The Top 5 Marketing Tips For Start-Ups


“We’re a start-up.” It’s an oft-heard phrase within the small business community.

What once was a label for fledgling businesses in the technology sector has now become an established business model. But the road to success can be a rocky one, and though there are huge start-up triumphs that get a disproportionate amount of PR coverage, there are also plenty that fail to get off the ground. Failure rates are high – one recent report found that 60% of start-ups don’t make it to their fifth year. If you bear in mind recent changes to available government support, it’s more important than ever for start-ups to stand out and connect with their target audience, and establishing a solid marketing strategy early on is crucial to achieving this.

There are a number of ways to do this, but thanks to an increasingly diverse marketing landscape it has become more difficult to identify which should be prioritised. Here are five tips that might help.

1. Your name is the title of your story

Every time you make your elevator pitch, you’re telling a story: to investors, shareholders, audiences and collaborators. That story is bigger than ‘what we do’; it is also ‘why and who we are’. Your name, as the title of that story, can make a big impact on how people perceive your brand and how likely they are to remember it. If you’re in the online property market, should your name be descriptive (Rightmove) or abstract (Zoopla)? There are advantages to spelling out what you do, and advantages to creating a name that isn’t like anything else. There are practical considerations, too, of course. Can we get the URL? Will people know how to spell it if they hear it? If we expand into new product territories in the future, can this name carry us through? All these considerations need to be worked through up front.

We held a workshop with an early-stage start-up whose name was uncomfortably close to a product endorsed by Google. They appreciated they weren’t going to win the SEO war and smartly agreed to change their name early on, pre-launch. We also worked with a flagging men’s comedy channel, then known-as UKTV G2. After landing on an insight that the channel acted like a best mate from down the pub that you didn’t have as much time to spend with as you’d like, we renamed the brand Dave.

2. You can start a company without a logo

A logo is often the first thing a new company will set out to create, but it’s worth pausing before you do. More than once we’ve had start-up founders come to us with logos that were knocked up by a friend-of-a-friend, or by a neighbour who had Photoshop. But once they had time to properly consider their competitive set, the practical considerations of where and how their logo would live and what, if any, brand architecture needed to be considered, they had to start again. It’s much easier to get it right at the start before you start showing your company’s app icon to test audiences and target investors. When we started working with Championship Horse Racing, they had a concept, a name and a URL – but knew they needed expert help to create a differentiated brand that would get make them look serious and, ultimately, get investors’ attention. The advice: wait till you’re ready to do it properly. And ideally, do it once.

3. Remain faithful to your tone of voice

Find a compelling yet authentic tone of voice, and stick to it. It might sound obvious, but so often we see start-ups speaking to their audience in a way they think is cool, as opposed to in a way that is true to their brand. There’s huge power in perfecting your tone of voice – it can even reframe entire categories, as demonstrated by the likes of Innocent Drinks and Paddy Power. The key is to lock in a clear set of guidelines, and use them to interpret how you communicate. The aforementioned TV brand Dave is another example. Without changing any of the content, a change of name and tone of voice resulted in a 67% increase in reach. However, it’s important to remember to stay true to yourself. Just because Dollar Shave Club can get away with a sardonic loose-tie-and-Adidas getup, doesn’t mean everyone else should try to.

4. Give people a reason to spend time with you

People are discerning with how they spend their time. And they should be; there’s such an abundance of great entertainment out there that no one is going to waste time engaging with boring branded content when they could be spending it with Netflix or Fortnite or Instagram. Building a relationship requires a true value exchange. Increasingly brands are moving away from straight advertising messages, and instead are investing in ways to keep an audience engaged with branded entertainment. The word audience is important here. With every piece of messaging, from basic explainer videos through to full marketing campaigns, the viewer should be considered as an audience, not a consumer. Using this lens, even quite straight or boring messages can be reframed to become entertaining. For example, in place of in-car product demos we gave Hyundai a five-part sitcom. Or for TV Licensing, we helped change perceptions of their workforce by writing a series of explainers with comedian Rob Delaney. Every interaction an audience has with your brand should give them a reason to come back.

5. Don’t look digital, be digital

It should go without saying that your brand will exist in a digital world. In fact, for some start-up brands that might be the only universe in which the audience ever encounters you. It’s critical that your brand is fit for purpose and works hard for you across multiscreens with a smart design system that maximises your chances to stand out from the crowd.

But being fit for purpose is different to fitting in. Being digital doesn’t mean using a tightly-kerned Sans Serif font and having a multi-coloured gradient palette. We’re surprised by how many rebrands in the last 18 months have borrowed from the same design aesthetic. They’re mostly all beautiful, but they’re also mostly all the same. Before we started design work for CHR we did an audit of the horse racing category. We wanted to be very clear about what CHR should stand for and what differentiated it from the competition. Then we applied that thinking to the brand’s website and app design. Brand idea first, digital application second. You’re a start-up and you need to stand out in the clutter, so chart your own course and create a brand that will help you to do that. 

Christopher Godfree, Head of Client Services