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How to brand your BtoB startup to compete with the “big boys.”

The term “startup” is often used to refer to a fledgling company, not yet generating revenue, that is run by a group of millennials with little business experience. Though this is often true, I’ve also worked with startups that are profitable, have been in business for ten years, and are run by mature, savvy businesspeople. Any company that is still pivoting and discovering its place in the market can qualify as a “startup”. They’re still evolving and innovating. They often haven’t yet firmly settled into an identity that defines who they are and how they will win against the “big boys”. Many young companies skate along without making a commitment to differentiated positioning for years. Some just aren’t ready to make the investment. And some, too close to the problem to clearly see the answer, just don’t know how.

Creating a fresh bold, head-turning claim, then deploying it across all marketing and sales assets is a silver bullet many young companies could easily deploy but sadly often do not use. This opportunity is particularly ripe for young B2B companies because their established competitors are often not marketing-driven organizations. Rather, they are consensus-minded; sales-driven organizations whose key decision makers are of an engineering mindset. They are risk averse and move slowly toward adopting new, fresh marketing ideas. Their past success came from technical innovation, and they lean heavily on arcane technical differentiation for their offerings.

Today’s B2B buyers span a much larger demographic than they did ten years ago when they were dominated by technical engineers. Many of today’s technical buyers and decision makers have their perspectives shaped as buyers in the B2C space, eager to be delighted by a value proposition that relates to them as a person with wants and needs beyond a product’s operational requirements. Yet many established companies have a difficult time presenting their solutions in this way. They have too many cooks in the kitchen to push an edgy idea through the approval process, and overall, are so confident and locked-into their long-held market positions that they aren’t even looking in their rearview mirror to see the startups gaining ground.

Startups have the opportunity to make bold claims, deliver heart-stopping marketing, and quickly look like a large company with a better brand presence than the legacy behemoths. Because startups are nimble, have higher risk tolerance, and often have marketing infrastructure entirely built on new technology, they can accomplish in six months what it would take their competitors three years to do.

So whatever the age of your company, if you can put the attributes of a startup to work for you, you may be able to gain ground on established competitors. Here are five ways to jumpstart that process.

  1. Formally assess your competition. Build a matrix to examine each competitor’s positioning and key messages. Identify the gaps. Examine whether your claims are truly differentiating your company. Are your messages too technical? Or are you capitalizing on the opportunity to relate to your customers as consumers and connect with them emotionally?
  2. Find the arresting message that will stop buyers in their tracks. Avoid technical products descriptions and talk about emotional benefits in a way that sets you apart. Try using humor, or taking a more personal stance that will allow your business to be the fresh friendly new face in the room.
  3. Develop a creative brand approach that can be consistently applied to all marketing and sales assets. Here’s where startups truly have the advantage. They can relatively easily re-vamp websites or sales collateral because they are not re-engineering a site with thousands of pages and clunky old legacy functionality. Nor do they have an immense library of old assets to re-work. Buyers don’t want to read thousands of pages anyway. So keep it clean and simple.
  4. Create interactive tools and demos that make your product differentiators come alive for your audience. Think about entertaining your B2B audience as well as educating them. Make it fun for them to engage with your brand.
  5. Use social media to promote your new fresh brand and sales assets. You’ll get much of the exposure you need at a lower cost than using traditional marketing. And because your brand is fresh and fun, it will play well in this space.


This article first appeared in B2B Marketing