Attaching your Startup Brand to a Movement

I was reminded of a post written by Jason Calacanis a million years ago (OK, it was 2008) on getting PR for startups and one of the points he made was that startups should attach themselves to a movement.  His examples (unfortunately, in my opinion) revolved around movements that he started and allowed others to take advantage of.  In my experience with small companies, the opportunity isn’t so much around creating a movement as it is about being smart enough to recognize the trends or movements that your company is a part of.

Doing this involves figuring out what your company stands for.  I know startups that answer the “What do you stand for?” question with vague platitudes like “We want to change the world!” without a concrete definition of how they plan on doing that.  I’ve heard companies that tell me they exist to make money for themselves or their shareholders or that they will “be the greatest software company in the world.”  These statements to me seem like an outcome of what they are doing rather than what they stand for.  Customers don’t care if you’re planning on getting rich or not.  If your mission can’t be expressed from a customer’s point of view, it doesn’t count.

Etsy didn’t start the handmade movement but they are now a major part of it and it’s rare that folks talk about buying and selling handmade items without mentioning them.  Zappos is the poster child for a new kind of corporate culture that embraces employees as empowered human beings and is known almost as much for their corporate culture as they are for shoes.  They aren’t just an online shoe company, they’re starting a customer service revolution.  At a time when we are questioning traditional banking, CommunityLend is changing the way we think about investing and borrowing money.  As we think more about environmentalism and charity, ECHOage is turning children’s birthday parties into a opportunity to teach kids about giving.  At a time when traditional media is struggling, The Mark News is not only changing the way online commentary is created and distributed, but also the economic model surrounding that.

Are you changing the world for your customers?  How do you describe that?  What larger movement are you part of?  Now think about your messaging.  If Etsy is about “Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade” and Zappos is “Powered by Service”, what is your company all about?

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8 thoughts on “Attaching your Startup Brand to a Movement”

  1. Great Post! I work for a company that provides enterprise software and we are struggling with how we give our story more oomph. Can you talk a bit about how more traditional software companies (i.e. ones that are obviously linked to some sort of social trend) can position themselves as more relevant or current?
    Thanks!
    Alli

    1. Hi Allison,
      Thanks for your comment. I’ve spent a good chunk of my career marketing enterprise software. Sometimes you are talking about macro-level trends. Software as a service is getting more mature now but when Salesforce.com started out they spent as much time talking about SaaS as they did talking about CRM. I also like how 37Signals talks about “software the requires training is failed software”. When they talk about their products they are talking much more about what they stand for and their philosophy of how to make great software than they are about individual features/functions.
      Does that help?
      April

  2. Interesting idea but aren’t you sort of part of a movement or not? Won’t you look like you’re jumping on the bandwagon if you try to attach yourself to something you just aren’t? I’m thinking about the companies that tried to be “Green” that later got called out for greenwashing.

    1. Hi John,
      Thanks for the comment. I totally agree that you shouldn’t force your company to be part of something it isn’t. At the same time however, some startups I’ve worked with haven’t done a great job of articulating how they fit into a larger context even when it’s obviously there. Doing that is important because it helps customers (not to mention press, analysts, employees, etc.) understand what you do because you’ve placed it within a larger context. Understanding what you stand for can also make internal decisions easier. Does it make sense for Etsy to branch out into manufactured goods? No way! Should Zappos outsource their customer care? Are you kidding me? They seem like obvious decisions but they wouldn’t necessarily be if those companies didn’t have a clear idea of what they stood for.
      April

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