Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Telling Your Story Is Paramount

Posted: March 24, 2013 by Bill Cunningham in Leadership, Marketing, Startup

Bill Cunningham BioStarting a business requires many talents – marketing, sales, finance, fund-raising, project management among others. Communicating well is the critical thread running through all of these talents. Your ability to tell your story as founder, designer, programmer or sales warrior will make or break your venture. After all, if the world doesn’t know what you can do for them, then how will they be motivated to trade their hard-earned money for your product or service.

Make these ideas of your bucket list for becoming a great startup.

Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule

Whether pitching an investor or giving a presentation at a conference, use Guy’s 10/20/30 rule as a guide.  ten slides, twenty minutes and thirty point type. If you can’t tell your story in ten slides, then your story is too complicated and your audience (VC’s or customers) won’t remember much of it. Timewise, don’t plan for more than twenty minutes max for presenting. In investor meetings, expect interruptions and questions throughout your talk (a good sign) – so planning for any longer means you won’t get to finish your story in an hour. Guy suggests using thirty point type as a minimum because a) people with money tend to be older and don’t want to squint to read your presentation, and b) using at least 30 point type limits the amount of information on your slide. After all, you want people to listen to your story, not read your slide.


At the Center: Creating Value for Customers

Posted: February 17, 2013 by Chuck Matthews in Leadership, Marketing, Planning, Startup

Dr. Charles Matthews bio“Just because you are struggling does not mean you are failing. Every great success requires some kind of struggle to get there.”
– Anonymous

In our hurry-up distracted world, there is a strong temptation to fall victim to the false promise of immediacy and success in all things we do. Instant communication, instant feedback, 24/7 connectivity, faster planes, trains and automobiles, and more. Even in entrepreneurship, the latest buzz phrase is “fast to fail.” It is an interesting concept that is often misunderstood to mean giving up, when in fact, it has more to do with how to go about achieving our goal of success.

In my last column, I introduced three deceptively simple yet powerful strategic planning questions to guide our entrepreneurial journey: where have you been, where are you now, where do you want to go. Addressing these three items allows us to address the more challenging question of how you plan to achieve your goals. While it often looks easy in retrospect, it is rarely easy prospectively and while we are actively engaged in the process. To do this, let’s examine four core areas – focus, environment, the entrepreneur, and the process – today and over the next several columns. But first, let’s take a look at the role and importance of establishing a compelling value proposition.

Value proposition: Keep in mind that the entire entrepreneurship process model is underscored by what must be a rock solid foundation: the creation of value for the customer. This value proposition must be sufficiently compelling to induce a value exchange between your good and/or service and the customer’s need, want, desire, pain, problem, etc. Most entrepreneurs who solve problems, no matter what the size, tend to create a solid value proposition.

Focus: It is difficult yet critical not to be distracted along the way. So the first step and core area is focus, focus, focus. Even a casual perusal of successful new ventures reveals a clear and persistent focus on three core elements: the product and/or service offered; the customer; and the competition. One of my all-time favorite examples of a new venture startup that lived, breathed, and executed this focus principle is the Boston Beer Co. In 1990, about seven years into his venture, I was very fortunate to have James Koch, founder and CEO of the Boston Beer Co. and a native Cincinnatian, give a guest lecture on strategy and entrepreneurship to one of my classes.

When Koch first conceived his new venture idea in 1983, entering the brewing industry was not very attractive. In fact, breweries were closing, growth was stagnant, and there was excess brewing capacity. Initial thoughts of building a brewery were quickly abandoned, as potential investors were naturally reluctant to participate. Given this relative lack of overall industry attractiveness, what did Mr. Koch know that would set him apart? The short answer: product, customer, and competitors.

Product: Samuel Adams lager would become the cornerstone of what would eventually become an entire product line of beer that would be targeted to just 2 percent of the beer-drinking market. Pursuing a focus differentiation strategy demanded that the product attributes not only meet but exceed the customer’s expectations. Since the premium product attributes (especially taste) were paramount, considerable time was spent perfecting the heart and soul of the company – the product.

Customer: The customer segment was small, but of sufficient size, quality and durability to support a new entrant. By conceding 98 percent of the brew-drinking market to the dominant domestic breweries, Boston Beer was able to successfully focus on the 2 percent of beer drinkers that sought a premium or super-premium product – an emerging segment addressed at that time only by the imported or specialty beer producers.

Competitors: In the early years, he correctly assessed that the major domestic players would be unable and/or unwilling to initially respond to a new entrant in the premium beer segment. They were committed to the larger non-premium segment and had conceded the premium/ specialty segment to the imported beers. While he knew the imported beer makers would respond, focusing on product attributes the customer sought, he would gain valuable time and space on his eventual emerging competitors.

Through the early 1990s, micro and craft brewing were still highly fragmented, giving Boston Beer first-mover advantage.

Of course, by the late 2000s the business landscape had changed dramatically. Given the context of continual change, in our next column we will explore three critical aspects of the changing environment. Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!

Charles H. Matthews, Ph.D., is professor and executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship Education & Research, Carl H. Lindner College of Business, University of Cincinnati.

Conferences and Trade Show Marketing

Posted: January 27, 2013 by Bill Cunningham in Marketing, Social Media, Startup

CarolynPioneMicheliBill Cunningham BioConferences and trade shows bring thousands of like-minded people together and make it easy for companies to build awareness, acquire new leads and sell products. Right?

Not so much anymore. Conferences and trade shows have become less attractive because the decision makers may not attend, the cost of travel, booths and admission fees steadily increase, while budgets are decreasing disproportionately.

When you gotta go, then you gotta go. Here’s some thoughts to take with you.

Go Big or Go Rogue

If you can’t afford a prime spot, and a killer booth, think of other ways to attract customers. In one of my startups, we couldn’t get into a conference, so we rented a restaurant down the street, hired limos, and gave out free backstage passes to participants at the show (we had a mole deliver them inside the conference.) We were able to attract 60 of the 300 attendees to the conference and have them all to ourselves. The total cost was much less than having a booth and standing around for 2 days hoping someone will talk to you.


The Curse of Free

Posted: November 4, 2012 by Bob Gilbreath in Marketing, Startup, Technology

There are few words in our everyday lives that are more exciting than “free.” We love a free ride, free sandwich or free beer. A free sample is often the easiest way for an entrepreneur to attract new customers. But I have learned the hard way that “free” is a dangerous marketing strategy that feels good but can hurt you in the end.

A few months into launching my new research tool for startups, the Minimum Viable Concept Test, I decided that it would be a good idea to provide some free research to potential clients who could become repeat customers. I figured that a free sample would impress them and lead to ongoing business. After all, each of my other, paying clients loved the output.

My free tests produced happy customers, but none of them converted into a paying account. This was a mistake that cost significant time and money, both of which are precious for a new business.


Think Global-E

Posted: July 8, 2012 by Chuck Matthews in Global, Marketing, Planning

“The interconnected, interactive, global economy challenges
both the way we see business and way we do business.”

Kenichi Ohmae, Global Strategy

With the World Choir Games in full voice right here in Cincinnati and the Queen City reaching out to the world on multiple fronts throughout the year, this is the summer to be thinking globally. In June of 2010, I had the privilege of hosting the 55th Anniversary World Conference of the International Council for Small Business (ICSB) here in Cincinnati, with over 430 delegates representing educators, researchers, business owners, and thought leaders from over 60 countries. This past week, I had the honor to spend some time with an eight member delegation from eight sub-Saharan African countries participating in President Obamba’s Young African Leaders Initiative. On an even larger scale, it is estimated that over 350 Choirs representing 46 countries will bring over 15,000 visitors arriving from 64 countries to the U.S. and our hometown. If you are a Tri-State small business owner or entrepreneur, this is the perfect time to consider the possibilities of Global Entrepreneurship (Global-E). Ask yourself, what unserved and/or underserved global market opportunities exist for current and future goods and services delivered by your venture?


Leveraging The Power of the Press

Posted: June 24, 2012 by Bill Cunningham in Customer Service, Leadership, Marketing

 “It is a special pleasure for me to introduce our two home run kings … Mike McGwire and Sammy Sooser.”

–Sen. Ted Kennedy

We all say things we would love to take back as the foot-in-mouth syndrome neither tastes great or is fulfilling. Unfortunately for public figures like the Senator from Massachusetts, the media waited like vultures in the desert for his next faux pas of the English language. So it goes for entrepreneurs as well!

Recently, one of our more successful entrepreneurs got caught up in the sensationalism of a Silicon Valley blogpost. If that blog set out to prove that Silicon Valley has a ton of great resources for entrepreneurs, then the blogger must be hard up for news. Everyone knows the valley has been very entrepreneurial since Hewlett met Packard. Silicon Valley loves to manufacture entrepreneurs, but so does Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Louisville and Lexington and Detroit. (more…)

Lack Creativity? Short on good ideas? Become an Entrepreneur!

Posted: June 17, 2012 by Eileen Weisenbach Keller in Innovation, Marketing, People

What? You may be asking, is she suggesting?

Many people, who would not qualify themselves as creative, find themselves studying markets, exploring and investigating as they look for opportunities. In the process they consider firms both large and small and the suppliers who work with them. They study the customer base for companies, the large customers like retail partners and the individual customers – the consumers. Pursuit of this line of study often comes from experience and deep knowledge of a particular market.

The entrepreneur who immerses him/herself in understanding these chains of business relationships will discover an occasional chink or weakness in the chain. In this weak point there is opportunity; some describe it as pain that the entrepreneur can relieve. Ta-da, a business idea is born, not by the most creative person in the room, but by the one who was willing to learn and look for opportunity where others might not see any. The ability to provide a solution and seize this opportunity is an opportunity to create value, which is the essence of success in entrepreneurship.

Although this may seem self-evident, consider an example from a young, developing entrepreneur. In a recent competition this local student studying entrepreneurship pitched a software program designed to assist restaurants with management of server effectiveness, job satisfaction and retention. With experience as both a chef and a catering company owner/chef, this young man discovered that the turnover rate for restaurants deteriorates service, increases expenses and costs the industry millions of dollars annually. With this discovery, the student who has already dabbled in entrepreneurship using his ability as a chef, now pictures himself providing software as a service in the global restaurant industry. Rather than cooking the food and supplying it to patrons, he will be a supplier to the restaurants.

If one were to categorize this student as either a “creative/innovative” type, or an “entrepreneur”, he would no doubt fall into the latter group. But can it really be said that he isn’t creative? The ability to take knowledge gained from deep experience in a particular area, search for pain, inefficiency or trouble in the supply chain and determine a viable solution is certainly a good description of entrepreneurship – but a clear argument could also be made for using this as a description of creativity in problem solving.

Is this young man a creative genius? Probably not, by most standards, but the judges at IdeaStateU (the Kentucky State Business Plan Competition for Undergraduates), felt his idea was worthy of a second place out of seven competitors in his category. The prize? Seed money to encourage him to persist and develop the idea which he is now doing.

The bottom line? Creativity comes in many forms; sometimes more colorful, other times more practical. In entrepreneurship solving a problem in a way that others have not is a good, creative way to begin.

Presenting to Win

Posted: May 6, 2012 by Bill Cunningham in Marketing, People, Startup

“Up sluggard and waste not life, in the grave will be sleeping enough.”

— Benjamin Franklin

 Doug Hall of Eureka! Ranch fame often quotes one of our country’s earliest sages who regularly spoke in sound bites. Easily remembered, yet containing a powerful idea, every entrepreneur must master the skill of concise and clear communications.


Whether you are pitching to raise money, recruit volunteers or sell products and services, you must know who will be clapping for you. You wouldn’t read your Ph.D. thesis on Waardenburg Syndrome to a third grade class. You could explain the concept to a third grade class by using language familiar to their age group and environment. In fact, if you can’t explain your complex idea (product, service or strategy) using simple terms, then you really don’t understand it very well yourself.


While minimum viable products have become the rage in software development, minimum viable presentations can generate excellent results for entrepreneurs. In any public speaking event such as a Venture Association meeting, potential investor presentation or selling to a group, you have a limited amount of time to create a vision in your listener’s mind that is memorable and repeatable. The goal of your message is to get them to say “I just heard Todd speak about turning companies whose only customer was the NASA Space Shuttle program into commercialized businesses” to their colleagues, friends and investors.


The Art and Science of the Pitch

Posted: April 8, 2012 by Chuck Matthews in Marketing, Money, Planning, Startup

With the new baseball season now officially underway, this column could be about hurling 90 mile per hour plus fast balls or change-ups at unsuspecting batters.  Actually, it is about entrepreneurs pitching ideas to investors, but interestingly the two share similarities.  Many of you have seen the popular television shows such as “Shark Tank” that feature would be entrepreneurs “pitching” their ideas to potential investors,  who would like nothing better than to take a swing at the idea and “hit a home run” with it to make money.  While the television shows are mostly entertainment, it does raise a serious question about how to make a real pitch to a potential investor.

What does it take to put together a killer pitch that can convey your idea while at the same time entice a potential investor?  How do you balance the need to share your idea with others, while at the same time, keeping others from taking it to market first?

1. Tell them who you are. Know your audience and something about them ahead of time if possible. Don’t outline your life’s journey here.  When appropriate, include a personal anecdote that brought you where you are today but, in general, keep it simple and focus their attention on the next item.

2. Clearly define the Pain/Problem/Opportunity nexus.  This is the pitch trifecta – keep it clear, simple, and direct.  Try to avoid what I like to call “MBA hyperbole” such as “the market is enormous” or “sales are limitless.”

3.  Solution.  This is the heart and soul of your pitch.  It is how your venture addresses the unserved and/or underserved market experiencing the “pain” outlined above.  You may want to save some of the details for later in the pitch, but basically this is your moment to put the spotlight on your value proposition and get the listener nodding in agreement that this makes sense.

4. Inside the “Black Box.”  This is often described as the “secret sauce,” or magic behind your product or service. Avoid going too techno here unless of course you are pitching to fellow scientists/wizards – you don’t need to open up the black box, only ensure that it works or what will take to make it work.  Often a picture or diagram here is worth a thousand words.

5. Business and Sales model.  The $64,000 question: “Will this make money?”  This needs to be tied to your business plan assumptions, financials, etc., but overall you need to outline how you plan to sell your goods and/or services and who is the customer/buyer. Remember, buyers and users may be different, but be clear that you have a sales plan.

6.  Competition.  Never say you don’t have any competition – you do.  Substitute products/services and competition for your customers earned income is everywhere.   I like a one page pictorial or a simple verbal comparison outlining how you compete on value, offerings, features,  and more rather than just listing who your competitors are.

7.  Management team.  The key question: Do you have the right team? If not, what are you doing to get it.  Many potential funders once interested, look past the idea and prefer to invest in the person first.

8.  Financial projections and key metrics.  This should be tied to the business plan time line and milestones and should clearly outline the sources and uses of funds and how you will measure progress.

9.  Timeline and milestones.  Here you want to convey that you have a sense of knowing where you are, where you are going, and how you plan to get there.

10. Current status, accomplishments to date, future plans.  Your time to shine with a strong finish.
This brings us to the question of confidentiality.  While a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) affords some protection, not everyone is willing or able to sign one.  As noted above, you don’t need to open up the “black box,” only ensure that it works or what will take to make it.  The actual “secret sauce” can be addressed if there is money on the table from investors and due diligence is under way.

Keep in mind the need to succeed eventually outweighs the need for total secrecy.

  • Focus.  Edison did not invent the first electric bulb as many give him credit, but rather he invented the first commercially practical incandescent light.
  • Feedback. Better to get on with it and make something happen than to sit on it and let others get to the finish line first.  Inevitably, if it is a good idea, it is going to be imitated and there will be competitors (in this case, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery).
  • The “Skyline Rule.” (Okay, so this only works where Skyline is available. Alternative, “Coca-Cola Rule.”)  At some point, you are going to have to put it out there for public assessment, acceptance, or rejection.  The minute the Lambrinides Brothers conjured up their now famous Cincinnati chili concoctions consisting of Coneys, Cheese Coneys, Three-ways, Four-ways, Five-ways, etc., it was out there for everyone to see.  Of course, the “secret sauce” in this case really is “secret sauce” and that has been a “proprietary secret” from day one.  There have been many imitations, but no duplicates.


You can find more on our web site at  Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!

Is one of your primary goals as a new business owner to “satisfy” your targeted customers?  Well, if it is you are probably headed for disaster because as it turns out merely “satisfied customers” generally don’t come back to make repeat purchases.  According to a Harvard Graduate School study “62% of supposedly “satisfied customers” do not repurchase from the same source” (Kick-Ass Business and Marketing Secrets: How to Blitz Competition, Bob Pritchard).  So after all the hard work and funding you invested to acquire a group of targeted customers there is a high probability that over half of them will seek other sources of supply on future purchases.  So, what are the primary reasons that “satisfied customers” seek other sources and what can you do about it?

As is the case with many situations within the business environment there is usually an 80 / 20 cause and effect relationship to consider.  According to a Rockefeller Institute study the following are the primary reasons that customers switch sources of supply: 9% are attracted by competitors; 14% leave because they are dissatisfied; a whopping 68% of customers switch because they think the company they buy from doesn’t care about them.  So, the most significant problem isn’t that companies supply poor products and services, it’s that they are at best indifferent about customer service.  Think about it for a minute.  If approximately 62 out of 100 customers switch sources of supply and 68% of those that switch do so because they think you don’t care about them, then that means 42 (62 x 68% = 42) out of 100 customers that you acquire might purchase from someone else next time.  Can you afford to let that happen?  Once you do the math of how much profitable growth the 42 out of 100 customers represent you might want to re-consider the type of relationship you have with your customers.  Just think if you could retain even half of the 42 that might leave you.