Brand Evangelists: The Key To Startup Success

Brand Evangelists: The Key To Startup Success

New products are born from brilliant ideas daily. With a never ending stream of products on the market, it’s hardly surprising that 9 out of 10 startups do not succeed. (Fortune) The most common downfall for fledgling companies is spurred by a lack of demand for the product they are offering. This is avoidable in some cases, as it’s possible the correct markets simply aren’t being targeted. If startups directed greater effort catered to highly specific audiences, would they be more successful? Jessica Livingston’s blog in the Wall Street Journal asserts that selling to consumers on a personal level in lieu of marketing to broad groups can make all the difference. “Sales and marketing are two ends of a continuum. At the sales end your outreach is narrow and deep. At the marketing end it is broad and shallow. And for an early stage startup, narrow and deep is what you want — not just in the way you appeal to users, but in the type of product you build.” By interacting directly with select markets that are interested in your product instead of appealing to the masses, opportunities arise to gain brand evangelists on the side of your company.

One interesting example is the rise of insects in the future sustainable foods movement. “Since the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization published a 2013 report touting insects as the sustainable food source of the future, the edible bug industry in the U.S. has been on the rise. People are interested and the market has responded — slowly, but it’s happening. (Huffington Post) American companies are beginning to include bugs – namely, crickets – as ingredients in recipes of all sorts. Bitty and Chirps Chips are two startups that have introduced snacks made with cricket flour, which is healthy and highly sustainable. “They produce one-eightieth the amount of methane that cattle do, and need one-twelfth their feed, based on 100-gram portions of each. And they can reproduce quickly and don’t require acres of grassland to graze.” (New York Times) Products like these appeal to the conscious eater looking for wholesome food made with minimal environmental impact.

Exo bars take it a step further with their cricket flour protein bars. People tend to care more about the nutritional benefits of their food products than the ecological footprint, and these bars fill a demand of a very specific market. Paleo lifestyle enthusiasts in search of a protein bar free of ingredients like whey protein isolate and soy need not look further. Co-Owner Jarrod Goldin says, “It’s chock-full of protein, has more iron than spinach, as much calcium as milk, all the amino acids, tons of omega 3, and tons of B12”. In a market where the majority of protein bars are more akin to candy bars, Exo is certainly positioned at an advantage by tapping into a niche market.

Jessica’s got a point in that sales can be “hard and demoralizing,” and marketing can seem like an easier approach. However, the “broad and shallow” versus “narrow and deep” argument is overly generalized. Many start ups do not succeed simply because they are too far detached from their audience. Bittys, Chirps and Exo are all thriving, with great press and raving customer reviews reflecting the support of brand evangelists – whether they are appealing to a large, general group of people or a small, highly specific one. The driving force behind this success? They all know their market, and their mission.

Sales can feel like reaching in the dark without knowing your own brand’s story, and how it relates to your potential customers. Brand evangelism is about giving people something to believe in, without convincing them of what the product should say for itself. No one wants to be sold things that aren’t relevant to them, be it through more personal means or via advertising. However, companies can gain favor by actively engaging with the potential customers who are interested.

This means that a harmonious balance must exist between sales and marketing, without favoring one over the other. Being knowledgeable about your product, immersing yourself in its culture and having a close perspective will inform how to reach consumers most efficiently. Start ups that do not succeed often lack connection with their potential customers, so don’t rely on gimmicky sales tactics or disengaged marketing to make your product something for potential customers to believe in.