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Start-up marketing lessons from incredibly successful global brands

From advertising your business to millennials to adopting latest digital trends, names such as Lego, Levi's and Pepsi reveal their marketing secrets....

Large or small, businesses of all sizes are dealing with a far more complex and continuously evolving consumer which makes it even more crucial to embrace innovation, disruption and technology.

Earlier this month, headed to the annual Millennial 20/20 Summit in London where we delved into the future of next generation commerce from the perspective of digitally-savvy millennials (those aged 18-35).

Covering 12 key areas including food and beverage, fashion and beauty, e-commerce, and sport and health, the Summit saw big brands, corporate retailers, investors and start-ups gather to share insights into what millennials want from businesses and how huge names such as Levi Strauss, Lego and PepsiCo are developing to meet this demand.

Letting us in on their strategy secrets, these brands outlined the ways in which small businesses and start-ups, with smaller budgets and marketing reach, can implement the same techniques to achieve success.

Read on to uncover the winning formulas behind some of the world's most successful companies…

Promote a clear brand message

Relevant for? Start-ups weighing up the question of: ‘Real love and loyalty or a one-night stand; how do I secure lasting brand love?'

Start-ups who are looking to build a brand name that can be trusted should take a leaf out of Lego’s book.

Hearing from the brand’s director of markets, Katharina Sutch, it was explained that Lego’s family-centric attitude defines the brand and everyone who works within it. Sutch suggested that Lego is unique because of its key brand mantra – its popular red brick design enables anyone to realise their “inner child”.

Having a clear brand message, like Lego for example, ensures that your audience can engage with your product and also encourages brand loyalty.

Retail business? Provide an enhanced online experience, offline

The ‘evolution of retail’ was also the subject of much discussion. Instead of bricks and mortar stores disappearing entirely, as media speculation has alluded to, Sutch and Rhodri Evans, brand Marketing Manager at Levi Strauss & Co, instead suggest that retail business just need to adapt and evolve the shopping experience.

The concept of “the experience store”, where stores make visits interactive and worthwhile – providing something online shopping can’t – was proposed as the next logical step. Examples include Lego’s Leicester Square store opening which featured models of the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben, and Levi’s Regent Street store which has it own tailor shop for customers.

Target your audience with a tailored content marketing approach

Relevant for? Start-ups who can relate to this problem; ‘When you’ve tried search, you’ve tried social, where will you find the next generation of users?'

At another Summit talk, featuring Taboola managing director Marc Thomas, Contiki’s head of content Will Weeks, and Heist Studios CEO Toby Darbyshire, Startups’ gained insights on customer acquisition.

When thinking about the next generation of users, these brands were keen to emphasise how important it is to respect a user’s time and to always tailor content to your medium.

It was highlighted that TV and video feeds are very different platforms and the content shown on each must cater to their different functions. When watching TV the consumer readily absorbs greater lengths of content, whereas on a social media newsfeed the user is scrolling and will only give mere milliseconds to each video clip.

We also learnt that one in five mobile minutes are spent on Facebook; this is where content is being consumed most so start-ups must recognise this. It may sound obvious but you need to make sure your business has an active presence on the platforms where your target consumers are based.

Tread carefully with social influencers but don’t dismiss them altogether

Relevant for? Business owners considering engaging an influencer for a sponsored post

There was a word of caution from the panel about the use of online influencers for marketing purposes.

Taboola, Contiki and Heist noted that, because they have audiences reaching into the millions, social influencers can cost brands a huge amount of time and money.

Thomas suggested you work on marketing our brand organically on social media first to promote your business rather than pay an influencer to take a photo. It was also noted that: “Content is key and should always come first, you can feed in the brand later.”

In addition, the brands noted that millennials are extremely clued up when it comes to spotting paid social and ads. Posts of this nature are not that hard to spot – iust glance at your social media feed and you’ll no doubt see countless reality TV stars promoting some whitening toothpaste or detox tea!

The panelists were unanimous in the view that sharing an authentic story and being honest is the best approach for any business and asserted that, long-term, this approach will generate far greater dividends.

Where possible, power your start-up through social media and embrace new technology

Relevant for? Small business owners keen to learn the latest in innovation and marketing  from fast-growth e-commerce companies:

In a talk focused on ‘Snap, Stories, Stream. Powering commerce through Social', Savannah Sachs; managing director at Birchbox, Lynn Sutton; e-commerce lead at Facebook and Aaron Gelbard; CEO and co-founder of Bloom and Wild, agreed on four key tips to drive business growth online:

  1. The first tip is that brand consistency over all market outlets is vital.
  2. Secondly, investment in social and creating a community around your brand, product, and company must be recognised as crucial and invested in.
  3. Thirdly, generic radio and leaflet advertising is not personalised or targeted and therefore does not appeal to this millennial consumer base.
  4. Finally, with news that 80% of transactions are automated, apps and bots are changing the structure of customer purchasing. Therefore, companies must embrace bot platforms and digital concierge.

Separately, an interesting tactic that can be implemented by any start-up to promote innovation was put forward by Birchbox’s Sachs:

“Culture is key, every six months we check the ‘culture pulse’ of the company by asking if the following statement rings true; ‘I feel empowered to take innovation and solve problems’”.

This is vital for the company’s progression as this ‘culture pulse' survey bolsters employee drive and from there great ideas are born. Birchbox advocates that the next big idea can come from anyone in the team.  

Remember that not all millennials are the same

Relevant for? Start-ups looking to understand ‘how to talk (or rather not talk) to millennials'

While millennials feature heavily in this article, Luke Barnes from VICE, Caroline Wilkinson of BBC Worldwide and Andy Fidler, co-founder of The Hook, all shared the opinion that the widespread generalisation of the term millennial can be damaging for businesses.

The core message here is that not all millennials are the same – a perception that Wilkinson has undertaken substantial research into. She highlights the concept of the ‘affluent millennial’, which according to BBC research, accounts for 84% of millennials.

According to Wilkinson,‘affluent millennials’ are the most lucrative cohort for digital marketers to target  as they are believed to have higher levels of brand awareness and brand loyalty. These affluent millennials are a highly receptive commercial group and frequently share their wealth and opinions publicly on social media platforms.

Your checklist – Start-up marketing lessons from big brands:

  • Create customer loyalty through clear and consistent branding
  • Retailers should consider providing innovative shopping experiences and pop-ups.
  • Think carefully before you engage with an online influencer and be transparent with sponsored posts.
  • Invest in social media and invest in marketing channels where you can guarantee you will reach your target consumers. If your target audience is millennials then steer away from TV and radio advertising and spend more time on social media and online content.
  • Consider running a ‘culture pulse’ survey among your staff to ensure that every one of your employees shares in your business vision.
  • Finally, keep in mind that, if you’re targeting millennials, you can’t put all millennials in the same box. As with any other audience segment, it can be damaging for your marketing efforts to assume that a specific demography shares the same lifestyles and values.


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