As most startup owners will tell you, introducing a new business to the market requires giving a lot of thought to key success factors, which often vary by industry.
A common denominator for all of them is credibility. A startup has to figure out how to convince its target audience that it is a worthy supplier. But proving how great you are is not easy. Regardless of your business model and your target audience, trust is something that needs to be earned in order to build a customer base and brand loyalty.
Credibility can quickly be generated by word of mouth. Social media has made it simpler and faster to spread the news of a good product or service. At the same time, it has never been easier or quicker to permanently tarnish a reputation.
There are several strategies, regardless of your industry, that can be put into place to gain brand momentum and credibility:
Are you an expert at something?
If so, let media know about it. Reach out to key media influencers in your sector and introduce yourself and your expertise. Make yourself accessible so that they know they have a reliable resource on an as-needed basis. A simple mention in a story or a television appearance is the first step toward building trust with your audience.
Do you have a few happy customers?
Let the world know about them. Incorporate written and video testimonials wherever possible. Include those testimonials in all proposals and e-marketing materials. Every positive reinforcement turns a potential client into a paying customer.
Does your industry have a certification or awards program?
Nothing sounds better than hearing about an "award-winning" product or service. Endorsements from credible third-party organizations help establish trust.
Build a network of "brand ambassadors."
This is a very natural way to achieve credibility. Offer users an incentive to start talking about you. Sampling programs, freebies, great promotions ... these are great first steps. What the brand ambassadors are saying about you will have far more value than what you have to say about yourself.
Excel at customer service.
As a business owner you've heard this many times, but these are words to live by. Nothing will impress a potential client more than impeccable and immediate customer service. Wow them right from the start so they don't even consider getting a quote from a competitor.
Implement a social media strategy.
If you think social media is a fad, you need to ask the more than 225 million Twitter users and excess of 750 million Facebook users what they think about that. Social media has made it incredibly easy to build a following. If this is not your strength, outsource it to someone who knows what they are doing. The last thing you want is to have a conversation happening about your company in the Twittersphere and not be a part of it.
Align yourself with strategic partners.
Perhaps there are organizations within your industry that offer complementary services to your own, which you can leverage to make your company a full-service organization. The more services you offer clients, the less chance they will go elsewhere. A one-stop shop is your goal.
Exceed client expectations.
Even if it means making a little less money at first. Customers will appreciate the extra effort and they will most likely be happy to recommend you to colleagues and to continue doing business with you.
Focus on your core competencies.
Don't try to be everything to everyone. Establish your niche and own it by being better than everyone else.
Constantly talk to your customers and get their feedback.
You will ensure you are meeting their needs and you will get free market research on how well you are doing.
Implement these strategies no matter where you are in the life-cycle of your business and you will quickly see your credibility and brand awareness grow. Ignore them and you will be faced with the reality that your credibility might grow too slowly to keep up with your competitors.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Sharon Vinderine is the founder of PTPA Media. More than 40,000 families from across North America voluntarily test products for Parent Tested Parent Approved, and they provide feedback through detailed evaluations. PTPA then scores each product and selects award recipients every two months. It promotes those items to consumers through newsletters, social media outreach, television and radio shows, and through partnerships with magazines.
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