Content marketing for startups

While we’ve been around for a little over six years now, we’ve only been using content marketing for a few years relative to the life of our company. We have however learnt a few ‘truths’ about content marketing we think all startups can benefit from.

Firstly, what is content marketing?
Content marketing is the process of ‘creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent,’ content to inform, acquire, and retain a specific target audience to drive sales. For us, it’s about more than just sales. We use content marketing to create a community around our passions – creativity, design, art direction, photography and anything that makes us think and most importantly brings humour and wonder to our day. You could say, content marketing is deeply personal to us. For us content marketing is telling the story of our brand. And it’s the way we connect with the creative world around us. One of the most rewarding takeaways for us on this journey has been the inspiration we receive from other small businesses and small business owners. It’s all about sharing ideas, growing and learning from the experience and example of others.

Just do it
Our first bit of advice is, ‘Make like Nike and Just Do It!’ It can be scary putting yourself out there and not knowing what the response might be to your content, your brand and product. Will people like it? What will people say? Will they want to buy my product? Am I doing it the right way? The truth is, you’ll never know till you’ve tried and we can say for sure even though you don’t get it right the first time, the more you do it, the more you remain open to learning and trying new things, the better you’ll become at it.

Be authentic. Be real. Make it personal
You’ve done your research, you’ve got your killer business plan in place, you know there is a market for your product or service – most likely because it was an idea that sprung from your own experience. That’s the story people want to hear. You’re a human being with human weaknesses and strengths and a compelling story to tell. In our opinion, people are more alike than different, so you can bet if you’re experiencing a problem (however embarrassing) someone else is experiencing it too. And, if you’ve found a solution then you can be sure that someone out there is going to want to know about it. When you’re real, you inspire trust, and that helps your customers connect with you and your brand. That for us is what content marketing should be about – making real connections that could turn into enduring and mutually beneficial relationships down the line.

Write it (well), and they will come
Content marketing begins and ends with a website that is easy-to-use, beautifully designed and with copy written to engage, excite and convert visitors to your site. Even if you consistently received awards for your impeccable English in school, that doesn’t always mean you know how to write persuasive copy. On a website, images alone do not convert visitors to your site into paying customers. The copy on your website needs to do three things (1) Grab and hold a visitor’s attention and leave them wanting to learn more, (2) Inform them about the unique benefits of your service or product and finally (3) convert them into paying customers. Copywriters know how to do this, and we highly recommend that you use the services of one to get the message across in the most economical and impactful way. Copywriters will work with you to find ways to do this while remaining true to your brand’s ethos, tone of voice and personality.

What are your images doing for your image?
Get it right, and your images will inspire. Get it wrong, and these can damage your fledgling image. Professional photography is sooooooooooooooo important, especially when you’re selling a product. We take a little liberty with spelling here because we cannot emphasise enough how essential professional photography is to your brand right from the start. Imagery and copy work hand-in-hand to capture the true essence of the image you are trying to project. There is just so much great copywriting can do with a shabby looking pic – hastily snapped with your iPhone. It can be expensive, especially if your product requires models, studios and specialist lighting. But we’ve seen it too many times, where clients have taken the cheaper route and ended up spending triple the original amount to fix the damage to their brand. Start how you intend to finish. There are areas as a startup where you will need to cut back, but when it comes to your website and your content marketing strategy the initial investment in professional photography, styling and writing services will ensure you launch strong.

Keep the right company
Most people make the mistake of thinking content marketing begins with your Facebook profile. It doesn’t. It starts with a website – well-designed, easily navigable, with persuasively written content. Social media has an important role to play – that of driving customers to your site where they will hopefully complete a transaction. But social media can be incredibly time-consuming. We recommend researching which platforms your audience is most active on and basing your decision on that and how much time you have available to dedicate to social media marketing every day.

Failing to plan is planning to fail
Content marketing takes careful planning. Planning well in advance is also recommended. Having a plan will help you to be consistent in your messaging – from the images you choose to the words you write, to the content that you curate. This paired with consistency in look and feel (images and design) across all your content marketing platforms – including your website and social media platforms – is what inspires trust and what keeps people coming back for more.

Even if you cannot afford to employ a content production company in the beginning, it is worth seeking out the services of a company that can help you to develop a strategy, assist with copywriting and photography to get you started on the road to success through content marketing.


The designers naughty corner

Yeah, we’ve all been there. We’ve all done things that we’re not proud of and that we knew we didn’t want to do. Round five of client changes and the energy to fight for what’s right quickly fades. So here we are, sending ourselves to the ‘naughty corner’ for the questionable things that we have done or rather, created. We’ve overcome the guilt-of-bad-designs-past and protected the identity of the responsible designer well enough to offer solutions that we hope will help you avoid the pitfalls of bad design.

Anonymous Designer #1
I worked on this job for one month straight. It was an internal communications job for a large company, which made it worse because I knew how many people would get to see it. First creative was happiness. Everything was consistent and visually appealing. Out of all the options supplied, the client chose my least favourite one (I know). To add insult to injury, it came back with ‘slight changes’.

At the end of week one, it had evolved into something I could barely look at. It was ongoing and required updates and new elements were added on a weekly basis. Client had requested to make it brighter, bolder and more colourful. It was bright, it was busy and it was well hidden from any other client that stepped into our studio. My colleagues would basically laugh every time they saw it on my screen, flinging comments my way. It got so bad that I opted to work on it after hours, just to reduce the laughter and improve productivity during office hours. To put it bluntly it was as if my colour swatches had thrown up on my page layout – yes, it was that bad. I retained some font dignity but it was just too busy. Of course the client loved it. I had created exactly what they had wanted. My initial design was too soft he said, it needed to ‘stand out more’. In the end, it stood out when viewing our offices on google earth. The point is, we often create concepts that we love but client doesn’t. Then there are times when the client loves the concepts but we don’t. How do we find the balance? What I should have done, was voice my opinion and point out the reasons why I felt the layout didn’t work. I should have also created a side line concept and found the middle ground between their expectations and what I believed would work better. When campaign time rolled around again, that client came back for more of the same concept. This time, I voiced my concern and together we came up with a similar but new concept. Apparently the first campaign artwork did really well and they got a great response. We had such a giggle in the office. I admit, it could just be that the artwork being as bright as it was, was unmissable and people were forced to notice it and engage. In the end, it was effective and who can argue with that.

Anonymous Designer #2
Aaaah, the things we do to make clients happy. There is a fine line between making them happy and placing them at a disadvantage. Sometimes it is in their best interest that we push back on things that we know are not the best ideas. We had the opportunity to refresh an already established brand, a really well-known brand, so the pressure was on. When we first landed the job, we were overcome with creative ideas and concepts. We presented the most amazing concepts, cute characters and more. After the first creative draft, the client sent feedback of what they had imagined for the brand. Their main concern was that they felt the creative was too high-end and could possibly make the product appear more expensive than it really was. Now, this feedback right here is very important. As designers, we tend to put our visual preferences before the target market (sometimes, just sometimes) in the hope that client will be thrilled with how super creative we are. Needless to say, we needed to turn it down a bit. On jobs this large, we generally have two senior art directors working on concepts so it was a neck-and-neck race to see who would best meet the creative brief. On second draft, we had come closer but still no success. While the concept was ‘way better’ and the colours were ‘just right’, they still felt that it didn’t have mass market appeal and then proceeded to send us an example of what they actually wanted. It was… well, boring. It had already been done and it was going to be hard to print consistently. See, there are more factors that go into design than most clients are aware of. But, challenge accepted.

At the end of this brand refresh and roll-out, we weren’t entirely happy with the outcome, and for this alone we should be sent to the naughty corner but once again, client was thrilled and we ticked off all the boxes. We adjusted their concept to be more suitable, different to what was done before and while we still pop into stores to stand in front of their product displays, we can’t help but think of what could have been.

Two things sent us to the naughty corner, one being our interpretation of the brief, which was wide open to begin with. Yes, we also make creative mistakes and don’t always get it right on the first try. We love what we do and we get super excited about new briefs and their possibilities. And two, we still feel that we could have created a more inspiring and attention-worthy experience for their customers. The great news is, the new design is ten times better than the original and the brand is doing just great. What’s not so great is the feeling of being underwhelmed with what we created. The biggest lesson we have learnt is that clients are intimately aware of their brand and their target audience and achieving their approval and excitement is more important than the “wow-factor”.

Anonymous Designer #3
We all get that one brief that makes absolutely no sense. The one that has too many ideas, copyright infringement issues and where we’re all left staring at each other with no clue as to how to tackle it. This brief, from a young, tech-driven business, started and ended with nervous laughter, strange creative concepts and hilarious copy options as we stumbled through the process. In the end we had no choice but to submit a very literal interpretation of the client’s brief because, with the copyrighted content removed, there really wasn’t much of a brief left. Needless to say, the creative bombed. Turns out that the entire brief was wrong, what we did was wrong and actually, the person who briefed us, well… she was wrong too. We should have brought our concerns to the table instead of trying to please the client. We should have said “hey, this is not going to work and we don’t fully understand how this makes sense” but instead we tried to make it work and ended up with a very confused first draft. Eventually we took the correct brief, from the correct person and made absolute magic. The concept and design was brilliant (in our opinion, as you know, there are always critics) but we walked away very pleased with ourselves in one corner and in the other, complete embarrassment for not calling the client out on a very bad brief to begin with. It was a rather fun project and even though time was wasted on the first draft, in the end we had a good outcome. Lesson learnt.

We’ll no doubt continue our thread of design delinquency because the truth is no designer survives client briefs completely unscathed. But as long as we keep learning, we’ll be fine.

I’m sure we’ll see you in the ‘naughty corner’ soon – gotta go because #deadlines but all the best with those briefs 😉