How I Built a Successful Brand With No Marketing Budget

Picture the scene: It’s August 2017. I’ve just left my job at TripAdvisor and arrived at my next adventure: A building site.

Backstory: I had just joined a brand new company called LABS. The vision was to build a premium co-working space. The reality, however? A building site in a saturated market, with no brand, website or identity.

Damn.

Fast forward fourteen weeks later, and we filled the building — all six floors of it — with nil marketing budget. In less than a year, we’ve hosted events with the likes of Twitter and Spotify, built a recognisable brand, and are now opening our sixth (SIXTH!) building in London.

But how did we do it? And what did I, as a marketer, learn along the way? Here, I’m sharing the six key takeaways the experience has taught me so far.


1. IDENTIFY YOUR ‘RIDE OR DIE’ MESSAGING

It’s official. Research shows that, now more than ever, consumers are looking for brands to court them with transparency, simplicity and evidence.

In short, your brand’s story matters.

Your messaging is your brand’s ethos. Your ‘ride or die’ mission. And, most importantly, your why.

“Every business knows WHAT they do. Many businesses know HOW they do it. But very few know WHY, and that’s the sweet spot. The result. The cause. The belief. The single thing that’s going to make you stand out in a sea of saturation.” — Simon Sinek.

RESOURCE: This strategic messaging map is a great place to start. And once you have your messaging in place? Remember:

  1. Consistency. Every communication — from your homepage heading to your sales brochure — should align with your messaging framework.
  2. Accountability. Make sure every single person in your business is aware of it, and every marketing decision is determined by it.

2. INVEST IN USER RESEARCH, NOT MARKET RESEARCH.

Engaging with your desired customer directly, and placing them at the forefront of everything you do is one of the smartest things you can do for your business. Fact.

My team and I became obsessed with asking our first clients their opinions (and actually listening!). The result? A roadmap that’s driven not by our preconceived ideas, but by the pain points of our users.

And it needn’t cost much, either. For the price of a few coffees, you can gather opinions that will save you serious time and money along the way.

Interview your first clients, your dream clients AND your lost clients. A few of my favourite questions include:

  • What’s your first impression of our product?
  • What’s the one thing you wish we offered?
  • What is your biggest challenges and how can we help solve it?

3. KNOW THAT IRL INTERACTION HAS NEVER BEEN SO IMPORTANT.

Want to know the biggest marketing channel we developed at LABS? Events. Yep. Old school, IRL events.

Why? Because events bring eyeballs. And people bring lessons (on lessons, on lessons, on lessons).

With research showing that 75% of Millennials and Gen Z prefer experiences over things, and event attendance on the rise, events are as an effective an acquisition channel as any.

Tap into your local entrepreneurial ecosystem and work that room. (And if your area doesn’t have one? Create one.) Reach out to people unashamedly. Host product launches or “appy hours”. Partner with aligned brands for sponsorship opportunities. Think about where your target customer is and be there. Consistently.

Show up, share and know that everyone had to start somewhere.

4. SPEND MORE TIME THAN MONEY ON SOCIAL.

“People are so infatuated with what’s next, they don’t focus on what’s actually happening. Don’t worry about voice. Don’t worry about Augmented Reality. Don’t worry about Blockchain. Don’t worry about anything. Attack Facebook!” — Gary Vaynerchuk.

How do you build social with no budget? Through community.

In practical terms, this means ditching vanity metrics and focusing on building a community of likeminded people who care and engage.

Take Instagram, for example.

Identify the best and most relevant hashtags to follow in your industry and do so (a mixture of well-known and lesser-know hashtags works best, FYI). Leave a comment on the relevant photos under those hashtags. Respond to comments. Like, engage, respond, share, repeat.

If you’re still questioning the ROI of social media, don’t. A good social media profile is an invaluable credibility play and one of the most effective ways of engaging with — and learning from — your target customers.

5. CONTENT IS KING, BUT WORD-OF-MOUTH MARKETING CONQUERS ALL.

It’s 2018 and I’m still all about that referral scheme life. Dropbox, Paypal and Harry’s were all built on referral schemes, after all.

And the best part? You don’t even need customers to get started.

At LABS, we opened our referral scheme up to anyone and everyone. If you had someone to refer, we wanted to hear about them. What’s stopping you from doing the same with your business?

The secret is to make it ridiculously easy for people to invite their friends, give clear incentives and make the messaging benefit-driven for your customers, not for you.

Get it right and your customers will do your marketing for you.

6. CUT CORNERS + EMBRACE THE MESS.

“If you’re not embarrassed by your first release, you’ve released it too late” — Mark Zuckerberg

At LABS we made mistakes fast, but learned even faster. We tested obsessively and celebrated our failures as much as our successes, because forward is forward.

It’s that Silicon Valley, Lean Startup-inspired mentality:

Every day, there are new competitors, new threats, new opportunities. Look for the lessons, face them head on and you can’t go wrong.

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