The word “Unicorn” gets thrown around a lot in the startup space, but Qudini’s Marketing Director, Katherine Torrence, is not a big fan of the term.
“It inspires a bit too much magical thinking. I lived through the dot-com bubble and it was painful watching everything evaporate around you,” she points out. “Nowadays every startup wants to be the next Deliveroo or Revolut, but building your brand into something strong and lasting is a marathon – not a sprint.”
But if there were a Unicorn producing factory this side of the world, hypothetically speaking of-course, it would probably be based in the UK.
New government research found Britain is creating more technology companies worth at least $1bn (£786m) than any other country in Europe – more than a third of Europe’s fastest-growing tech companies are UK-based.
“It’s a really exciting time for small businesses and start-ups in London” says Torrence, drawing parallels to her time spent in San Francisco during the mid-90s tech boom where she worked alongside a portfolio of startups to help implement growth.
“There is great energy, creative thinking and a feeling of endless possibility here in London at the moment,” she says.
Originally from the US, Torrence made the move to this side of the pond almost two decades ago and has worked in Marketing Director- and advisory- level roles for the likes of international technology company Kodak, global digital agency Wunderman Thompson, and numerous tech startups.
We touched base with her to see what’s on the agenda for startups in 2020. According to Torrence, here are three key challenges startups will face this year:
1) Navigating political and economic uncertainty
Brexit might not be everyone’s favorite word right now, but there will undoubtedly be a few economic curve balls thrown at startups over the next 12 months, says Torrence.
“Startups will need to get comfortable dealing with uncertainty. There are still a lot of decisions to be made and new trading relationships to be defined,” she says.
“Small companies might lack the vast resources of enterprises, but they can be more nimble, adaptable and a heck of a lot faster” she says. “The winners will be those who can find opportunity in the fog.”
2) Reaching your customers above the noise
In today’s era of innovation, coming up with brilliant new business ideas is the easy part, says Torrence.
“There are lots of smart people with strong and creative business ideas” she says, pointing out that courage, creativity, drive and attention-to-detail to see those ideas through to execution is the greater challenge.
“Creating cut-through and share-of-mind with your target audience can be a real challenge when budgets are small.”
And while social media was once hugely beneficial for small businesses, helping them reach prospective customer bases in an instant, it is now a crowded environment, says Torrence.
“A few years ago we thought it was impossible to have any more noise on social media – we were wrong! Social channels are overloaded with content and incredibly competitive, making it even harder for startups to make an impact on their own accord.”
3) Creating a long-term message
Another big challenge for startups is how to create a clear, crisp proposition that enables differentiation and also gives them the wiggle room to experiment, iterate and pivot, says Torrence.
“You may have a great product idea but how do you turn that into an overarching brand promise that can carry your business through the different stages of its evolution?”
“It is more important than ever to know your target audience, understand what makes them tick and create compelling messages that resonate with them.”
Planning a marketing strategy that sticks
Startups often punch well above their weight and are masters when it comes to creating intuitive and authentic marketing messages, says Torrence.
However, she is quick to point out that doing too many things at once and overstretching yourself is a common pitfall.
“Being small and in a fast-paced environment is no excuse for sloppiness. You can’t do everything – you don’t have the budget or the resources – so focus on delivering a methodical, detailed and well-managed execution.”
Torrence also recommended that startups utilize tried and tested strategic approaches to marketing “even if they’re not sexy.”
“Write out a marketing plan, stress test the strategy and then think about the tactics that will support it,” she says. “And ask yourself questions like: ‘Why are we doing this?’ ‘What do we expect to achieve?’ and ‘Will our target audience actually care?’”
To stay disciplined and better understand if you’re focusing on the right strategies and tactics, Torrence recommends startups set results benchmarks for all activities.
“This approach will help ensure that the whole of the marketing effort is greater than the sum of its parts and not simply a series of disconnected tactics. It will also help you to establish what works, what doesn’t, and why.”
She continues: “This is especially true if your target audience is large enterprises like retailers and other big businesses where people are incredibly busy and time-starved.”
“That’s why we at Qudini focus so much on creating high-quality thought leadership material. Retail leaders don’t have the time or the inclination to absorb information if it doesn’t immediately add value, isn’t interesting or doesn’t show that you understand them.”
For our latest thought leadership pieces and insights, check out Qudini’s Retail Choreography hub.