If I didn’t catch your attention with the title of this column, I’ve lost my only chance of acquiring a reader. That’s how fast marketing can make or break you, as a person or as a company. The world of selling things is complex. There are advertising mediums ranging from print to virtual reality, and advertisers are getting more clever by the minute; many big corporations have mastered this maze, and yet you have to pick what works for you. But what if you, dear reader, were a corporation and you had a product to sell? You might feel overwhelmed. This is what startup companies face: being a small fish in a big pond full of competitors that have millions of dollars to throw at the best in the field of marketing and advertising.
When it comes down to it, the landscape of business is changing, allowing for smaller names to gain more traction in hotly-contested spaces. The award no longer goes to who has the most money and can simply shout louder than their competitors. Rather, the most successful ventures are those that can appeal to customers in creative ways. Fifteen years ago, Facebook, DropBox, and Pepsi Perfect were just ideas, if even that. Yet, somehow, they each found a way to “hack the system” in their own unique style.
Facebook used the power of the public and iterative success. First, they drew the crowd. With minimal paid advertising, they created a service that everyone “simply had to have.” Its social platform became the standard for online communication. As it grew, they listened to what the users wanted and made adjustments to allow for more content, more interactions, and more general usage. Today, one in five people in the world is on Facebook, so they must be doing something right. But think: when was the last time you saw a Facebook advertisement? TV, radio, or newspaper, it doesn’t matter… if you’re like me, you can’t even remember. Facebook successfully managed to leverage the power of the basic human desire to be involved and connected. Brilliant!
Dropbox took a similar, yet different approach. They saw a need in the market and set out to address it. File sharing developed into a huge market toward the end of the last decade, as collaboration became faster and more vital to businesses and individuals alike. They didn’t stop there, though. That free 2 GB that you get just for signing up is all part of the initial marketing plan. Using their “freemium” model, 2 GB is the bait: for just $10/month or $100/year, you can upgrade and get a whole terabyte. Dropbox’s marketing approach banks on you finding the 2 GB to be critically useful yet insufficient for your needs.
In contrast with Facebook and Dropbox, Pepsi Perfect is the perfect example of exclusivity. This year, Pepsi decided to release the Back to the Future soda in limited edition. This created a huge demand for the hard-to-get product. After two production rounds of 6,500 units each, bottles are selling on eBay for hundreds of dollars, with little to no advertising cost. Pepsi put the product on the market—collectors, Pepsi enthusiasts, Back to the Future enthusiasts, and others made it huge.
These three examples of modern marketing exemplify the changing of marketing strategies. In parallel with the changing marketing methods, the personnel type are also changing. Coders, engineers, and other creative minds (think: your peers here) will be integral in making those marketing aspirations a reality. Competing with the “big guys” is not an impossible task. It just takes some creativity combined with technical skill to find that overlooked edge. Also, as you think about how to apply these skills to businesses, think about how to apply them to yourself. We all try to market ourselves to recruiters, business partners, and many other people, so a number of the same principles apply.
The inspiration and examples for this article came from Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday, former Director of Marketing for American Apparel. To learn more about entrepreneurial promotion or to check out the book, visit the Severino Center in the Pittsburgh Building, right next to the Lally Galley.