Marketing with Humility

Being humble means being honest about ourselves, not promoting the aspects we think others will like best.

Not every business is, or should be, humble. Lots of brands are about power and attention, and that’s okay. But if you have a brand which values humility, marketing can be a real challenge.

It’s natural to want to highlight your strengths, or at least, highlight what you think your customers might perceive as strengths. I’ve found that this approach often feels unauthentic, pitchy, and too “keyword” verbose.

Instead, be honest. Write as though you were talking to a very close friend, whom you want to recruit. Show them your best aspects, but keep it real.

How else can you talk about yourself, without talking about yourself?

Finding Your Swoosh

An entrepreneur could never design a logo as effective as Starbucks.

I’ve always said that a logo can make or break a business.

More specifically: finding a visual identity which deeply resonates with your audience can help your product immensely. By contrast, if your visual identity is jarring to your audience, it can seriously set you back.

A piece of advice given by Seth Godin is that logos are “just a placeholder, a label waiting to earn some meaning”. He stresses that your brand is what matters – and he’s right. However, where he and I disagree is on how much influence the visual representation of your brand has.

There’s a reason that companies like Apple and Nike spent tens of thousands of dollars on their logo. To the lay person, a swoosh or a half-eaten apple may seem simple, but a lot of research and iteration goes into fine-tuning their reverberative quality.

The work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Max Braun may seem simple, but it takes a lot of talent and experience to boil something down to its barest essential. As Clare Boothe Luce is famous for saying, Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

A layperson could never architect a building as simple as Farnsworth House. A bootstrapping entrepreneur could never design a logo as effective as Starbucks.

What is your area of expertise? If you were to outsource your visual identity, where could your talent and experience be focused?

Higher Trust, Not Lower Price

Purchase hesitation isn’t ever because of price. It’s because the audience lacks trust.

Dean Owen is the entrepreneur behind a new luxury dog apparel business: Owen & Edwin.

Dean was having a hard time converting his online following. He noticed that his audience loved the idea of his product, but were hesitating to pay the premium price tag associated with his luxury dog coats.

This is a common problem. When a new product launches, especially in a higher price bracket, there’s often market hesitation.

One tempting approach would be to lower your prices in order to gain a little momentum. Bad move! Your audience will expect less, think they’ve got less, share less, associate your brand with less, and complain more when you hike your prices.

Dean realised that purchase hesitation isn’t ever because of price. It’s because his audience lacked trust.

Owen & Edwin was an unknown brand, so it’s audience didn’t trust that they would be getting what they paid for. So, they introduced a new product: Dog Biscuits.

The biscuits, sold at cost, introduced the audience to a purchase with much less risk involved . From dog treats, the customer might choose to purchase a dog collar or other accessory. Finally, the customer knows and trusts the brand, and they are ready to buy their pooch a luxury coat.

It’s unreasonable to expect our audience to trust us from the very start. What can we do to slowly introduce our products to our customers, and earn their trust along the way?

Get Crispy

When hard decisions need to be made, a generic purpose statement is useless.

Today I sat in on two corporate functions. I won’t give out names, so let’s call them by their first letter: M and Ü.

Both companies pitched their positioning “Purpose Statement”. The primary goals of a purpose statement are:

  • to help align team focus, and
  • to guide decision making (especially during hard times)

Here is M’s purpose:

“We power people to live their best lives.”

Here is Ü’s purpose:

“Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone.”

You might have guessed by now who Ü is.

M, on the other hand, is a complete mystery. Their mission could be (and often is) applied to just about any business.

Their purpose statement utterly fails in its goal, because it’s far too broad. With this purpose, I can justify doing almost anything. When hard decisions need to be made, a generic, unspecific purpose statement is vague and useless.

Ü, on the other hand, has deftly navigated troubled waters, because it remains focused on a very specific point on the horizon.

We need our purpose to be crisp and precise. It should be relevant specifically to our business.

Could your company’s purpose be crispier?

Tangible and Social

In our ultra-connected, hi-fidelity world, the vinyl trend seems out of place. What drives interest in such an outdated format?

I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes poking through vinyls in a record store.

Despite modern music streaming services like Spotify and iTunes, vinyl record sales are booming, reaching $11.5 billion in 2015. That’s almost double what they made in 2013.

In our ultra-connected, hi-fidelity world, the vinyl trend seems out of place. What’s driving the interest in such an outdated format?

I believe there are two reasons: Vinyl is tactile, and vinyl is social.

There’s something visceral about holding the large square of cardboard, smelling the musky scent of old plastic, feeling the grooves in the wax. This tactile sensation is becoming rarer as the world becomes more digital.

No social media experience can compare to a group of friends choosing a record, and sitting together to hear it. Yesterday I lay on the floor with my son listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. We could have done the same with Spotify, but never would have. Vinyl brings people into the same room – another social sensation which is becoming rarer.

What would it look like if we took these two principles (perhaps we could even call them basic needs?) and applied them to our product?

Mailchimp giveaway a toy mascot (Freddie) to their devoted user base. Unique and interesting swag is one way of making your web-app more tangible. How could you literally get your software in the hands of your users?

Gimlet Media host events where people can meet the hosts of their podcasts in person. Conference booths, launch parties, and training days can all bring your users together into the same room. How could you literally bring your product’s community together?

Colour and Meaning

The best names use metaphor to allow both colour and meaning.

Choosing a product name is hard. There are two schools of thought:

  1. Spend time finding the right name, it should be memorable, unique and descriptive. Your URL should be easy to remember.
  2. Name isn’t important. Your brand builds its own meaning over time. Choose the first random words that come to mind. Any domain will do.

I’d suggest that these are both right.

Your name is important. Your brand does build its own meaning over time. Your name should be memorable, but only needs to be unique in your niche. Finding a good URL can be helpful, but isn’t that important.

Should your brand be descriptive, like, GitHub, or iPhone?

Or, should your brand be random, like Gimlet, Apple, or Drupal?

I believe the best names are a mix of both. They use metaphor to allow both colour and meaning. Consider:

  • Google – A googol is a huge number, a metaphor for the amount of results.
  • Amazon – The largest river in the world, just like the online store.
  • Basecamp – An area used for staging a long climb, or your project.

Find a metaphor for your product, and from that, find a word which is short and memorable. You’ll figure out a domain name that works.

Minimum Viable Marketing

Most marketing campaigns, aim to reach as many eyes as possible. Here’s another approach: Minimum Viable Marketing.

We’ve all heard about lean product development principles: Create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), measure its performance, and iterate.

We could apply this same principle to many Product disciplines. Take marketing, for example. Often, a Product team will hire a marketing manager or consultant and launch a campaign, aiming to reach as many eyes as possible.

Here’s another approach: A Minimum Viable Marketing (MVM) campaign.

Define a small campaign targeted only at the early adopters amongst your market segment, using words like Innovative, Pioneer, Breakthrough, Private, Limited, and Now. Choose just one channel to reach them on.

No need to build out every asset for every medium. No need to get the alignment just so. No need for pixel perfection. No need to wordsmith.

Since you’re starting small, take the time to get to know your audience. Talk with them, without any hint of self-promotion. Show them your marketing materials and gauge their thoughts and reactions.

Then iterate.