Friday, 30 July 2010

The Quandry about marketing and publicising a launching Start-up

For those not in the know, I'm starting up my own company, and have been doing so from scratch for a while now. I should mention before I go further that I've encountered a ton of 'chicken and egg' situations throughout the start-up process, and marketing is no different; you don't always know that the chicken came first.

I'm nearing launch in September and approaching the stage where I'm looking at the strategic marketing options for launchSlingshot is a unique start-up in the sense that it promises to provide a brand new concept to a virgin target market that doesn't realise how much it needs a service like this, for the simple reason that no-one has done it effectively beforehand.

This presents both a massive opportunity and a considerable challenge. The opportunity to approach the target market with a very compelling proposition and get the first-to-market advantage; and the challenge of communicating a concept in late night travel that has no comparisons to draw against.

To me, this challenge must be overcome with intelligent and communicative marketing that grabs the correct audience at the right time and helps them to grasp the concept quickly. Slingshot offers many facets and benefits, but its ultimate marketing power lies in the fact that it gives a viable option for people living in outer London to get back home from central London when the trains stop running, without breaking the bank or consuming all their time.

Good marketing and sales mantras suggest that a prospect should get a chance to 'try before they buy' - or have a road test of the service. Such a point is even more prevalent with a start-up company marketing a concept which is operationally untried and untested by the market. This is why I'm taking the step to provide the service free to all registering customers for the first 2 weeks of launch.

On the face of it, it sounds great. It will convince the curious to register and book to use the service - gaining me an electronic customer base and the opportunity for feedback. It will generate word-of-mouth marketing amongst the target market, who'll convince their friends to take a look at what's on offer. And it should attract publicity, provided that the media knows that this service and this type of launch is coming.

Publicity tends to be a double-edged sword though, as your fate lies in the opinions of the journalist or broadcaster checking you out. So whilst I'm sure the benefits of publicising the launch of the company will have a great reach across the market I'm trying to tap, the content of the media message is what provides me with my current 'chicken and egg' problem.

Trouble is, I'm a start-up company undergoing launch for the first time - and running the service for even one night is expensive on a start-up's budget. But as a start-up, things are more likely to go wrong and the incidence of mistakes could well be higher; as everyone involved with the running of the company (myself included) will be operating this service for the first time. Yes, I can and intend to provide the best level of training to my workforce, stress testing of the Slingshot website, thorough checking of the coach vehicles to be provided all in advance. But there is still an unknown 'what if', and something could quite possibly go unchecked. A reviewer's opinion of such faults could be damning and infectious.

So do I voice that I'm starting up and ask for potential clemency in the wake of any difficulty experienced, stick to my guns and promote aggressively with confidence in what I've set-up working well enough, or hold back from PR on the service to varying degrees in order to reduce the exposure to the risk of negative publicity? I'd appreciate any advice from any reader out there willing to impart it.

My solution as it stands is to mostly adopt the aggressive stance. I'm a start-up with a great concept (in my opinion!) who will prepare as much as possible.

Confidence breeds confidence. But I'm going to blend in a few tailored groups of individuals who I'll approach separately in advance to use and review the service - from whom I could evoke a bit more sympathy at worst, and a glowing recommendation at best.

Thank you for reading - comments and opinions appreciated :o).

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