Turn Your Brand Stories Into Sales

We’ve covered the importance of brand development for startups and the role of storytelling in connecting with potential customers. Now we are going to turn it around and talk content marketing – how to turn your stories into sales.

The term “content” covers a lot of bases. It can be anything from a blog post, an ebook, a video, a case study, the list goes on and on. Developing a content strategy means figuring out how to deliver just the right amount of content to your prospective customers in just the right place, at just the right time.

For today’s consumers, with high expectation and short attention spans, getting content right is critical part building a business.

We sat down with Milestone Integrated Marketing Partner, Stacy Barr to learn how he feels about content marketing and how he recommends his client implement content into their overall strategy.

Clinton: How important do you feel is content generation for a business?

Stacy: Crucial. We live in a world of click bait, top 5 lists and such.  We are consuming content on an ongoing basis. Our appetite for content is increasing but the depth of the level which we want to engage with each piece of content is decreasing. No one wants to read a twenty-page white paper. What we are focusing on right now is a lot of content generation that is focused on quick two minute, three minute, four minute reads.  You get the story, you get the idea and then you’re out.

The days of twenty page white papers, fifteen page brochures and just shoving it down people’s throat at the start of their purchase journey or when they are just getting interested, are not only dead, they should have been dead a long time ago.

Clinton: Let’s talk about that.  In a digital journey it is probably not a good idea to try to bank on someone just reading your white paper and becoming a qualified lead, interested in your brand or your product.  So should startups design their content strategy and change what they deliver along the sales journey.

Stacy B:  The great thing about content is that it applies differently to different levels of the purchase chain. For example, If I just met you, I would never start telling you my most intimate details of who I am. I’d start at a high level. It’s the same as if you are trying to sell something to somebody.  At the top level of that purchase funnel, tell stories, give them that sixty second pitch. If they are interested take them on a journey, start feeding them specific content that matches their interest.  When I’m ready to purchase, the content you are going to give me is going to be different from when you’re just trying to get my interest, because my engagement with you as a brand is going to be totally different.

Also, if you are a young brand and you’re trying to get traction you don’t always have to create your own content but you can utilize existing content to go back and communicate your point of view. You can comment in an interesting, engaging way which starts to create conversations.  

Clinton: If I am a startup founder and I want to utilize existing content  or create my own, what’s most important

Stacy: I think personality is a key part of it. Look at Elon Musk, so, some of his ideas are absolutely, completely out there but he has a personality, he has an approach.  He’s trying to change the world and it makes him interesting. The last thing anybody in the world wants is a young startup, creating another white paper, another webinar, another boring approach, right?  Intrigue me, interest me, take your story and put a spin on it.  

Clinton B: That’s great. How about measuring success. I think a lot of start-ups spend a whole lot of time on gaining twitter followers but they’re not going into a sales funnel, they’re not becoming advocates or ambassadors. What’s the value in that?

Stacy B:  Nothing, right?  We have a lot of our clients who have in previous years focused on exactly that, those metrics of success; this idea that simply having followers on twitter or Facebook is a metric of success. But is it? With new algorithms, your followers may not even see your posts – especially on social platforms where advertising is their key revenue generator.

The problem is that even with SEO hopefully getting someone to your website.  You only get one chance to make a first impression. You’d better make sure it’s good, because that person has taken the time and energy and you could be a qualified lead or a qualified prospect.

I worked with a brand that had hundreds of thousands of followers and their sales were tanking.  Their followers only joined the social media channel to get a coupon. After that they didn’t care, so they were deaf to the message They didn’t even see it.  They joined to grab a coupon, they haven’t engaged with you since  

Clinton B: So, it comes down to your engagement?

Stacy:  Absolutely. An engagement for purpose.  At the end of the day we are all in business to promote our product or our service, so at the end of the day if you are not leading your followers  towards a sale, or an ongoing relationship that leads to continued sales, it’s probably a wasted opportunity.

3 Steps to Building an Authentic Startup Brand

As a startup founder, you know you need to develop a brand, but do you really understand what that means?

What exactly is brand? If you are like most people, you probably thought “logo” or maybe the words ‘reputation” or “target market” came to mind.

Brand, at least a good brand, is EVERYTHING. Mission, logo, messaging, stories, customer descriptions, employee’s, reputation, sales – all of it. Good branding encompasses everything that increases the value of your startup, inspires your team, and helps you get new customers.

Often times, entrepreneurs struggle to define themselves and carve out a brand in a space that might be new territory or worse overcrowded.

We spent some time with Milestone Integrated Marketing Partner, Stacy Barr, to discover what it takes to build an authentic brand as a startup company.

Prioritize Defining Who You Are Over Your Logo Design

Far too often, companies make logo design their number 1 brand priority. While logo design and defining your visual identity is important (and fun), it’s not a make or break element of your brand.

“Let me start with the biggest mistake a lot of companies make, Stacy explains. “The biggest mistake that a lot of companies make is they say, ‘The first thing I need to work on is my logo.’ No. That’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. I don’t care what your logo looks like. Do we think Budweiser’s logo is great?  I don’t know.  Do you think Coors Light, looks great?  What about IBM?  It doesn’t matter. Get a logo done as inexpensively and with the best quality that you can, but the first to focus on is to figure out who you are and find your voice.

To start defining who you are as a company, ask yourself:

  • What problem does your product solve
  • Who are your competitors (Don’t say “No one”. You have them. Think harder.)
  • What makes your product unique
  • Who are your customers – How do they speak, live, make purchasing decisions, etc.
  • Why would they choose your solution over another option

Learn to Tell Stories

Storytelling is essential for every brand – even B2B brands. Stories evoke emotion, emotion moves people to action, and people make purchasing decisions (not corporations). Whether it is for developing key messages or pitching a sale directly to a customer, learning to incorporate stories into your brand will strengthen it.

“I love the fact that you bring up storytelling because it’s absolutely crucial,” says Stacy. You’ve probably seen people say ‘I’m a B2B company so I speak this way because I speak to CEO’s or CIO’s’ or ‘I’m a B2C company and I speak this way because I speak to Mum’s or Kid’s or Dads’

But the problem with that is it puts people into these buckets. I’ve been in presentations with CEO’s and CIO’s and CFO’s and they are just people as well. Tell a good story. Speak human to human.”

Build Credibility Through Advocacy

So you’ve defined who you are and you have developed a bank of stories that support your message, now you need to help your customers trust you and your brand. With increased access to information, customers are increasingly aware of when they are being marketed to and are reluctant to make purchasing decisions based off of marketing campaigns alone. They are increasingly looking online for reviews from people who have already used the product. It’s important to find brand advocates early on, get their testimony, and use that to build early trust with the brand.

“We know that consumers are very wary of marketing. They can filter very easily. Even though they recognize that a lot of social media and Google reviews have been taken over by professionals, the idea of testimonial, of having someone else tell you something still carries weight,” Stacy explains. “It says ‘Look, someone else had tried it, someone else has tested it, someone else has gone through the process, that someone also thinks that it’s a great idea.’ It adds a ton of credibility.

With these pieces in place, you’ll be well on your way to building a strong brand for your startup that will resonate with your audience and be able to grow as your company does. 

AC Clients Only: Marketing for Start-Ups: Tactics and Tools

The Power of Content

Kevin Hood: Behind The Scenes with the AC’s First Mentor

Think great ideas sell themselves? Think again!

On any given day, you’re likely to see Kevin Hood, the Accelerator Centre’s first and longest-serving mentor, holding court on the subject of sales and marketing at a corner table in the networking area.

After one just one meeting, many clients say that their time spent with Kevin was a game changer. They also say that learned more from him in one hour than they would have learned after months on their own.

In light of the AC’s upcoming 10 Year Anniversary, we asked Kevin if he’s seen any shift in the primary needs of clients. His answer: “No.”

“The fundamental problem is that many companies focus on product, but not market. You can have one of the most brilliant ideas in the world — but, if there’s no clear need or demand, who will you sell it to?” he explains.

When you sit down with Kevin, it’s not long before you hear the words “framework,” “processes” and the gold standard “market validation.” His passion for rigorous methodologies and research can be seen in the AC Pathfinder process that he helped to develop.

How did he become the first AC Mentor? It began with a series of well-received sales workshops he helped develop and present at Communitech. One thing led to another and he was asked to bring the workshop at the AC.

After the sessions, Accelerator Centre clients began telling the management team that they needed to sit down, one-on-one, with Kevin. Over time, a few hours a week became a few days a week, eventually evolving into the formalized team of in-house mentors that exists today.

But it’s not just the training tools he’s established that define his business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit. Fresh out of university, he shocked family and friends when he turned down a great marketing job at major beer manufacturer. His reason: He knew he didn’t want to work there before he had a chance to explore what the market had to offer.

Not long after he began a series of roles as assistant to a Member of Parliament, the Minister of Science and Technology, and Minister of the Environment. In these roles he worked with constituents and members of the business community to ensure great government relations.

When he left Parliament Hill, he headed to Toronto where he helped found a sports marketing firm with the goal of creating a second professional hockey league in Canada using retired high profile NHL players. Although the league was ultimately not meant to be, a series of fortunate introductions led him to become an expert in helping businesses identify top performers.

He established his own consulting firm, Market Access Corporation, and in conjunction with the Self-Management Group, he developed a psychometric online personality profile that helped individuals understand their entrepreneurial and sales traits. Seizing the new opportunity that the internet presented in the 90s, he was able to secure software profile licenses with several high profile clients, including a major international career management organization and one of the largest American insurance companies.

Today, in addition to managing his company and his mentorship role, he is also a lecturer in the Masters in Business Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program at the Conrad Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology at the University of Waterloo.

What keeps him going? He loves what he does.

Why has he made the table right by the front door his unofficial office? “I sit at that table so that clients will have to see me. They have to walk right by me and be accountable for the marketing and sales goals and commitments they’ve set. And I will stare them down.” he says knowingly with a smile and without apology. “We have to focus on growing great businesses and that means we have to focus on revenue!”.

An AC mentor since 2008, he has logged more than 10,000 hours and assisted over 200 companies. Looking forward to helping many more, he quips, “That’s the thing about mentoring, you get better at it over time.”

The Rundown

Family: Married with two daughters ages 19 and 22

Sales experience: 30+ years

Business hero: His Uncle Owen – a very successful businessman

Person he’d like to have lunch with: Richard Branson

Things most people don’t know:

  • His father is legendary NHL referee Bruce Hood.
  • He once came very close to founding a second professional hockey league.
  • He still knows his way around a pair of hockey skates playing several times a week.