From zero to hero, here are 4 ways startups can build influence quickly

A marketing strategy designed to influence may seem like a daunting task for startups, but the steps outlined below can help your business get there

Having spent the last 20 years in the technology industry, it’s become increasingly easy to tell when a technology startup is a flash in the pan or is built to last – It’s one of the questions I get asked frequently especially as technology brands become increasingly mainstream.

I love the fact that for the last five years, an innovative idea coupled with a passion for problem-solving and disruption has created immensely strong brands – Netflix (content streaming and distribution) or Airbnb (online marketplace for accommodation sharing) or has the potential to create one (SignAloud) – a communication device that translates sign language to speech, invented by two undergraduate students at the University of Washington.

These are just a few of the thousands of ideas fueling the startup industry.

So, how do startups go from zero to billion-dollar valuations? Is it only on the strength of the idea and passion? The short answer is no. Running a startup is difficult, and so not every good product or service finds the right fit or overcomes stiff competition.

The road to success can be long and unpredictable, but there is one key ingredient that every start-up can leverage to grow and be successful – influence – and here are a few things (by no means all) to keep in mind:

1. A communications blueprint

You may have a ground-breaking, industry-transforming product or service yet chance to reach your audience can easily elude you. A blueprint should chart the things that each one of your audiences knows, when they need to know it and how you need them to use the information.

This is where a marketing strategy and blueprint comes in. It is the beating heart of your business and a way into your consumer’s consciousness.

Market research to determine the sustainability of your start-up is a starting point, followed by a plan incorporating the definition of your market, your audience, competition, business goals. This not only helps the entire team (no matter how small or big) to stay aligned but also ensures there is a method to the madness in terms of your marketing efforts.

A holistic approach averts the risk of being overly tactical and being more precise in your marketing efforts. Being lean at the expense of not having a marketing strategy does not gain traction in the long run.

2. Narrative

If you want to inspire someone to act, you must begin by explaining why you do what you do. Not just what or how.

Creating a coherent narrative is one of the hardest things for most startups to crack. In a resource-crunched, fast-paced, startup environment, it is imperative to deliver crisp, consistent messages across every touchpoint. Language is one of your most powerful tools of influence.

Start with a framework that incorporates your customers’ needs and how you uniquely solve them – map them to what you actually do.  Find proof like stats or customer stories to support your point of view, build messages that create clarity about what you do and will resonate with your target audience – all of this will pave the way for you to create an engaging and connected story that tells customers exactly why they should turn to you.

3. Growth hacking

While it may sound like the latest buzzword in startup land, it is a smart way to gather momentum and build virality into your offering. It is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing and communication platforms and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business.

It requires an unconventional, out-of-the-box approach to get under the spotlight, develop thought leadership and shine the light on a new idea.

From an influence perspective, an effective start would be to incorporate a comprehensive content strategy that educates and informs and fits the entire spectrum of the buying cycle. Make the most of every piece of content you create. There’s no reason for it to be forgotten.

As a startup, you would also want to leverage all the free and low-cost tools that you can get your hands on – think google analytics, social media analytics, etc.

They help to identify key influencers, what topics are trending and even information on new audience opportunities that have not yet been tapped into. Uber, Airbnb are great examples of startups to use growth hacking to become the behemoths they are.

4. Honesty

If you want to earn word of mouth and have the press, your customers, and whoever else talking about your startup, you must give them something remarkable in the world of business — honesty.

Honesty does not necessarily mean spending your entire time apologizing for mistakes you may have made but it does involve smart thinking. For instance, KFC went through a highly publicized, somewhat bizarre crisis in the U.K. earlier this year.

The fast-food joint known for its fried chicken ran out of chicken and KFC  apologized with a twist by rearranging its name to spell “FCK.” A crisis was turned around to enhance brand equity.

While innovation is a must to thrive in today’s world of business for organizations all sizes, influence is the not-so-secret sauce to ensure that you can dazzle your stakeholders and the world at large with your startup.

Adopting an agile mindset is key as nothing changes faster than marketing at a startup. So, stay sharp and enjoy the journey.