Startups are like restaurants, in that even if your menu is unique, you’re competing for people’s appetites. I grew up around the restaurant industry and often relate it to technology and business. Imagine a corner of fast food venues. As a customer, how do you choose where to eat? Perhaps you prefer the fries at Burger King, or you love the milkshakes at In N’ Out, or you saw a creative McDonald’s ad, so you ended up there. Ultimately you’re going to pick the restaurant with the best food, price, and experience.
To win, you don’t have to be the first to market, just make the best product that meets the needs of your customers. Here are seven ways to stand out, whether you’re pre-launch or recently raised a Series A.
Find ways to differentiate your company through logo colors, design, and branding. If your product is mobile, take a look at all the app icons in your space. What color are they? If all of the icons are orange and red, consider making your logo a different color to stand out in app store search results or on a grocery store shelf.
Undercutting the competition can be great for user acquisition if your product is as good or better than the other products in your space. Find the right market competitive price points that represent your product offering and infrastructure. Tomasz Tunguz of Redpoint Ventures recently wrote a great overview of pricing models for software startups, across freemium, limited free trial, up front payment, and money back guarantee.
What’s your story? Why did you start your company? Why are you qualified to build it? Why does the problem you’re solving keep you up at night? In a crowded market, there will be fewer CEOs with domain expertise than opportunists who start companies for the wrong reasons. Stand out by communicating your team story on your website, and by establishing your team as industry experts through public speaking, mentoring, and blogging about your experiences.
Find big brands and other startups with similar audiences, but non-competing products, to partner with for cross-promotion, data sharing, special projects, and events. You can use LinkedIn, CrunchBase and Xmarks to find potential business development partners. For further reading, Alex Taub often writes about partnership strategy for startups.
A great customer experience will create a lifetime customer. Create an experience worth sharing and your customers will share your product with their friends. Monitor mentions of your company on Twitter and Facebook to respond to customer inquiries in a timely fashion. To find companies with great customer service, look for the STELLA Service sign at the footer of websites or explore their full list of sites.
You don’t have to wait until March at SXSW to pull a big marketing stunt. Do something crazy this month to get your product in front of your target audience that will also generate press. Just make sure to obtain a permit before launching an outdoor campaign. If your product is for local businesses, consider marketing inside restaurants or cafes with printed signage, and on the street, where you can talk directly with customers.
If you have a marketing budget, consider buying a billboard ad to reach potential customers. Groupon, Box, DuckDuckGo, and Hipmunk have all purchased billboards in the past. ADstruc is a great marketplace for finding and purchasing local outdoor advertisements. For additional inspiration, here are dozens of examples of guerrilla marketing stunts by brands from around the world.
Above everything, it’s all about the product. You can’t do any of the above effectively without a product that people want to partner with, pay for, and share with their friends. Create a well-designed product, that’s fun to use, and solves a real problem, and you will be well on your way to standing out in a crowded market.