Early in my career, the founder of Under Armour, Kevin Plank, told me that it takes a minimum of 10 years to build a widely-recognizable brand.
He reasoned that people need to be exposed to a product or service multiple times and in a variety of settings to create strong, and hopefully positive, associations. That advice resonated, considering our first company, VEEV, was a spirits brand in the liquor industry — renowned for competing with companies that have been in the space for 100+ years. It took a while to make ourselves known to customers in the liquor space, so I assumed Kevin’s rule was hard and fast.
But today, the 10-year rule simply no longer holds true.
Startups are emerging and failing at unprecedented rates, and the amount of time it takes to become a household name has dramatically reduced. While it took Nike 14 years to reach $100 million in sales, in the last few years, tech-enabled consumer brands like ClassPass and Casper have reached the same heights in significantly less time.
If you want your business to scale fast, and last, here’s what you need to know:
1. Take advantage of existing tech to grow awareness for your brand.
We touch our smartphone screens over 2,600 times per day.
Because modern consumers are on their phones all the time, they’re also more reachable than ever before. Unlike in the past, when entrepreneurs faced expensive distribution networks, today, vendors can easily get their products in front of consumers anywhere, anytime — simply by targeting the minicomputers in their palms.
Uber and Lyft took advantage of this access by creating the ability to order a car in minutes from your smartphone. ClassPass capitalized by enabling users to sign up for a variety of gym classes the same way. Countless other modern businesses have sprung up around the idea that the smartphone is king among consumer technology, instead of solely thinking about brand building in terms of exposure out in the world.
Today, if you aren’t reaching customers where they are — their phones — you probably aren’t reaching them at all.
2. Speak through customers, not to customers.
When you let people spread the word for you, you’ll see the best and quickest results.
It used to be that if you liked a product, you would recommend it to a few friends as you saw them over the following months. Now you can post about it on social media, and thousands of potential new customers see it in seconds. That’s also why many brands today are leveraging Instagram influencers to spread their messages far and wide.
More than 80% of consumers in today’s market trust recommendations from individuals over brands.
And companies are starting to get wise to it. Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, for example, grew his family wine business from $3 million to $60 million in just 6 years simply by engaging with customers on a mass scale on Twitter and Instagram.
Fostering connections with your audience organically on social media is one of the surest ways to build a brand fast.
3. Don’t fall for the high-traffic approach to marketing.
The days of mass marketing are over. Moved by the idea that high-traffic channels would capture the largest audience, generic billboards, magazine ads, and TV commercials ran the marketing game for a long time.
That no longer works. Only specific, highly-targeted ads drive sales. Traditional advertising mediums are incorporating targeted campaigns to much success, but perhaps nothing has been more successful in leveraging this trend towards personalization of ads than social platforms have.
Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram all collect data on users based on their activity, which companies can then use target their specific audience. Look-alike targeting is another useful strategy, which occurs when social media platforms allow digital marketers to define their target audiences based on previous user behavior in order to find similar users.
By using tools to target customers strategically — as opposed to the old model that targeted everyone — you’ll develop increased deliverability, higher performance, and less list fatigue.
4. Advertising doesn’t have to break the bank.
Advertising was once prohibitively expensive for many early-stage and small businesses, but things have changed.
Today, getting your product in front of customers is no longer predicated on being able to afford an expensive advertising firm. With social media and other online vehicles, even small brands can get their products before large audiences without having to pay a fortune on a major ad agency. Instead of relying on a major agency to cast actors, hire a reputable director, and provide high-end equipment, you can very cheaply post commercials on YouTube, for example, or sponsor a popular podcast that’s related to the types of products and services your company sells.
The fact that microbrands can now easily — and cheaply — access and advertise to specific customers is causing a massive shift in the marketing world, and young entrepreneurs would be wise to take advantage.
While today’s capital-rich funding environment is more favorable for entrepreneurs, it also makes everything much more competitive — it’s easier to get out there but harder to stick around.
The companies that win in this climate move more quickly than their competitors, and that includes the time it takes to build a brand.