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Marketing Your Startup With Founder Interviews

John Doherty —  April 23, 2013
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Who or what is the most recognizable face in your company or startup? This is an important question to ask yourself because often it can betray how others view your company.

I talk with many early stage startups (everyone in New York City is building an app) who tell me “If I just create a great product, users will come and love it.” Sound familiar? If you’re in marketing it should, because it’s the old “Build it and they will come” fallacy which we all know is not true. Dan Martell talked about this in my interview with him

While building a great product is incredibly important (and you should read Zach Holman’s take on it here), it’s not enough. Great marketing is the key to a great product taking off, but not necessarily typical marketing. For a great product, often marketing like influencer marketing is the best way to go, where you connect with influential users of your product and make them feel special, therefore endearing them to your brand so that they became a brand advocate and will talk about, link, and refer more users, sometimes in droves, to your product.

But a problem arises here. People don’t connect with brands. They connect with personality, which a brand in and of itself does not have. For instance, check out this stat about people interacting with businesses online (source):

16% of customers use Facebook, Twitter and the other major social networks to interact with businesses

At first glance, that seems like a strong metric, but that’s only 1 in 6! I would wager that brand engagement is even lower than that, meaning the percentage of followers that engage with a brand versus the percentage that engage with a person (not including people begging for RTs and follows from celebrities).

This is why, I believe, your brand needs a face, a person or mascot that users can connect and identify with. They say “Yes, I identify with that person or mascot’s personality/way of being.”

As a marketer, and more specifically a search marketer, leveraging a personality as a brand builder is a great way to build buzz and links, often very strong links, back to your website. Services like Onboardly, which is essentially a founder PR agency, or your SEO firm (if you allow them) can get placements for interviews and thought leadership pieces which then naturally link back to that brand face’s biography or About page.

Set Yourself Up For Success

Let’s face it – people love CEOs and want to be around CEOs. Even if you’re well known yourself, you probably still get giddy when you get to talk to someone that you respect in business or life. Therefore, I think every startup should have a founder that is amiable and outgoing, willing to be in the public eye to help build their startup’s name outside of their direct circle of contacts.

In order to do this:

  • Leverage your network for interviews (and links) with the CEO
  • Use PR to get their name out
  • Encourage them to blog, use social media, and let it be known that they are willing to talk to others
  • Have a page on your site that talks about them, including their biography. For a great example, check out Rand Fishkin’s on SEOmoz.

Examples

I could reference a few well-known SEO brands, like SEOmoz or Hubspot, who have well-known founders (Rand Fishkin and Dharmesh Shah respectively), but those examples are played out in marketing circles. Instead, let’s talk about a few different examples.

Neil Blumenthal – Warby Parker

By now, many of you have heard of Warby Parker, an eyeglasses startup that has disrupted the eyeglasses world by cutting out the middle men and making fashionable designer eyewear accessible for only $99. They also have a “Get a pair give a pair” program that gives eyeglasses to children in need. Basically, think of Warby Parker as the eyeglasses version of TOMS shoes.

Warby Parker Do Good Campaign

Neil Blumenthal, one of the founders, is in the public eye. If you check out OpenSiteExplorer for the About The Founders page, you will see that the page has 13 links back to it that have his name. David Gilboa, the other founder, has 7 domains linking with his name.

Their public facing manner has also gotten them great press:

Neil Blumenthal on NY Times
Forbes on Influencing People

Dan Martell – Clarity.fm

I interviewed Dan a few months ago here on my site because I was contacted by Onboardly. Dan’s name accounts for about 8% of the total links to Clarity at this point, and many of the experts on Clarity have come from Dan encouraging them to be on the site. He also has a popular blog and good Twitter following.

Dan Martell

Jennifer Hyman – Rent The Runway

One of my favorite examples is Jennifer Hyman, who runs the fashion rental startup Rent The Runway. Jen has attracted a good number of links to the team page (OSE page here. She has done many interviews to build the brand of Rent The Runway and tell their story, such as this interview on Grovo’s Expert Series and this mention in CNN Money.

Loading the player…

See more of this Expert Series

Michelle Rhee – Students First

Michelle Rhee is the Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, which calls themselves a “movement to transform public education”. Michelle has done many interviews and her about page has attracted links from sites like Forbes, Huffington Post, NPR, and many more (OSE here).

michelle-rhee-page


I hope this post has given you some ideas of how to leverage your outgoing founders for press and links. These are some of the easiest links you will ever get and have returns well beyond just links, but also branding and word of mouth loyalty.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

John Doherty

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I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

6 responses to Marketing Your Startup With Founder Interviews

  1. Anthony Pensabene April 23, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    different way to present a collection of perspectives, dude. i dig it. that last sentiment, ‘outgoing’ owners caught my interest from a pr perspective. i know some are introverts and shy, myself included, but do you believe being an owner/recognizable exec, to an extent, demands personal communication with the public?

    • Hey Anthony –

      Great question. I tried to make it clear here that it doesn’t have to be the CEO. Some CEOs are not great for interviews, but a CMO or someone else might be. I do think that there should be one person who can be the public face of the company.

      If you look at Distilled, our CEO is not a big public face. He likes to get his head down and run the company and write code (true story). But Will is a more public figure, as was Tom.

      Thanks for asking!

  2. I agree with your statement that people don’t connect with brands, they connect with a personality. We’re definitely trying to push for that at TrackMaven, hence the adorable corgi barking around the web. We’ve found so far that people have connected with Maven so far because it’s definitely a little different than your average B2B enterprise tech logo and overall voice.

    It’s not a problem that we’ve run into thus far, but do you think it’s essential to have a set person to also share the spotlight with our mascot? Or do you think there should just be one personality in the spotlight?

    Great piece again!

  3. John,

    Your thoughts are interesting especially because in my industry (incorporation services) there is only one other company that has a personality behind the brand. And that company has actually been noted by business publications for doing that. I’ve already been doing much of what you’ve mentioned except for the dedicated profile page on our site.

    One related issue is how to brand a company Twitter page. I’m not sure if this is your area of expertise but I’m curious if the company should have a Twitter page and the founders should have their own pages (for a startup). Or should the CEO be the name of the Twitter with the handle being the company name? I’m concerned about building multiple pages, as we’re already managing so many social media channels.

    Mike

  4. this line made me stop and read… “16% of customers use Facebook, Twitter and the other major social networks to interact with businesses”

    Nice article ! Thanx ! :)

  5. I feel online marketing is marketing for people detached from reality and make them go to store initially! Now people ordering all stuff from E-Comm portals and we are making life more easier ! We might loose one more organ in this evolution, i guess ! “Brain” :) Online marketing is leading us somewhere *** !