Understanding and shaping perception is the first step to building a successful reputation, and to be an effective marketer, you must do everything in your power to build, control, and stimulate it. It is particularly important for technology startups to cultivate a positive perception - you want to be perceived as successful before you are actually successful. Success can be communicated in three ways: inferred, referred, and proven.
Reputation is inferred through affiliation, association, and attraction. The affiliation alone says everything. For instance, the fact that a star engineer was recruited to your startup speaks volumes. Similarly, attracting top-tier investors, directors, and advisory board members can shape market perception. Your focus here should be to promote the very act that led to the affiliation. You’re marketing the founders, management talent, engineering wizards, financial backers, relationships with industry partners, and so on.
Common Mistakes: Many startups showcase Advisory Board members that are not widely known This actually creates a negative perception and you should probably remove this section from your website. I also see startups that have an Advisory Board featuring real industry heavyweights, but they bury this section three levels into their website. If you fall into this latter camp, promote the hell out of your board!
Inferred reputation is typically the weakest form of perception molding and, unfortunately, tends to be the most short-lived. So, if you have it, go with it. But if you don’t, no need to bother with it and move on.
The second way to stimulate the perception of success is through referred endorsements - references, references, references. Get them anywhere and everywhere possible.
Common Mistakes: Many people quote a single customer-side contact. If Company A is one of your most important and satisfied customers, go ahead and ask 10 contacts at the Company to give you an endorsement. Plaster these 10 quotes from your customer across your marketing materials. Don’t just quote one person. If your product is used by your own employees, showcase what they think of the product. For example, if your startup sells datacenter equipment, ask your test engineers and deployment engineers to talk about how much easier it is to test or implement.
Finally, work on promoting what is proven. This is the evidentiary step. Financial figures, market share, number of customers, survey results, research findings, etc. This step comes last since it takes time to acquire.
Common Mistakes: Companies love to plaster logos of their customers on their websites. But, companies do not put enough “eye-catching headlines” on their websites. CEOs always tell me that they do not have enough customers to make bold claims. Wrong! Do what I call the BASF approach to marketing. Here is an example ...
Let’s say your business makes scheduling software and that you currently have only five customers. However, one of those customers happens to serve Anheuser Busch (A-B). Well, guess what? A-B has 47% market share for beer in the U.S. You could use that fact to say something to the effect of “We make the scheduling software that helps get 47% of the beer consumed in America into pint glasses.” You get the idea. Look beyond to your customer base for proof points, such as your customers’ customers.