build it yourself with any site builder.

Be where people are searching

Do you run a café? If someone types “cafes in Bengaluru” on Google, and your brand doesn’t turn up on the first or the second page, you’re invisible in Internet land. You need to be found.


Create content that features your products in natural text. Explore ‘how to’ videos on YouTube (the second largest search engine in the world). Experiment with Google My Business to enhance your find-ability.




Post meaningful content on social media

Social media has changed the dialogue between consumers and makers. Information is out, stories are in. Emotion. Interactivity. Being part of the culture. These are the hot baits. For example, “7 healthy ways to have your cake and eat it too” will pique more interest than “My latest recipe”.


#2 Marketing your personal brand

Getting people to know you exist is only the first step. Just because they know you doesn’t mean they’re going to give you their money. They need more. What can Edison teach us?

Confidently position yourself as an expert

Edison knew his audience wanted a hard-at-work genius. One day, before meeting a reporter, he stopped at his workshop to smear his hands with grease. Now, it would look like he had just emerged from a hard day at the lab. We don’t need to be as manipulative. But we can learn from him about the importance of the personal brand.


Post pictures of you trying new things at work. Comment on topical issues. Create an ‘expert’ position. It sticks in people’s minds.

Create a consistent campaign over time

Once you create a persona, stick to it across channels. Edison branded everything with his name and signature. He understood that his persona was the brand essence. He wrote his own press releases.


His ‘inventor’ image was a thoughtful, consistent campaign. Today, say ‘light bulb’, and you think of Edison.

Get out there and take risks

Edison had a wish list of clients. He would muscle his way into their offices and demonstrate how his product was superior. No startup can thrive without field work. Ask for a meeting. Or attend events where you think your audience may hang out.


Define your success

To some, marketing success may be measured by inquiries. To some others, it may be sales. Define the parameter tied to your growth (and not vanity). And measure it every month to see how you’re doing.


Whenever you feel like putting marketing on the back-burner, remember the tricky calculus of a busy marketplace: average quality + great marketing > great quality + zero marketing. So, while you make the product great, remember to keep putting the story out there. And flip the switch!

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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