Marketing your start-up: How to get new customers

Start-ups Vita Liberata, Sambrook’s Brewery and TotsToTravel share their tips on attracting new business with advice on social media, PR and referrals...

As a start-up business, attracting new customers can be challenging but there are several marketing strategies available to boost customer engagement, as demonstrated by a crop of successful start-up entrepreneurs at the Telegraph Festival of Business this week.

Speaking at a panel session at the event, Alyson Hogg; founder and CEO of luxury tanning company Vita Liberata, Duncan Sambrook of Sambrook’s Brewery, and Wendy Shand; co-founder of family travel company TotsToTravel, shared their experiences of customer acquisition, as well as their biggest marketing mistakes.

Phil Jones, the managing director of Brother UK, also offered up his tips on generating new business having worked at the major IT brand for “over 20 years”.

Read on to find out their top marketing tips for success:

What is the best way you’ve found of attracting new customers?

Alyson Hogg: “Giving people something that they require, that can change their lives for the better, so really it’s making sure you have a product that people actually want. We sell to a range of ages; those aged 16 and under to those in their 50s and 60s so we have to go and find these women in different places – we have to search for ‘her’. We have to get women who are not yet addicted to our tan, to be addicted.

“We need to communicate directly. It’s through social media, events, referrals, non-paid advertisements, word-of mouth, celebrity endorsements and so on – it’s everything.”

Duncan Sambrook: “When we started I was literally knocking on doors, then once you’ve started to establish a brand it’s all about generating awareness of your product. One of the biggest things we’ve found recently is looking at ways we can engage better with our customers through Twitter, Facebook and those dedicated to beer, and how we can get our customers to endorse or recommend our product to buyers.

“Engage with your customers through Twitter and Facebook”

“[Social media] has been a really powerful way of helping us identify our customers.”

Wendy Shand: “You’ve got to have a really fabulous product or service and you need to think about who is it that you’re speaking to; that’s a lot about advertising, social and really identifying who your audience is.”

Phil Jones: “We’re a large organisation so one of the biggest things I would say is try and get big insights from Big Data. One of the things we did is when people were registering their products with us, we sent off each interaction to Experian who then profiled every single piece of data to tell us who are customers were, their company size, location, where we were over penetrating and under penetrating, and that allowed us to frame our marketing.”

How do you penetrate the market and find new customers in saturated markets?

Alyson Hogg: “What’s interesting about tanning is that there’s only about 8-10% market penetration so there’s a lot more we can do. Our communication strategy is always about making ourselves stand out from the competition; telling people ‘our tan isn’t going to smell, you’re not going to feel sticky, it’s all going to be fine’. We have to reframe the debate about tanning and get them to try it.

“It takes 11 moments for someone to see your product or service and then consider purchasing it so it could be billboards (which we don’t do as we can’t afford it), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, other digital platforms, and then they might hear about us through word of mouth, they see us in a shop window, they see us at their local chemist, and so on. It’s about telling your customer the right story, giving them the right product, and then enabling customers to find you in different places.”

“It takes 11 moments for someone to see your product or service”

Duncan Sambrook: “Beer is a relatively saturated market, in 2008 there were four breweries in London, there’s now 75, it has completely transformed. I remember having a conversation with a publican and I was telling him about the product and how proud I was of it and he said ‘well we can’t buy your beer as you’ve been around for ages’. At that stage we were only three years old so I looked at him and thought this has got to be wrong!

“Yet what that taught me was that it’s actually not about new products, it’s about how you build a relationship with a customer that will make them stay with the brand. It changed the way we looked at our marketing as it’s not just about the product itself but it’s about the whole customer experience – right the way through from visiting the brewery to the consumer drinking our pints.”

Phil Jones: “We have a concept called top three box. As consumers you should be able to mentally shortlist the top three brands [in any given market] so in our eyes you’ve got to be in the top three box at all times. We also work by the term ‘ACE’; your product has to be Available, it has to be highly Convenient, and it has to meet customer Expectations.

“A good example of that would be Tesco as you purchase a product online and it can be delivered within two days at the time of your choice. If you only offer deliveries in the morning or evening then you’re already not meeting expectations.”

How useful is market research?

Wendy Shand: “We haven’t run anything formal like Gallop surveys but we’re constantly finding out about what our customers want through surveys on SurveyMonkey, surveys of our database [via email], and we partner with other people with similar databases and we survey their database as well.

“Data is everywhere you look, some of it’s about looking at Google Analytics but then you can’t beat a good old conversation with your target audience.”

“You can’t beat a good conversation with your target audience”

Alyson Hogg: “We’ve done some SurveyMonkey research but just for our own purposes to understand if we were correct with our positioning. We only did that this year and we’ve been going for five or six years so it was more like a confirmation than market research.

“Prior to that research we’ve worked entirely on gut, and that’s because we’re a team of women making products for women, with women in mind. We’ve got 55 women in the company so they will tell me if they don’t like something. We also look at our reviews. Customer reviews are terrifyingly real-time and there all the time, so you can go and find 70 people’s different views on your products within the click of a button.”

Wendy Shand: “I’ve had a wake up call in the last couple of weeks as I’ve realised that I’m coming towards the upper end of my market. I know that my audience are mainly in their late 20s, I’ve just hit 40 so that makes me geriatric in our market! The big question is how I will keep on top of what women are thinking at a really intrinsic level. I’ll have to make much more of an effort to get out there and ask questions.

Duncan Sambrook: “We don’t do any direct market research. We rely a lot on surveys from industry bodies and we use that as a basis for determining what our marketing strategy is going to be for the year. However, we do a lot of monitoring on what consumers views are on beer and beer styles. There are a huge number of websites that can impart this information if you’re a member. For instance RateBeer has a compilation of consumer attitudes to beers from across the globe and you can gage trends.

“The one thing I would say is that everybody has an opinion and there’s no substitute for having strong leadership and having a view on the market and actually saying this is what we’re going to do.”

Phil Jones: “We do stacks of market research. We recently did studies on our demographic and found that there were companies that had been with us since the 1970s, that had grown up from our typewriters and stayed with us as we evolved. Yet in the tech start-up community, we weren’t actually permeating the market.

“We’re lucky we can pay for it [research] and we can get agencies to do it but there are other sources where you can get that information.”

What’s been your biggest customer acquisition mistake?

Duncan Sambrook: “Possibly not assessing the right type of customers. When you have high-growth, it’s very easy to say yes to everybody. In our second and third years we were dealt a number of significant blows because we couldn’t deal with the number of customers that we had.”

Wendy Shand: “Our biggest mistake was probably spending far too much money on Pay Per Click. You can spend an awful lot of money on PPC and keep going at it. You may then start to think ‘I can’t afford to switch it off as I don’t how much traffic it’s sending’. In no way shape or form could we measure the impact it had.”

“We spent far too much money on Pay Per Click”

Phil Jones: “We had the right product, a managed print service, but at the wrong time. We invented a product which was very innovative but it was the wrong time to take it to market. Now that market exists and its worth hundreds of millions of pounds. My advice would be to never go one step away from your market.

How do you run referral processes?

Phil Jones: “We use LinkedIn for a lot of that, we actively seek recommendations.”

Wendy Shand: “We ask for referrals. We receive a lot of referrals through our Facebook page, we’ve ran really successful Facebook ads which mums and dads are seeing and then referring on to friends and husbands within the ads. We’ve seen husbands and wives having whole conversations on Facebook threads. That’s a very interesting phenomenon which I couldn’t have predicted.”

Amazon: friend or foe?

Alyson Hogg: “Terrifying. There’s a lot of reach that Amazon has and nobody else has anything like it. I think that there are ways of controlling its micro-arm but I’m yet to see the evidence of it. […] The jury’s still out for me.”

Phil Jones: “It’s customers that are demanding this service. They’re time poor and they’re getting next day deliveries – it’s what they’re looking for. It can be highly profitable for your business actually because of the algorithms they have and a strong business to consumer channel.

“Can you afford to not be selling on Amazon?”

“However, if you have a multichannel model then it could be disruptive as you need to ensure that your entire stack of products and pricing can co-exist. But the train is rolling and I think it’s more of a question as to can you afford to not be selling on Amazon?”

The power of PR

Phil Jones: “We’re in an age where people want stories, they want more context and they want new, original, fresh content so public relations for me is a key part of our strategy.”

Wendy Shand: “PR is absolutely vital but you can’t always ground it up to sales. Our customers are still reading magazines, brochures, [they want to hear about you]. It’s a very important strand and it’s an online tool.”

Duncan Sambrook: “It’s definitely important but there are two caveats. PR needs to be part of an overall marketing strategy and it’s not a panacea. When we first launched the brewery, I hired a PR agency and thought that they could bring everybody down and it was a complete disaster because I had patched it out and given it to them to do.

“On the opposite side of the spectrum, when you look at what Aberdeen-based brewery BrewDog have done and how they’ve embraced PR and created a cult around their beer, that’s the power of what PR can achieve. PR has to reflect your business.”

“A good editorial can be worth five advertisements”

Alyson Hogg: “It’s critical. PR is number one on our marketing list, we have PR agencies in Paris, New York, Dublin, London and LA. They all bring different things and in the beauty world, it’s really important that women see you in the media. A good editorial can be worth five adverts.”

For more advice on marketing your business, click here.

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  1. I would say social media is becoming the fastest growing method to find and communicate with potential customers. It’s one way to be more interactive and provide a personal sales service, it’s a modern telemarketing solution. But I believe telemarketing is still a valuable strategy, as it’s voice-to-voice, a real person on the end of the phone in real time, which is more likely to build a relationship with prospective clients, at an opportune time, than social media would allow – potentially.