Jenni Brown is Cronofy’s senior creative marketing specialist with over 15 years of experience in the web industry.
Cronofy is a SaaS startup that raised $1.6 million in its seed funding round. The Cronofy API allows developers to integrate with their users’ calendars easily and securely no matter which calendar services they use.
What are the biggest marketing challenges facing startups? How can they overcome these challenges?
I think the biggest challenges are based around resources, authority and flexibility. There’s always more to do when it comes to marketing, and even more so when it’s for a startup – one of Sheryl Sandberg’s favorite mantras, “Done is better than perfect,” is what I keep repeating to myself! Develop yourself: spend some time learning periphery skills like image editing, HTML and CSS if you don’t already have them. To save time and make the most of your resources, make one task work for you in a variety of ways – turn a blog post into a slide deck, or a social media engagement into an interview. Take advantage of every opportunity.
Potential customers can love everything about a startup but still be concerned that it could disappear overnight, so marketers have a big role in making potential customers comfortable and secure through building authority and creating support. We do that in part through case studies, hangouts and face-to-face chats.
Creating a flexible marketing strategy is vital. Startups change very quickly in all kinds of different ways – internal processes, ideas, projects, goals, competitors, markets and so on – so you have to be prepared to deal with an ever-changing playing field.
On top of that, I think each individual startup has its own specific set of challenges. For us, one of our biggest challenges is that we have no competitors. From a business and investor perspective it’s fantastic, but from a marketing perspective it means you truly are starting from scratch. You have the huge task of building awareness and creating the market as well as promoting the company, and you don’t have anyone to push or inspire you except yourself.
We’ve had to look more broadly at what other API services and SaaS (software as a service) companies are doing to get some context. Our Head of Product also pointed out that our biggest competitor is apathy – not choosing any service at all – and since then we’ve also focused our marketing efforts towards encouraging people to act, largely through better calls to action and more information.
Cronofy, as an API service, also has a “set and forget” element to it. It’s not like an ecommerce business where you’re selling, cross-selling and upselling a variety of products. Again, it’s great from a service and UX perspective because it just works, saving businesses a lot of time, money and hassle as a result. But from a marketing perspective it can be a challenge because we need to ensure there’s a compelling reason for people to engage with us and return to the website even after they’re happy with their integration. This means a continual supply of good content, proactive relationship-building, effective email marketing, and effective API updates and tutorials, among other things.
What advice can you offer the marketing teams at startups on developing a marketing strategy?
Most marketers are used to working to calendars and roadmaps that have the next month, quarter, even year, planned out. For a startup you just can’t do that. Lots of changes happen all the time, and pinning down even rough deadlines can be difficult. Be flexible in your workflow so you can adapt to changing priorities easily, and streamline your planning so you don’t spend ages creating plans, docs and strategies that end up not being used. Trello is great for drag-and-drop reordering and determining changing priorities across the company.
One of the biggest things that helps us is utilizing the knowledge and skills of people outside the marketing team. Cronofy is a very technical product, and to create a broad range of content and access all the opportunities we can, everyone in the company has some marketing involvement. Everybody writes blog posts, shares relevant content through their networks, and answers technical questions if the marketing team needs help. Luckily, everyone is happy to support our marketing effort – it might have something to do with all the gifs, emojis and memes they get to use!
What are your favorite marketing tools for startups?
Startup Stash is a great resource. Anything that saves time is a winner, so Buffer, Feedly and Refind are my go-tos for finding and scheduling great third-party social media content. Google Analytics and Crazy Egg are a really good combination for collecting and analyzing data, particularly when you need all the information about visitor behavior, interests and paths you can get. Moz Pro is also a must-have for us for monitoring progress, fixing errors and generally improving search optimization.
What are the most important lessons in marketing you’ve had to learn?
I think the most important lesson is that there’s always more to learn; you can never get complacent because there are so many new techniques, tools and updates all the time. Even just adding a new audience into the mix can change everything. We recently started marketing our calendar connectors, which allow people connect popular services like Slack, Evernote and Zendesk to their choice of calendar. This is a whole new group of people with different skills, needs and expectations, so it was really important to get it right.
Organizing and streamlining your day-to-day is vital. I try to spend at least 75 percent of my time doing tasks (as opposed to discussing or planning them), especially as I have such a wide range of things to get through. The advantage of small companies and startups is that productivity is very high and you can get a lot done, so use it to your advantage while you can!
How can blogs help a startup share their message?
I see it as a spider web: blogs and blog posts help you make all kinds of connections and ensure people see your products and services from different perspectives and in a variety of contexts … all while maintaining strong links with the original.
In my opinion, personal recommendations are the biggest help you can get, so if you’ve come across something you love, sharing it or blogging about it can make a huge difference to a startup. Many of our customers and partners are startups too, so we have their blogs in our RSS reader and share any content that’s also relevant to our audience.
A lot of people still see blog posts as a “nice to have” rather than a “must have,” but they have so many benefits that a well-maintained blog is a vital asset for any company. It’s a great way to build authority and reputation, share advice, show personality, give potential customers and investors confidence through regular updates, strengthen your core website pages, promote your customers, target new potential customers, increase search engine and social media visibility, complement your email marketing strategy and much more.
What advice can you offer on developing relevant, interesting and engaging blog content?
Start with the basics: create a variety of post types, and set up some testing and tracking to see what’s most successful over time (don’t forget to decide on your criteria for “success” first!). Also, don’t underestimate the importance of formatting. Super long blog posts without images and subheadings are really hard to read, as are small fonts. The other extreme is aggressive formatting: bold and italic on every line, and constant standalone sentences can be equally distracting. If your line lengths are too long, even short posts will have trouble keeping your readers hooked (10-15 word lines work well for desktop). Ask a friend to read a post you’ve written to get some feedback on whether you’re making your audience struggle unnecessarily.
Know your customers and potential audience as well as possible.
I’ll never forget a month into my first ever job at a catalog company, where I was grilled by one of the company directors on the customer base – her questions were things like, “What kind of dogs do our customers own?” “What does their dining room furniture look like?” Obviously, over-generalizing and stereotyping can be taken too far, but having good knowledge of your customers (or good theoretical personas, if you’re still at an early stage), is vital for understanding how they live and what they like.
This allows you to go far beyond offering generic content; you can include metaphors and images that they’ll identify with and appreciate, talk about new things and solve their problems. For Cronofy, it means we create content like our Thor-themed Making the Most of Events and our Adventure Time-themed Developer’s Guide to Social Media.
Problem-solving in particular works well for blog posts because the topic is automatically interesting to your existing audience, is ideal for targeting new people asking questions through Google and elevates authority. For example, How to dispel the curse of the unfinished side project and Stop apologizing for your work are aimed at developers looking to be more productive and boost their confidence.
Finally, create as much evergreen content as you can. I keep a spreadsheet with all the URLs of our evergreen posts (plus external interviews, guest posts, features and press). Next to them I list the dates we last shared them, so we aren’t repeating ourselves too often when we re-share. Over time we’re growing a good pool of our own content that will stay relevant and shareable.
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