How early should entrepreneurs invest in branding, marketing and earned media? It’s never too early according to marketing mavens Mary Cochran and Alison Werning, partners in the startup and hi-tech PR firm Launching Labs. We talk about how to create a differentiated message and story in a crowded and noisy marketplace – and why its a prerequsite of success in business.
Melinda Wittstock: Welcome to Wings ladies.
Alison Werning: Thank you. Thank you for having us.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s always wonderful to talk to women who are helping other women and I know you guys both have this amazing expertize across branding and marketing and social media and PR and all of this. One of the trends that’s emerged in this podcast is that women have a hard time, sometimes, singing their own praises. And I know you guys are helping to change that dynamic. Where do we get in our own way?
Alison Werning: This is Ali by the way. There’s a few different things that we’ve seen with women, especially women versus men in a dynamic in business. We looked at an article that Forbes put out called “How Are Female Entrepreneurs Different from Male?” and they said women tend to be more self-critical when they’re face with failure. And we really want to encourage women to remember that failure’s a part of business and a part of life. And when you’re faced with that adversity you really just need to take it head on and know that you’re not a failure even if a business failed. And that you can really move forward from things like that.
Melinda Wittstock: My goodness this is so true though, that we do tend to take things personally. And so do you have a lot of female entrepreneurial clients?
Alison Werning: We have some. We have a really strong mix of female entrepreneurs that are doing small businesses, people that have been doing businesses for a long time, we have a husband an wife team that’s an interesting dynamic, and we have a few male run businesses that we work with. So we’re not exclusive to any one company. But we’ve seen that with the women we worked with, a lot of women tend to be entrepreneurs more later in their career, in their second or third career options. Between their 30’s and 60’s. As opposed to me who tend to be a little younger when they start their entrepreneurial career.
And, for example, one of the women we work with owns a cap reading business, and she’s really finally now starting to believe in herself and get good feedback and really succeed personally, not just with her business. So really being able to see that she’s good at what she does and take pride in that and believe in herself.
Mary Cochran: Mary here. And another thing about women entrepreneurs is, in that Forbes research, their funds tend to come from themselves or from their savings as opposed to outside sources. And to me that leads them to take everything on themselves, which, as we know women tend to do that anyway.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s a really interesting point, Mary, that that’s the case. Because when it’s your own money, right, it leads to a little more of a ‘conservatism’, and a little bit more of a fear around it, and a constraint. Where you’re building a business, and you don’t really want to strangle it or constrain it, but it’s a natural thing if it’s your own money.
Mary Cochran: It’s true. It feels more like the purse strings, and so we encourage is women go out and plan their budget as best they can. So there’s things that you’re good at, and that’s fine to take it all on yourself, but do those things that you’re really good at. In other words, let’s say you really do enjoy social media, then do that piece yourself.
If you are a really good writer and your whole career you’ve been writing, then do some blogging. And that’s fine to take that on, the main thing people tend to forget is consistency. So it’s important to be consistent in marketing and PR or it just falls by the wayside.
Melinda Wittstock: This is so true. So there’s this picture that’s emerging. We’re more than 100 episodes into Wings, this podcast, and patterns start to emerge. And everything you’re saying is so consistent with all the conversations we’ve had.
Mary Cochran: It’s like what other people say.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. Uncanny. It’s so interesting. There are a couple of different gating factors for female entrepreneurs and one of them you’ve already mentioned. It’s harder for us to fail, we take it personally, and there’s lots of reasons for that. It’s partly our socialization, but it’s this money angle too. If it’s our own money. So that makes a lot of sense. But it’s so important for us when standing out from the crowd in a really noisy marketplace. For our kind of startups, or businesses, or just whatever sort of a practice, whatever it is that you do, for it to succeed, you have to hang your shingle and stand out and attract people.
And yet, I find women put a lot of obstacles in front of themselves before they go and do that. Say, for instance if you’re starting a personal branding site, oh I have to lose 20 pounds before I’m going to take the photographs for my personal brand site. Or I got to do this, or i got to do that before I do it. Do you find that?
Mary Cochran: This comes back to what Allie was saying about failure and you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect at everything before you do it.
Melinda Wittstock: In a branding sense doesn’t it help to not be perfect? I mean you can connect more authentically with people that way.
Be true to yourself and be passionate about what you’re doing and make that identification more important than trying to just please everybody. #WingsPodcast #WomeninBusiness #Branding @launchinglabsClick to tweet
Alison Werning: This is Allie. I think with branding it’s never going to be perfect and you’re never going to satisfy every single person out there. Not everybody’s going to identify with you or your company or your product, whatever it is you’re selling. But, be true to yourself and be passionate about what you’re doing and make that identification more important than trying to just please everybody. You are going to make some mistakes. You’re going to have some hiccups along the way. But that’s part of business.
You look at all these companies that are re-branding. We’re looking at overstock.com. They started in 97 selling overstock goods, and liquidated goods, and now they’re rebranding 20 years later, trying to tell people, “Hey, we don’t just sell overstock goods anymore, and we are a different kind of business.” Inevitably, hopefully you succeed and hopefully you can evolve with the changing marketplace.
Melinda Wittstock: Well entrepreneurship to me, if I’m anything to go by, is pretty much continual pivots. Right. Especially if you’re really setting out to serve your customers. So you have a hypothesis, say, with your start-up or business or whatever of something, someone you’re going to serve and a problem you’re going to solve, and you have a solution. And you can easily fall in love with your own solution. But that doesn’t mean that your customers will be. So you really have got to listen to them. Not only to create a good product, but you have to listen to them to be good at marketing to them too, don’t you?
What are some of the mistakes that people make in marketing? Particularly, women. I think one thing we know already is just not speaking up, not pushing it enough. But, do we sometimes get a little too me, me, me, me, me rather than actually just focusing and listening to our customers?
Mary Cochran: It is important to listen to the customers. Mary here. It’s so much easier than it used to be. You used to just put out a news release or put out an ad. And it was just going out into the ozone. And now with Google Analytics, and Facebook and all the social media platforms have insights that you can see what’s working and what isn’t working. And a lot of them have AB testing, and you can just try things. You can try, for example, we tried, we had a sleep company that we worked with. And we tried hard sell versus soft sell.
Women tend to be the biggest customer in that world, because they tend to have a hard time sleeping. So, it’s funny in that it turned out we thought, because women were the biggest customer, our hypothesis was really that women would like a softer sell. But it worked actually the opposite way, and the harder sell seemed to work better.
So, sleepy pictures and people staying up all night and those kind of pain points worked better in that particular case. But again, it’s trial and error. And listening to the customer.
Alison Werning: This is Allie. I also think, in my experience, just from company to company, understanding your client or your client base is really important. I have seen big companies, little companies, startups that start out and they’ll say, like a sleep company for example, “Well our target market is the one in three people that have trouble sleeping.” Or athletic company that says, “Well our target market is athletes.” And that’s pretty much never the case.
A lot of the time it’s Lulu Lemon, your target is more female athletes that do yoga. And if you’re Nike it’s more male athletes. And it changes, so understanding either while you’re starting your company, while you’re starting your marketing campaign, just getting that basic understanding of who your ideal client is, who you’re going to focus on, is really a strategy that works. And is important for small companies, or start-ups, or entrepreneurs to do.
Melinda Wittstock: And so when women set out to create their own company, do they get, I’m just going to ask this differently. When women set out to create their own company, what are some of the mistakes they make around the story, the branding, their personal branding, all of these things at the outset? That if they knew, they could get it right from the get-go rather than learning these things on the entrepreneurial roller-coaster?
Alison Werning: This is Allie, and I do a lot of the branding piece, and what I’ve seen is a lot people, they make mistakes in ‘cheaping’ out or rushing that initial portion of the branding, the company name, the logo, the tag line, things like that. You really want to be unique and, like you said, stand out in the crowd. And regardless of, even if you think your product is 100 percent unique and you have no competitors, inevitably there’s some type of competition out there. And you want to be able to make your mark and we’ve seen people that just kind of jump into a business, starting something without researching their company name. And they’ll come out with a name that’s either similar or already exists, and they really have built everything around that. Even that with the sleep company is a good example. It was Sleepy Easily and there was a direct competitor that was also called Sleep Easily.
So that was really tricky from the marketing side. So, that was the start of their brand, and then 10 steps later down the road, when we were marketing the product, it became hard because we were competing with somebody else that had 6 million downloads on their app. And we were selling a completely different product and marketing a completely different product.
And I’ve seen women in particular that it almost seems like they’re a little bit more creative with the name. In doing a little bit more of that research and due diligence, as far as the people we’ve talked to. That they really try to find something more unique instead of just going with the first idea, and I think that’s always the best thought process is stand out and find your way to be unique and be you without muddying the waters
Mary Cochran: And Mary here. That being said, try and look at the whole business and what you want to accomplish first. Before you take any drastic action, it may sound contrary to what we already said, but for example somebody came to us and wanted to promote a book. And it’s great. They had already wrote the book, but they didn’t have a website. They didn’t have a Facebook page. They didn’t have a Google my business page. They didn’t have a logo. They didn’t have a brand. So, don’t take a drastic step like that, like writing the book and publishing it, prior to thinking out, what am I going to do to market this? What is my business going to look like? And it’s really helped them to do all those things, but we had to step back and say, “Okay, let’s get a website going and then all those other things”. And now they’re starting to take off.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, it’s so tricky though, ’cause at that early start-up, sticky floor place, where you don’t necessarily have a lot of money. You might, and that’s awesome, and you can invest in all theses things. But you know, invariably there’s so much need for that money. Like investing in your project, whatever that is, doing a whole bunch of different things, so yeah it’s really tempting to cut corners on the branding and all that stuff, because it’s expensive to do right. So you’ll go to 99 designs for your logo, or fiver, or something like that. And not necessarily do that research, because have you hired a lawyer to work out all those trademark issues and all these things.
I think sometimes at the very root of that, we rush maybe because there’s part of us, or a little niggle that thinks, well, I don’t know if this will succeed or not, and so I’d like to encourage women to think bigger. If you’re in it, be in it. Assume success. Right?
Alison Werning: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: If you don’t do that, if you rush too quickly, yeah. I’m just wondering if there’s some sort of mindset issue there that makes us rush or whatever.
Mary Cochran: Mary here. One of the things I like to say is, what if you do succeed? If you succeed, you want to look like you want to look. The branding piece, the logo, sure you mentioned some companies that do that really inexpensively. I could give you some examples, but somebody gave us a logo that they wanted to use that was very similar to the yin and yang. It was really generic. It basically did say what they wanted, because they were working on posture and that’s what their book was about.
Well, what Allie ended up doing a logo for them, it ended up being something that nobody can steal it. It’s just them. It’s them and their forms. Because they’re very attractive people so it’s just an outline of their forms. It’s hard to describe that without the pictures, but it really does make a difference. I think that’s the one piece that I would really have a trained eye look at unless the woman is skilled. Because it’s really not all that expensive if you’re looking at starting a business. It’s such a small part of it.
Now when you start doing a full PR program that can run into a lot more money. And some of those things I think you can do yourself, but all of it’s just a snowball. Every little thing that you do adds to the next thing and as you start getting more attention and getting out there, and getting used to it, your confidence builds and you also start getting more coverage and more items.
Alison Werning: This is Allie. One of the things I’ve noticed that we really have to reign in with clients, and focus on, men or women, that you need to have consistency throughout your brand. So, people know about needing a website now and needing a Facebook page and needing all of that. But some people don’t keep it consistent. So, your website will be called one thing and will be blue, and your Facebook page will be called something different and be green. Just building a brand is really important. Of really knowing, you know, we know the two colors that McDonald’s has, and they keep that consistent throughout everything.
That’s a really important piece, to remember that your website’s your online store. It’s you’re physical building, and it doesn’t have to cost 40 thousand dollars to build. But if you think of it that way, it’s your storefront, it’s the way you represent yourself and you want it to be consistent with your brand, your product, the message that you’re putting out to your customers. And you want that to be consistent throughout everything.
Melinda Wittstock: This is really true, but I guess the really tricky thing is when. When is the moment to really invest in that? Because I don’t know I’ve gone through this with all my businesses, and in the very beginning you barely have enough oxygen. Depending on how much money you actually have. If you’re bootstrapping it or whatever. And then you look at all these people who do branding and marketing and they’re expensive. And so you think, well how can I afford that? Because I got to do my product and I got to do this and that and that and that. Especially if you’re a technology entrepreneur, because that takes money. Yet, there’s a cost of not doing it.
So talk to me a little bit about taking someone through the stage. When, and how much, to invest at what point. Because a lot of startups are pretty scrappy necessarily and they can’t spend 20 grand on their brand and stuff.
Alison Werning: This is Allie. I think with that, well first of all it depends on what you’re selling. If you’re creating an online marketplace where you’re going to be selling clothing, you’re probably going to need to spend a little bit more money and invest a little bit more on the website. Because that’s key to your business.
We have one woman that we work with who started her own promotional product. So she creates the-shirts and hats and that sort of thing. She knows she doesn’t have the money for a website yet. And she knows when she does launch her website, she wants it to be quality. So at this stage, and she is probably six months into launching, and she has got a decent amount of clients and she has got money coming in. Now she’s at the place where okay, we might think about a website, but she just has a Facebook page where she posts pictures and basically her portfolio of product, and has her contact information. And that’s been free.
So that’s a really good thought. Again, it depends person to person and company to company. And it also depends on what your competitors are doing. Looking at the cap reader that we work with, all of the cap readers she knows are in technology, so they’ve built their own websites. And they’ve built good websites. So she knew she had to have a good website to be competitive in the market. She couldn’t just do a Facebook page. So it’s really just learning what it is that you’re selling and what does that market look like.
Mary Cochran: This is Mary. Going back to strengths, if that’s something you can do, you can do that yourself. I think there’s a lot of things you can do yourself when you’re getting started. Blogging, I think, can be really good if you’re consistent with it.
Alison Werning: The Instagram post. We’ve seen that from several companies that just posting on Instagram on a consistent basis has gotten them contacts and clients and it’s a relatively easy thing for somebody whose never done social media to learn. Or, been a lot of people, especially a young woman entrepreneur, already has at their fingertips.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it’s true. Everybody’s just a little bit different. Sorry, I’m just going to speak up there. Everyone’s a little different. I think one of the things that entrepreneurs often make, and the mistake they make is just not understanding our customers. Instead of falling in love with the problem we’re solving, we fall in love with the solution, and then get a little rigid about that. Build it, thinking they’ll come. But not really know enough about who we’re selling to.
I mean, I was so exercised about this, I created a whole company around it myself, Verifeed, because what we do is we analyze millions of social conversations algorithmically to understand people, like what are they talking about, what are they sharing, how can we know about them enough that when a company does actually post a message on social media you know it’s going to be targeted to the right person. They’re actually going to care. It’s actually relevant to them.
It’s so noisy, so the more you can personalize. I guess personalize and scale to me is the holy grail. Being able to get the right message to the right person at the right time for the right reason, all of that. But, so, we’re talking just logos and that, but to get to that social intelligence place. That’s even harder because a lot of people put that last. And we’ve always said, wow, that’s kind of important to do first. You’ve got to know who you’re selling to and have that intelligence. You can know or not know what’s going to be more profitable? To know, obviously.
Mary Cochran: Right. This is Mary. Often in a bigger company you’re going to create buyer personas, which are snapshots of each individual kind of client that you might have. So maybe, we’ll call her Mary, and she’s a housewife and she’s 56, and she likes dogs, and drinks iced tea in the middle of the day. But, a lot of times your smaller companies are not going to take the time to do that, but they tend to have an instinct into who that customer might be.
Alison Werning: I’ve experienced that, this is Allie, of mid-level companies that have gotten to the five million dollar sales mark and still don’t necessarily have a good idea of who their client is. Or maybe they came out with one product, and now they’ve got a line of 10 products, and things have changed a little bit, and the person that they’re targeting may have changed from when they started.
Every little thing that you do adds to the next thing and as you start getting more attention and getting out there, and getting used to it, your confidence builds and you also start getting more coverage and more items. #WingsPodcast #WomeninBusiness @launchinglabsClick to tweet
I really believe in doing target market research before you start your company or while you’re starting your company. These don’t have to be 50 hours, and they don’t have to be 25 000 dollars paid to a big advertising company or marketing company. It’s just sitting down and saying, okay, I sell nail polish. And I sell nail polish that doesn’t have any bad ingredients to it. So who am I going to market that to?
Well, you’re going to target that to primarily women. You’re probably going to market it to women that are in their 20’s to 30’s and maybe a little bit older than that too. And it’s going to be a 12 dollar nail polish, so it’s going to be for a girl that is in her career, that is not a teenager. So, just that quickly you have a basic understanding of your clientele.
And one of the things I like to recommend to people is use the internet. And I think that’s one of the things I’ve noticed with the men that I’ve worked with, compared to some of the women. I think the women want to be able to just know it, where if my husband’s changing a transmission and he needs to figure out how to do that, he Google’s it and figures it out. I think that’s one of the places that men and women differ. And you can really use, I mean we’ve got the world at our fingertips, we’ve got all of this information out there. There’s information about how to do target market research that’s free on Pinterest. And most of us have a Pinterest page.
So you can really start there and get a lot of resources for free. It’s just about prioritizing what it is that you want to focus on. Like Mary said, what it is you’re good at. And executing those things. And make a list. And some of these lists of how to start a company, those exist online too.
Melinda Wittstock: I mean there’s so many bootcamps. This is one of the reasons why I pulled together the whole Wings of Success Summit, because I think with all the collective knowledge we have as women who have started and grown businesses, at this point, we have so much knowledge. And there’s no excuse now, because it’s all out there. But it’s like who can bring it together and curate it? And so that’s one of the reasons why I started this podcast at all, and doing summits and things like that. We can really pay it forward to a lot of women coming up when, in our case, it was hard to find female role models. Did you guys have any female role models when you were coming up who shared this stuff with you?
Alison Werning: This is Allie. When we were talking about this podcast before we got on the phone with you, I was saying that I’m 28 and I’ve grown up with really strong female role models my whole life. Not just on television or things like that, but even on television. Growing up with things like Who’s the Boss, and stuff like that that you watch a woman be the man of the house, so to speak.
But I have two grandmothers who both graduated from college. And I think that’s pretty rare. My mom always worked, and not at a low level. Growing up we had neighbors that were CEO’s of hospitals that were women. And that I worked for a woman that’s owned her own wardrobe styling business for 40 years. So, I guess I never saw the assumption that I had to just be a secretary, or be a housewife, or any of that. I saw, well, this is what you do. You go and become a CEO, you go to college. You get the education. I can’t name just one female role model, there was so many of them.
Mary Cochran: Mary here. I’m a Boomer though, and I would say it’s a little bit different for me. My mother started a business, but she did start it later in life, and was successful. But, I think there were fewer women business role models.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, no, it’s true. So I’m much older than both of you, I guess. Because there really weren’t for me. I mean there were a few, but it’s not that they were really opening sharing or mentoring. And so you could model your success on men, but that doesn’t necessarily work for women. What works for men in terms of marketing, doesn’t necessarily for women, and as we wrap up the podcast, I’m really curious what you think how that’s the case. In saying how women show up, how we sell, how we market. Is it different? Do we have to do something different than men do?
Alison Werning: I think a lot of that, this is Allie, if you look at, we talked earlier, there’s majority of women, especially historically, that were entrepreneurs, started later in life. And not later in life by their 30’s, but like at the end of their career. It’s their last career step when they became an entrepreneur. Where you look at somebody like Mark Zuckerberg that started his company from his dorm room. That makes a big difference. I remember one that’s a song writer, that he finished a Bob Dylan song, he went and listened to a Bob Dylan song, and he goes I would have never done this in my 30’s, but when I was 20 I had the guts to write over Bob Dylan. And I think that’s one of the differences between men and women is, men just start a lot younger when it comes to business. We have one guy that we worked with that said he started his first company when he was like 10, and he was delivering water to the neighbors.
So I think women can just learn from that little bit. I think a lot of it is fake it ’til you make it, so to speak. Believe in yourself, and it will follow.
Mary Cochran: Mary here. I’d like to say, I don’t think women have to be like men. And sometimes I think women make the mistake of trying to do that. Like, I have to be, I probably shouldn’t say the word on the podcast. A buster. Like I have to just go out and show them. In a negative way. I think we can now use our instincts, our own self-confidence, and learn to grow along the way. And I don’t think we have to be like a man to do it. We can do it with our own instincts.
Melinda Wittstock: I think that is so true. So, what are the top three go-to pieces of advice you would give women at any part of their journey. From the oh wow I’m thinking of taking the leap, leaving the corporate thing and taking the leap into entrepreneurship, or I’ve got this practice and I want to scale it, or I’m trying to get to a million, or I’m trying to get to 100 million. What are your top three, go-to pieces of advice.
Alison Werning: This is Allie. I think my top three would be that of believe in yourself, believe that you will actually succeed. I think a big piece of advice that’s been helpful for me is, know that it’s going to take time and don’t freak out about that. It’s going to take time to build your business. You’re going to need some money saved up so that you can stop working and focus on your business. But, know that you need to give yourself an ample amount of time to get going. Don’t get down on yourself because the money’s not quite rolling in yet.
And sell something you love. Whether it’s you as a blogger, whether it’s you selling a product you created. Believe 100 percent in what it is that you’re doing.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s wonderful advice. And so, both of you do amazing work out there that a lot of our listeners could really benefit from. So how can people find you and work with you?
Alison Werning: So our company is called Launching Labs Marketing. Our website is Launching Labs dot com. And that’s the easiest way to find us, and we do everything from branding, small websites, large websites, press releases, media outreach, and we’ll help with anything that your growing company needs.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s wonderful. And so do you have a special offer for anyone today? Or a way that people can contact you best?
Mary Cochran: Well, on the website, there’s an email on the website, or just Mary at Launching Labs dot com. And we’d love to offer a free one-hour consultation to your listeners. We can help them find out where they are in terms of their company promotion and what’s missing, and what your next steps might be. There’s no obligation, we’d just like to talk to your listeners.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s great. And you can text to a number you provided, that’s 7-2-0-600-9-0-5-9. Mention the code wings. I’ll put that in the show notes so everybody, if you do have a pen, 7-2-0-600-9-0-5-9. You can text or call and mention the code wings for that free consultation. That’s very generous of both of you, thank you so much. Mary and Allie, it was a delight to have you on the podcast, and thank you for putting on your wings and flying with us.
Mary Cochran: Thank you for having us, Melinda.
Alison Werning: Thank you.