Advertising & startups. What should entrepreneurs do?
What is it that you want to say so desperately that you need to pay to get your point across?
For ages, advertising has used every trick available to sell you the idea that it works. And we have all disgruntledly lapped onto this notion. Advertising, as we are made to believe, is essential for creating a brand. A brand needs awareness, should be able to break clutter, get lodged in the consideration set, appeal to an emotional level and ultimately drive purchase or any desired behaviour.
This very reasoning is an antithesis to the concept of branding. When you are already a brand, what does advertising do for you? Or vice versa, when you are hardly known, shouldn't you first stand for something, shouldn't you be a brand first?
To equate branding with large scale noise is like trying to win a war by only beating drums. The battlefield will hear you for sure but it does nothing in terms of an outcome against your opponent, neither does it instill any confidence amongst your own soldiers.
Without trying to trivialise the entire advertising industry, let me put a disclaimer that I am no advertising or business expert.
I am sure advertising has its merits and there are enough scholarly and empirical dissertations that will quash my opinion.
I am however absolutely sure about one thing that advertising is overrated for startups.
Constant pressure to outdo investor expectations is driving a mad rush to purchase growth through large scale ‘ad noise’. Umpteen startups shutting down after having established a model, are a testimony to this crazy reality. And such occurrences only distort the natural laws of any economic equilibrium with the result that incumbents or future generations of entrepreneurs will have to bear the brunt.
Even the biggest of business houses while trying to accelerate on advertising steroids have had to bite the dust. Whether telecom, retail, airlines, financial services - the examples are many in India alone.
A business goes through many stages before assuming self sustenance. It is impossible to skip these stages hoping to turn into a mature adult without going through the intermediary phases.
Take your time, build a viable business on fundamentals. And most importantly, build a brand - something you in-distinguishingly stand for amongst your users. Even if you have a very small customer base.
Whether it's the value proposition, ease of use, processes, touchpoints, service quality, or tech; identify one thing you want to connect with deeply with your customer base. And that's more often than not what you will be known for. And voila you have your brand.
Once a brand begins to take form, advertising will only accelerate your journey.
So don't expect advertising to solve your problems. Partner with the ad industry to reinforce your brand and not create one.