To be successful, achieve sustainability or secure funding, seed-stage companies need growth. Companies need to grow their capabilities, talent pool, resources, reputation, top-line and bottom-line. Without a strategic growth plan and sufficient talent and resources, seed-stage entrepreneurs in Colorado face directionless, long, slow, lonely climbs in the wilderness.
The Growth Sherpas are a group of passionate, seasoned business leaders supporting Colorado’s economic growth by investing in solutions that bridge the gap and accelerate the successes of our entrepreneurs.
Climbing the mountain is hard, and while the Sherpas can’t walk beside every company we meet, we can help all seed-stage entrepreneurs find community in each other. The Sherpas are deeply committed to this mission – and to our belief that the community we create should be free. We host specially curated events for entrepreneurs, investors, and community leaders focused on relevant seed-stage topics throughout the year.
Here is a cold hard truth: If you don’t have a finger on the pulse of what your customers care about, someone else does. And, that someone else is the competition.
As marketers, we have to always be on top of the latest trends – digital, voice, video, UX and UI, content strategies, influencer outreach – that are evolving and advancing every day. But, at Avocet, we know that all of that knowledge is only as good as our customer intel. It is not enough to simply know WHO your audience is; you must know what they want. Pushing the creative envelope and customizing integrated strategies is what we do, understanding our clients’ audiences is how we do it.
There are a number of amazing customer-centric metric-gathering tools available that make our jobs easier: Google Trends and Google Analytics, of course, but also Facebook Audience Insights, and Google Data Studio, to name a few.
What I have learned after all my years in the business, is that you cannot assume you know what customers think or their motivations. It is extremely naïve and shortsighted to think that all customers are the same and have the same experiences. That’s why seeking out regular and honest feedback from customers and taking the time to really get to know them as individuals are so vitally important. Consumer insights are what turn inquiries into conversions and conversions into lifetime brand ambassadors. These insights are what enable you to truly engage your audience in meaningful ways that help grow your brand.
And, that includes understanding the language your customers speak.
Jeffrey Shaw is the author of LINGO: Discover Your Ideal Customer’s Secret Language and Make Your Business Irresistible, and understands this better than just about anybody. Jeffrey believes that to understand the lingo of those you want to attract is to know their essence, their values, and what emotionally triggers them so that you stand out, and that to build a successful business is not about education or even skill set. It’s about understanding the culture, mindset, values, and the way of being of those you want to serve.
You have undoubtedly heard about Conversational Artificial Intelligence. You have even probably engaged with it. We’ve all used the voice command on our phone to get directions to a restaurant, and many of us have a “speech-based assistant” in our home that can turn on the lights, set an alarm, and even play music.
Conversational AI refers to the use of messaging apps, speech-based assistants, and chatbots to automate communication and create personalized customer experiences at scale.
Conversational AI (in the form of Chatbots and platforms such as WhatsApp and WeChat) uses natural language and, in short, is changing every aspect of when, where, and how our clients engage and communicate with their customers.
Conversational AI applications make it possible for our B2C clients to have long-running interactions with customers via voice or text. Sometimes these conversations are simply short and sweet requests for information (like hours of operation or an address). Other times, they are more in-depth, true dialogues between a brand and a customer, and have quickly become an essential tool to elevate customer service and customer engagement.
Here are some stats that put it all in perspective:
If you would like to learn more about Conversational AI from one of the country’s leading experts on the subject, listen in on my interview with Jeff Rohrs, chief marketing officer for Yext, on the Integrate & Ignite podcast. Jeff shares his insights on the topic, including:
And, if you’d like a listing of the Best Chatbots of 2019, take a look at this post from Consumers Advocate.
Anyone that knows me, knows how passionately I love my job and how devoted I am to Avocet, the agency that was started by my father over 30 years ago and that I was blessed enough to help grow by his side and under his expert guidance.
Since the day we first opened our doors, Avocet has been committed to working with nonprofits and with organizations that work for the common good. It is our passion center and is woven through every part of our culture. Avocet was even recognized by the Longmont Area Economic Council for its community outreach and work with nonprofits in 2014. Some of the organizations we have represented include the arc Thrift Stores, Rocky Mountain Down Syndrome Association, the Colorado Cross-Disability Center, the I Have a Dream Foundation of Boulder County, Laradon, Bravehoods, Vehicles for Charity, and Step Denver.
Creating and deploying marketing strategies for nonprofits is tricky. Nonprofit organizations don’t often have a great deal of money and the thought of spending what little funds they DO have to gain awareness amongst a crowd of louder and more financially able organizations can be overwhelming. The competition is fierce, and simply relying on fundraising is no longer enough. Nonprofits, just like any business, MUST use all the brand-awareness building tools available to them in order to be positioned to grow and live out their missions.
Our goal as marketers is to help our nonprofit clients define their purpose and mission in powerful ways that engage with the audiences that matter most. This requires an integrated approach that incorporates storytelling and the creation of powerful emotional connections. Every strategy we deploy for our nonprofit clients has to begin and end with the question, “how do we build relationships?” Because, unlike a brand promoting a product or service, a nonprofit is promoting something quite different. They are asking their audiences to care, to care enough to give of their hard-earned money and even their time, and to commit to the cause..
Many current marketing strategies are especially well suited for building awareness for nonprofits…and luckily, most don’t have to cost a ton of money. Some of the strategies we have used include the use of video to tell a powerful story, social advertising, content creation and promotion via social platforms, and email marketing. Check out some of the work we have done for our nonprofit clients here.
Even with a limited budget, you can implement some very powerful marketing campaigns that help nonprofits get the word out, grow, and make an impact.
If you would like to listen in to some of my interviews with marketing leaders in the nonprofit sector, take a listen to the following Integrate & Ignite podcasts:
Episode 50: Lloyd Lewis, arc Thrift Stores
Episode 234: Tricia Halsey, The Big Idea Project
Episode 55: Rick Wright, the Children’s HopeChest
Episode 20: Julie Reiskin, CCDC
Episode 15: Lloyd Lewis, arc Thrift Stores
Episode 49: Maggie Scivicque, arc Thrift Stores
Here are two irrefutable facts: one, marketing strategies, and the technology we use to implement them, are evolving constantly, and two, keeping up with these changes can feel overwhelming, most especially to a client who is coming to us to make sense of it all and get results.
I thrive in an atmosphere of creation and innovation; the space in time when we’re just starting out, brainstorming, where everything is a possibility. However, NOT every strategy – not every super creative and fun idea, not every new platform – works for every client or for their many audiences.
Often times when we first engage with a client, they feel besieged by all the marketing options out there. They hear words and concepts like SEM and SEO, they have questions about the difference between print and digital advertising and are befuddled by the distinction between media relations and influencer marketing. They feel pressure to include original content across all of their platforms but are not sure what that means or how it works, they have heard of marketing automation but don’t know if it’s appropriate for their brand. The list goes on.
It’s our job as marketing partners to bring order to the chaos. Our job is to bring our expertise to the table, to make sense of all of these options available, and to advise our clients as to which ones make sense, and which ones don’t.
Marketing at its core is about linking your business with your potential customers or audiences. The marketing process begins with defining the WHY of the business and the solution the brand provides. Once you get to the WHY, and key-in to the emotional connection of the brand, we are able to generate brand affinity and customer loyalty. Once we have that determined, we dive into creating a marketing plan – and all its tactical components – that is based on a client’s audience segmentation and overall business goals.
One thing we are clear about with our clients from the outset is that they don’t need to do EVERYTHING and be EVERYWHERE. Just because something is new and “everyone is doing it,” does not mean they should be. You don’t always need to embrace every new piece of technology. Taking a “spray and pray” approach – eyes closed, fingers crossed – never works.
And, the truth is, there is no silver bullet. There are only well thought out and well-planned strategies. At Avocet, we often take a one-year, 90-day, and a “this week” approach to planning and implementing integrated strategies for our clients.
My good friend, Adam Cookson, founder of TekDry, discussed this very subject on the Integrate & Ignite podcast. Listen in to our conversation to hear how this innovative entrepreneur brings clarity and a singular purpose to his strategies in a very noisy marketplace.
When you think of the word, “brand,” some very big names come to mind. Nike, McDonalds, Disney, Ford, Microsoft, Coke, just to name a few.
We all have very distinct associations with these brands whether we use the products or services they provide or not. By simply watching TV, being on our cell phones, walking through a supermarket, searching the Internet, or engaging on our social media platforms, we know these brands, what they make, what they stand for, and have a sense of their very essence.
You don’t have to visit Disney World to recognize the Mickey Mouse ears logo or to know that it is the “happiest place on Earth.” You don’t have to drink Coke to know what kind of beverage it is and that it’s “the real thing.” You might drive a foreign model, but you know that Ford stands for American-made and “Ford tough” automotive excellence. You don’t have to wear Nikes in order to recognize the company’s solitary swoosh appearing on everything from shoes to hats, to all manner of clothing.
But, if you dig a bit deeper into those impressions, you realize that the word “brand” is a bit misunderstood. The above examples are really taglines and logos. The true meaning of “brand,” is a business’ identity. It’s not what you make or produce, or even the features or benefits of your products and services. A brand is your WHY and your values; it’s how you define your company in the marketplace and what sets you apart. A brand is the opposite of hype, it is the antithesis of spin. For a brand to be successful it has to be genuine, authentic, and to connect and elicit an emotional response from your target customers.
In the end, of course, that connection leads to higher sales and loyal ambassadors.
When we do brand essence workshops with our clients we always start the process by asking the stakeholders to think of their brand as a person. What does that person care about? What issues and challenges do they face every day? This humanizing of your brand is what will enable you to drill down to its heart and from there all things become oh, so much easier!
The next question we ask is, “what is your why?” It is usually quite easy to answer the “what” and the “how” of what your company does; the why is often times a different matter.
Up next is the powerful exercise that asks: what does your brand value? By answering this question, and then weaving the answer throughout all of your marketing and communication strategies, you create long-term relationships with like-minded people. And, like-minded people quickly become life-long champions of your brand.
I have interviewed a great many people on the Integrate & Ignite podcast that have given my listeners and me what amounts to master’s classes on building a brand. To cite just a few that I highly recommend:
Episode 39: Nicole DeBoom, founder of the national women’s apparel brand, Skirt Sports
Episode 169: Tony Drockton of the American luxury brand, Hammitt
Episode 202: “The Romance of a Brand” with Ryan Martin of W.H. Ranch Dungarees
I hope you will learn as much as I did from these creative and inspiring people!
At last year’s Longmont Startup Week, the Sherpas spoke to a packed house about crossing the seed stage gap.
There are no upcoming events.
Colorado provides plenty of support for startups just setting out on their journey. There’s also ample support for those moving from a Series A to the summit. Growth Sherpas is a new kind of accelerator. We have set up basecamp in that nasty slope between start-up and Series A, a place we call the Seed-Stage Gap. It’s long, open and exposed, and unless you have a plan and the right resources, it can kill your business. We are local CEOs, each focused on core competencies, and we are dedicated to filling this gap in Colorado’s innovation system.
No matter how you look at it, the Gap represents an amazing opportunity. If you are a seed-stage entrepreneur, an investor interested in opportunities, or a community leader looking to accelerate innovation in Colorado, we’d love to hear from you.