“Selling stuff is easy. All you gotta do is give away stuff that makes people happy …and then sell ‘em stuff that makes them even happier.” That’s not my quote, but one from internet marketing copywriter, Frank Kern. Is it really as simple as that? Certainly a model for many services and products across the web is, ‘Free now, subscribe later’. We get hooked by the brilliance of the offering (think Spotify for instance), but then are attracted to the ad-free Premium version, or other enhancements not available in the basic offering. Selling is therefore clearly still a huge driver for all businesses, but is it the only driver, or for that matter even the most important driver?
Sales mean income, and we are all interested in the bottom line. However from the dotcom bubble onwards, a different paradigm has emerged, where even a business which is negatively trading can attract the dream of many startup entrepreneurs – the big buyout. Choose any one from very many examples and you’ll see that the success of a buyout, from the point of view of the Founding team was not necessarily about sales. ‘Sell, sell, sell!’ was the war cry of many organizations in pre-internet times, but now preceding sales is the importance of marketing, and heading up what good marketing must be all about is this: ‘Educate, educate, educate!’
If you were very lucky, in school or college you had a teacher or two who inspired you, and may well have contributed to everything you have become since then. Think about it and you’ll realize that they didn’t do this by repeating the conventional or accepted line, but because they encouraged you to think about things differently. It’s the touchstone to every great leap forward ever: in medicine, technology, art… you name it, and I will guarantee that the significant steps came when people reached outside the norm. They were able to do this because they were educated in their subject. If that sounds anti-intuitive, choose any notable practitioner of any subject, and you’ll see that their basis was a thorough grounding of education in their field. – No-one ever comes up with the goods from a standing start, and we all need education.
So you’re maybe now asking, ‘Matyas, please connect the dots for me. What have – let’s say – Lady Gaga and Albert Einstein got to do with seeking investors for my startup?’ And my answer is: It’s all about education, education, education, way out front of everything else. Of course you have to have a product or offering, that goes without saying, but if you’re not telling people about it and helping them to think about things differently, then you are wasting your time. Even worse, you’re wasting the time of your potential audience - your students who could be really eager to learn from you.
Good education always begins with a problem. If our teacher simply hammers math formulas into our unreceptive brains, they’ll never stick. If we understand the reasons and the problem of - say - calculating a floor area, or the cubic area of a room, then we are well on the way to being able to do the math. Always problem first, followed by solution.
Startups usually believe that their offering is clearly the best, otherwise why would they even be in business? They believe so passionately in their product that all they can see is the solution which it brings, so they’re not so different to the uninspiring math teacher who merely offers formulas. Put education at the front and center of your marketing however, and everything changes, because now there is always a mission to explain. With explanation also comes dialog. Great educators achieve their aims by bringing their students into a conversation, and indeed a good teacher also always learns from the two-way process. This education process is always dynamic, and always ongoing. Once started you can never say, ‘Right that’s it, I have taught you everything I know,’ because there are always new things to learn and teach. I tell my startup clients that the educational part of their marketing campaign will be the longest and most intensive part of their activity, requiring the most serious commitment of all. This is often met with laughter.
Here’s the thing: I’m deadly serious about education, education, education. If you fail to enter into an educational dialog with your audience, and fail to commit to keeping it alive and fresh, then you will not attract investors, and your startup will not succeed. That’s a big claim, but I know it to be true. Education must be present in all your communication with your audience, because education can make people think about things differently. As a niche startup wishing to meet niche investors in a niche market, thinking differently is one of the most powerful tools you can employ.
Oh, and if your response is, ‘But our startup isn’t niche, it’s for everyone!’ then please take a long, deep breath and consider again. Your startup must be niche, and you must reach your audience through education, education, education. There is no other way, and it’s one of the most effective things a startup team can ever engage in.
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